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Wolt v. Wolt

Supreme Court of North Dakota

June 27, 2019

Kathy Wolt, Plaintiff and Appellee
v.
Steve Wolt, Defendant and Appellant and State of North Dakota, Statutory Real Party in Interest and Appellee

          Appeal from the District Court of Morton County, South Central Judicial District, the Honorable James S. Hill, Judge.

          Arnold V. Fleck, Bismarck, ND, for defendant and appellant.

          Sheila K. Keller, Special Assistant Attorney General, Bismarck, ND, for statutory real party in interest and appellee.

          OPINION

          McEvers, Justice.

         [¶1] Steve Wolt appeals from a judgment setting his monthly child support obligation at $923 and from an order denying his motion for sanctions against the State and its attorney for allegedly frivolous legal positions posited during the child support proceedings. We conclude the district court correctly interpreted the Child Support Guidelines in calculating Steve Wolt's child support obligation and, accordingly, we affirm the judgment and the order.

         I

         [¶2] Steve and Kathy Wolt were divorced in 2009 following contentious divorce proceedings and Kathy Wolt was granted primary residential responsibility of the couple's three children and Steve Wolt was ordered to pay child support in accordance with the Child Support Guidelines. See Wolt v. Wolt, 2010 ND 26, ¶ 1, 778 N.W.2d 786 (affirming divorce judgment); Wolt v. Wolt, 2011 ND 170, ¶ 1, 803 N.W.2d 534 (affirming denial of motion to award Steve Wolt primary residential responsibility of the children). After the second oldest child turned 18 years old and graduated from high school, Steve Wolt moved to modify his child support obligation. See N.D.C.C. § 14-09-08.2(1). Relying on N.D. Admin. Code § 75-02-04.1-01(10), which defines "self-employment," Steve Wolt argued his W-2 wages received from his Subchapter S corporation constitute self-employment income resulting in a total net monthly income of $3, 612 and a monthly child support obligation of $685. The State responded that Steve Wolt's child support obligation should be $923 per month based on a total net monthly income of $5, 054 because under N.D. Admin. Code § 75-02-04.1-05, which governs the determination of self-employment net income, his W-2 wages cannot be included as net earnings from self-employment but must be considered separately as regular earnings.

         [¶3] The district court agreed with the State's interpretation of the Child Support Guidelines and ordered Steve Wolt to pay $923 per month in child support for his remaining minor child. Steve Wolt then moved for an award of sanctions against the State and its attorney under N.D.R.Civ.P. 11(b)(2) claiming its arguments in the child support proceedings were not warranted by existing law. The court denied the motion.

         II

         [¶4] Steve Wolt argues the district court erred in calculating his child support obligation.

         [¶5] In Knudson v. Knudson, 2018 ND 199, ¶¶ 24-25, 916 N.W.2d 793, we explained:

Child support determinations involve questions of law subject to the de novo standard of review, findings of fact subject to the clearly erroneous standard of review, and may, in some limited areas, be matters of discretion subject to the abuse of discretion standard of review. Ferguson v. Wallace-Ferguson, 2018 ND 122, ¶ 21, 911 N.W.2d 324. A court errs as a matter of law if it does not comply with the requirements of the child support guidelines. Id.
The child support guidelines, N.D. Admin. Code ch. 75-02-04.1, govern child support determinations. The amount of child support calculated under the guidelines is rebuttably presumed to be the correct amount of child support. N.D. Admin. Code § 75-02-04.1-13. "A correct finding of an obligor's net income is essential to determining the proper amount of child support." Thompson v. Johnson, 2018 ND 142, ¶ 9, 912 N.W.2d 315 (quoting Raap v. Lenton, 2016 ND 195, ¶ 5, 885 N.W.2d 777). "Income must be sufficiently documented through the use of tax returns, current wage statements, and other information to fully apprise the court of all gross income." N.D. Admin. Code § 75-02-04.1-02(7). Child support calculations "are ordinarily based upon recent past circumstances because past circumstances are typically a reliable indicator of future circumstances, particularly circumstances concerning income." N.D. Admin. Code § 75-02-04.1-02(8).

         [¶6] Steve Wolt is primarily self-employed by Wolt Transport, Inc., a Subchapter S corporation of which he is the president and sole shareholder. We explained the attributes of Subchapter S ...


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