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In the Matter of Nancy E. Woolsey and Grant E. Woolsey

October 30, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hicks, J.

Plymouth Family Division

Argued: June 7, 2012

The respondent, Grant E. Woolsey, appeals an order of the Plymouth Family Division (Rappa, J.) modifying his child support obligation to the petitioner, Nancy E. Woolsey. We reverse and remand.

The trial court found, or the record supports, the following relevant facts. The parties have two daughters who, at the time of the order, were seventeen and fourteen. The respondent is a self-employed truck driver, doing business under the name Fox Ridge Reliance (the business). He transports construction materials from April to December and plows snow in the winter and spring. Before working as a truck driver, the respondent had been employed selling recreational vehicles at a salary of $50,000 per year.

According to his business's 2008 profit and loss statement, the business had gross income of $70,451.48; the net, after business expenses of $42,947.79 were deducted, was $27,947.79. The respondent took that amount as his personal income. The 2009 profit and loss statement showed gross income of $50,601.08; after expenses of $25,556.85 were deducted, the net was $25,044.23, which the respondent again took as personal income. For 2010, the profit and loss statement showed $49,624.86 in gross income, and $24,652.97 in expenses, leaving $24,971.89 for the respondent's income.

On December 8, 2010, the respondent moved to modify a child support order issued on January 28, 2008. He alleged a substantial change in circumstances due to the economic downturn. For instance, he testified that although he had regularly received work from Ambrose Brothers in the past, he did no hauling for that company in 2010 "because the economy had gotten so horrible." In addition, he testified that his fuel expense had gone up because of the economy.

The petitioner questioned the respondent's business expenses, argued that he is underemployed, and alleged that he had additional income he was not reporting to the Internal Revenue Service or to the court. She argued that the respondent did not show signs of financial hardship, and asked the court to find that he is financially capable of paying his original support obligation.

Under the 2008 order, the respondent was obligated to pay $189.00 per week in child support. At the time of the hearing, he was $12,907.00 in arrears and had not been current since 2004.

The trial court found that the respondent had failed to show a substantial change in circumstances because he continued to operate the same business and "[h]is gross income from that business was $49,624.86 in 2010, which is virtually the same as the income that was considered by the Court in 2008." See RSA 458-C:7, I(a) (Supp. 2012) (party not prohibited from applying "at any time for a modification [of child support order] based on substantial change of circumstances"). Nevertheless, because the hearing took place three years after entry of the support order under review, the court acknowledged that the petitioner was entitled to review without a showing of a substantial change of circumstances. See id. (party may apply for modification three years after entry of order "without the need to show a substantial change of circumstances").

The court found "that the [r]espondent's claims of financial hardship [were] not credible." It specifically found that his checking account balance was over $6,000.00 at the end of 2010 and that "[t]here were many months that the [r]espondent did not pay his child support in spite of having a significant positive balance in his checking account." The court acknowledged, but presumably discounted, the respondent's claim that his business needs a "cash cushion" to start "at the beginning of the spring and to deal with unexpected repairs and other expenses."

The trial court found that the respondent's 2010 gross income was $49,624.86 - that is, $4,135.40 per month. It found that he paid $436.00 in self-employment taxes per month, entitling him to a $218.00 per month deduction under RSA 458-C:2, I (Supp. 2012), resulting in an adjusted gross income of $3,917.40 per month. Applying the child support guidelines, the court calculated the respondent's support obligation to be $233.00 per week.

On appeal, the respondent argues that: (1) the trial court erred by finding that his gross income for purposes of calculating his child support obligation was the same as the business's gross income; (2) the trial court incorrectly applied RSA 458-C:2, I, in finding that the only expense it could deduct was fifty percent of the respondent's self-employment tax; (3) the trial court misinterpreted RSA 458-C:2, IV (2004) so as to impose a confiscatory order; (4) the trial court's finding as to the credibility of the respondent could not be used to support an upward adjustment to the guideline support obligation; and (5) the trial court's order constituted an "inequitable application of the law in violation of [the New Hampshire] [C]onstitution."

We first address the respondent's claim that the trial court erred in equating the gross income of his business with his gross income for purposes of calculating his child support obligation. "Resolution of this issue requires that we interpret RSA 458-C:2, IV, which defines gross income for child support purposes. We review the trial court's statutory interpretation de novo. We are the final arbiters of the legislature's intent as expressed in the words of the statute considered as a whole." In the Matter of Fulton & Fulton, 154 N.H. 264, 266 (2006) (quotations and citation omitted).

When examining the language of the statute, we will ascribe the plain and ordinary meaning to the words used. We interpret legislative intent from the statute as written and will not consider what the legislature might have said or add language the legislature did not see fit to include. As we examine the language, we do not merely look at isolated words or phrases, but instead we consider the statute as a whole. In so doing, we are better able to discern the legislature's intent, and ...

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