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Lawrence v. Lawrence

September 16, 1996

CAROLE J. LAWRENCE, RESPONDENT,
v.
R. W. REXFORD LAWRENCE, APPELLANT.



Appeal from Superior Court of King County. Docket No: 93-3-01635-6. Date filed: 06/22/94. Judge signing: Hon. James W. Bates JR.

PER CURIAM -- Rexford Lawrence, representing himself, appeals a decree of dissolution, assigning error, among other things, to the decree's child support and maintenance provisions. Rexford, a self-employed attorney, contends that the court abused its discretion when it calculated his gross income by looking only at his last six months of receivables. He also appeals the court's post-dissolution order holding him in contempt for failing to comply with the support and maintenance orders. His former spouse, Carole Lawrence, has advised the court that she cannot afford counsel and has not filed a response.

The court did not abuse its discretion in calculating Rexford's gross income. But the record does show that the court miscalculated his net income because it failed to deduct his normal business expenses from his gross income as allowed by statute. Accordingly, we accelerate review under RAP 18.19, reverse the child support and maintenance provisions of the dissolution decree and remand. We reject Rexford's remaining arguments as meritless.

FACTS

After seventeen years of marriage, Rexford and Carole Lawrence were granted a decree of dissolution in June of 1994 following a three-day trial. At the time of separation, Rexford was a 58-year-old attorney with twenty years of legal experience who practiced out of the family's Woodinville home. Carole was a 53-year-old registered nurse who stopped working in 1982 to care for the couple's two children, born in 1979 and 1984. Both were represented by counsel at trial.

For purposes of child support, Rexford claimed that his net income was $24,938 a year, after averaging his gross earnings (minus his business expenses) from 1990 to 1993. The couple's joint tax returns showed that Rexford grossed $17,888.60 in 1990, $37,684.97 in 1991, $27,861.74 in 1992 and $41,224.68 in 1993.

Carole claimed that Rexford's net income was $4,748 per month, based on his last six months of receivables totaling $28,489. In response, Rexford argued that the fees received during those six months were atypically high and thus not representative of his earnings history.

The court rejected Rexford's income statement and adopted Carole's child support schedule worksheet listing Rexford's monthly gross income as $4,748. His net income was stated as $3,205.48 after deduction of taxes.

Rexford's normal business expenses were not deducted. Rexford's statutory child support obligation was set at $988 per month. After adding health care expenses and crediting him for monthly insurance expenses, he was ordered to pay $938.60 a month. The court also ordered Rexford to pay Carole $2,000 a month in spousal maintenance for 18 months so that she could go back to school and return to nursing.

Rexford moved for reconsideration, claiming, among other things, that the court erred in using his income for the preceding six months to calculate his child support and maintenance obligations because it was $21,386 per annum greater than his four year average. He also argued that the court erred in calculating child support without considering his normal business expenses of $505 a month and that as a result, he was left with no income to cover his own expenses. That motion was denied.

Rexford did not make his maintenance and child support payments. Rejecting Rexford's argument that he did not have the financial ability to pay Carole, the court held him in contempt on September 8, 1994. The court entered judgments against him for back support and maintenance. The court also entered a judgment for Carole's sixty percent share of the community bank account and Rexford's account receivables.

A later September 16, 1994, order reflects that Rexford either paid the judgment or persuaded the trial court to substantially revise the amount required to purge contempt. On December 12, 1994, a court commissioner found that Rexford had "purged himself of contempt for past failures to pay support and maintenance." The commissioner noted in her ruling that "Respondent has repeatedly failed to comply with the trial court orders and has been held in contempt by both the trial court Judge and this court." But to give Rexford "a chance to demonstrate good faith compliance with court orders," the commissioner temporarily reduced his monthly support obligation for three months. He was ordered to pay $500 in maintenance for December along with $982 per month for child support and $1,500 per month in maintenance for January and February 1995.

The last order made part of the record before this court is dated August 15, 1995. That order reflects that Rexford continued to ignore the court's prior directives:

Court has retained jurisdiction and has had numerous hearings on contempt where Mr. Lawrence has dragged his feet on proving information. Court has given him extensive leeway but at last hearing he was ordered to provide information (with counsel present). He failed to do so and failed to pay monies ordered except for $30[.] He has failed to show diligence in complying with support order.

To avoid contempt, Rexford was ordered to pay a minimum of $1,500 a month maintenance and $1,220 in back support. The commissioner further ordered that Rexford appear before the court monthly without further notice. Because Rexford has not provided this court with more of a record, it is unclear whether Rexford is ...


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