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In re Marriage of Richard P. Billingham

October 7, 1996


Appeal from Superior Court of King County. Docket No: 853012163. Date filed: 05/10/95. Judge signing: Hon. James W. Bates JR.

Authored by Mary K. Becker. Concurring: C. Kenneth Grosse, Faye C. Kennedy

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Becker

BECKER, J. -- Richard Billingham petitioned the trial court to reduce his child support payment and made a showing that his net income had declined. The trial court refused, finding that his net income had not changed. As this finding is unsupported by the record, we reverse and remand for a redetermination of net income and basic support. The trial court granted Linda Billingham's counterpetition for an increase in the postsecondary education support award so that it would cover costs at a private school for one of the daughters. The decree keyed college support to the lower costs at state universities. Because the daughter's desire and ability to attend a more expensive private college was not shown to be uncontemplated, we also reverse the modification as to college support.


Richard and Linda Billingham dissolved their marriage in 1986. They had four dependent children at that time. Two of them, Logan and Christopher, remained dependent for purposes of the present action, which was initiated by Richard in 1994. The most recent prior modification to the child support award was in 1992.

The trial court held a contested hearing on the basis of affidavits in December 1994, and entered orders denying Richard's petition and determining child support on January 31, 1995. The court reserved the issue of postsecondary education support for a later fact-finding hearing. In April that hearing was held, at which time the court granted Linda's request to increase Richard's responsibility for college support for their daughter Logan.


A preliminary issue is whether Richard's notice of appeal, filed on June 8, 1995, is a timely notice for appeal of the January 31 orders. Linda asserts the 30-day time limit for filing an appeal. The 30-day period does not begin to run until the order appealed from is final. The January 31, 1995 orders were not final orders as that term is used in court rules because they were not a complete resolution of the issues in the case. *fn1 Logan's college expenses were an issue at the support modification hearing in December 1994, and the court expressly reserved the postsecondary expense issue for decision after a future hearing. All the court's rulings became final upon entry of the May 10, 1995 order. Notice was timely.


Richard contends that the trial court's findings regarding his monthly net income are not supported by substantial evidence.

The absence in the record of a report of the April 17, 1995 proceedings does not, as Linda contends, preclude us from reaching the merits of this assignment of error. The pertinent findings are in the order of January 31, 1995.

Richard's income as reported to the Internal Revenue Service consists almost entirely of a salary from his medical practice, a corporation in which he holds one-half of the shares. In 1992 the court had found Richard's monthly net income to be $12,662 and Linda's monthly net income to be $2,000.

Documents submitted by Richard to the trial court reflect that his annual gross salary, which in 1992 was $189,000, fell in 1993 to $145,000. In the present proceeding he declared a monthly net income of $8,290 based on a gross monthly income of $12,115. Linda's monthly net income remained at $2,000. Richard asked the court to set support at the advisory level indicated by the statutory support schedule for children with parents whose joint monthly income was $7,000 or more. He requested that his obligation for the two children be set at $1,194.64 in accordance with the schedule, without any deviation.

At the hearing, Linda took the position that the level of child support should remain at its current level, which for the two remaining minor children was a total of $2,174.25. She had calculated that Richard's average annual gross earnings for 1992-1994 were $167,000. Linda argued that the trial court "should just impute the income to him that he had before" because, she contended, he had failed to explain "why it is he dropped his income so substantially in just two years." Finally, she asked the court to deviate upward from the advisory schedule, as it had in the past. The prior order had listed the statutory factors of "possession of wealth" and "significant disparity in the living costs of the parents due to conditions beyond their control". *fn2 Linda argued that Richard's cost of living was partially defrayed by corporate "perks" of his practice--meals, travel expenses, and automobile use, as well as amounts representing business depreciation and retained earnings--whereas Linda had unusually large living expenses for herself and the three children living in New Hampshire.

After hearing the arguments, the court summarily ruled. "I order child support in the amounts advanced by Mr. Godsil [Linda Billingham's attorney]. I adopt the imputation and deviation calculations advanced by him." A little later, opposing counsel asked Godsil if he had ...

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