In the case of Ponnekanti v. Ananthapadmanabhan, the Virginia Court of Appeals upheld the trial court's award of child support and attorneys to a mother. At the time of the trial, both parties lived in Virginia. The father represented to the trial court that his current income was $130,000 per year. However, he testified that he intended to return to India and take a job earning approximately $27,000 per year. He explained that it was always his intention to return to India in order to take care of his parents. He testified that he planned to return to India regardless of whether the trial court awarded him custody of his child. The trial court determined the child support amount "going forward" would be based on father’s current income of $137,400 per year from his salary, bonus, and rental income. The trial court did not base the child support calculation on father’s possible income of $27,000 in India. The trial court concluded that father’s "taking the job at $27,000 is voluntarily under employed." The trial court also awarded mother $20,000 in attorney’s fees based on the parties’ relative incomes.
Father argued that the trial court erred by using $137,400 as his annual income for child support calculations. He contends the trial court should have first calculated child support guidelines based on his income in India and then made written findings as to why the amount was unjust or inappropriate.
"[T]here shall be a rebuttable presumption in any judicial or administrative proceeding for child support . . . that the amount of the award which would result from the application of the guidelines set out in § 20-108.2 is the correct amount of child support to be awarded." Code § 20-108.1(B).
Contrary to father’s argument, the trial court did not err in calculating child support based on his income of $137,400 because that was his income at the time of the hearing. The trial court correctly applied the child support guidelines and determined that father’s child support obligation was $911 per month.
The trial court did not deviate from the child support guidelines by using $137,400 for father’s income. On the contrary, father was asking the trial court to deviate from the child support guidelines and use $27,000 for his income because he intended to move to India, but had not yet done so. The trial court ruled that it was not going to deviate from the child support guidelines and calculate support based on the possible job in India because if father moved and took a job earning $27,000, he would have been voluntarily underemployed.
As for the matter of attorneys fees, an award of attorney’s fees is a matter submitted to the trial court’s sound discretion and is reviewable on appeal only for an abuse of discretion. The trial court ruled that father would pay mother $20,000 over two years for her attorney’s fees "based on the relative income of the parties." Father contends the trial court’s award of attorney’s fees was based erroneously on his annual income of $137,400, as opposed to $27,000. As stated above, the trial court did not err in concluding that husband’s income was $137,400. The trial court found that mother’s income was $72,000. Given the discrepancy between the parties’ incomes at the time of the hearing, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in awarding mother $20,000 in attorney’s fees.
-Rob Hagy, Charlottesville Divorce Lawyer