Barham v. Barham (North Carolina 2022)

No. COA22-340 (N.C. Ct. App. 2022)
December 2022

A parent can’t unilaterally  modify a child support order. The original divorce decree ordered the father to pay support for the parties’ eight children. Support was modified several times. After entry of the latest modification, the father began paying one cent per pay period toward monthly support. He filed for credit for overpaying support, arguing he had made two additional child support payments each year for the years spanning 2013 -2019. The mother filed a motion for contempt for nonpayment. The trial court found the father in contempt. No precedent supports the father’s overpayment argument. He made a unilateral mistake of making additional payments and could have sought relief during one of the earlier modification proceedings. The youngest child at home wouldn’t benefit from those payments. The father willfully altered his payroll on his own and without seeking court approval and he had the ability to pay. The father appealed. The appellate court upheld the contempt finding. The trial court’s order addressed each element of contempt and didn’t abuse its discretion. The father argued he couldn’t have willfully failed to comply with the order because he was never behind due to his prepayments. The appellate court noted that courts have discretion when dealing with a request for credit. However, there is no automatic right, and in this case, the father didn’t have court approval of his actions.