County of Durham v. Burnette (North Carolina 2018)

No. COA17-557 (N.C. Ct. App. 2018)
October 2018

Evidence of a parent’s willful refusal to pay a child support order and ability to pay purge conditions must support a contempt order. The father had two child support orders, and the County of Durham initiated contempt proceedings on both orders. The court found him in contempt for failure to pay on both orders and set purge payments. The father appealed. He argued that the evidence didn’t support the findings that he could pay both orders and the purge payment. The court of appeals agreed with the father. The court of appeals found that the lower court didn’t consider the father’s living expenses and were too general to support that he had the ability to pay support or the purge payments. The order contained findings such as “The Defendant owns a boat” and “The Defendant spends money on food.” The findings weren’t further developed as to the value of any of his assets and didn’t reference testimony that the father gave that showed why he couldn't pay his support. Further, the County didn’t offer any evidence to the contrary. Without more, the court of appeals found that these findings weren’t enough to support a contempt finding.