Award's of Attorney's Fees in Divorce and Imputation of Income for Child Support - Recent Case

Discussed below is a recent ruling from the Western District of Missouri, where the Court, among other things, upheld the trial Court's ruling of imputation of income for child support and the award of attorney's fees.

For calculation of child support, a trial court may impute income to a party according to what that party could earn by using best efforts to gain employment suitable to his or her capabilities. Imputation is appropriate where the parent voluntarily reduces his or her income without justification. Further, Imputation is only proper where the trial court concludes from the evidence that the "parent has the capacity to earn more but voluntarily refuses to do so." In imputing income, the directions to Form 14 indicate that the court may consider employment potential and probable earnings level based on the parent's recent work history, occupational qualifications, prevailing job opportunities in the community.

As to the issue of attorneys fees, Missouri law permits the Court to award attorney's fees to a party, but it is not required to do so. Generally the Court takes the position that each party must bear their own costs of litigation, and usually does not require one party to pay the attorney's fees of another party. However, if the court does make such an award, the Court must consider all relevant factors including, the relative financial resources of the parties, the merits of the case, and the actions of the parties during the pendancy of the action. In this recent case, the Court of Appeals stated in so many words that an award of attorney's fees would not be reversed if the award was arbitrary and unreasonable.

The summary of the case is as follows:

Circuit Court Need Not Award All Attorney Fees
Child's best interest does not necessarily require that Spouse who was caregiver during marriage has more parenting time after dissolution. Circuit Court properly imputed income to Spouse based on evidence of earning potential and desire not to achieve it. Actual income includes bonuses and benefits. In property division, Circuit Court need not credit Spouse with separate debts, including attorney fees, and need not award fees where much was spent litigating meritless issue. Payment of past maintenance did not waive contest of future payments, but Spouse did not show that the amount "was unwarranted, beyond [Spouse's] means to pay or so excessive as to constitute an abuse of . . . discretion. Rule allows award of half of transcript costs.
Sharlene Krepps, Appellant-Respondent, v. Richard Lee Krepps, Respondent-Appellant. Missouri Court of Appeals Western District