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Valentine v. Valentine

Court of Appeals of Idaho

April 4, 2017

MANDY L. VALENTINE, Plaintiff-Appellant,
DAN VALENTINE, Defendant-Respondent.

         2017 Opinion No. 22

         Appeal from the District Court of the Sixth Judicial District, State of Idaho, Bannock County. Hon. Robert C. Naftz, District Judge. Hon. Rick Carnaroli, Magistrate.

         Order of the district court, on intermediate appeal from the magistrate, affirming judgment and decree of divorce, affirmed.

          May, Rammell & Thompson, Chtd.; Peter M. Wells, Pocatello, for appellant.

          Smith & Banks, PLLC; Jeffery W. Banks, Idaho Falls, for respondent.

          MELANSON, Judge

         Mandy L. Valentine appeals from an intermediate appellate order of the district court affirming the magistrate's judgment and decree of divorce. Specifically, Mandy argues that the magistrate erred in determining Dan Valentine's monthly child support obligation. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

         Mandy and Dan were married in 2005 and had two children. In 2014, Dan filed a complaint for divorce. At trial, the parties disagreed about Dan's income for the purpose of determining child support. Mandy argued that, because Dan's employer paid Dan's health insurance premiums as part of his compensation, such contributions should be considered gross income or a fringe benefit for the purpose of calculating his income. Mandy also argued that the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act required Dan to have health insurance. She reasoned that, because Dan's employer paid for a portion of his health insurance, Dan's living expenses were reduced. The magistrate calculated Dan's child support obligation without including the value of his employer's contributions to Dan's health insurance premiums and entered a decree of divorce. Mandy appealed to the district court, alleging that the magistrate erred in calculating Dan's child support obligation by omitting the value of the employer's contribution to Dan's health insurance premiums. The district court affirmed. Mandy again appeals.

         For an appeal from the district court, sitting in its appellate capacity over a case from the magistrate division, this Court's standard of review is the same as expressed by the Idaho Supreme Court. The Supreme Court reviews the magistrate record to determine whether there is substantial and competent evidence to support the magistrate's findings of fact and whether the magistrate's conclusions of law follow from those findings. Pelayo v. Pelayo, 154 Idaho 855, 858-59, 303 P.2d 214, 217-18 (2013). If those findings are so supported and the conclusions follow therefrom, and if the district court affirmed the magistrate's decision, we affirm the district court's decision as a matter of procedure. Id. Thus, the appellate courts do not review the decision of the magistrate. Bailey v. Bailey, 153 Idaho 526, 529, 284 P.3d 970, 973 (2012). Rather, we are procedurally bound to affirm or reverse the decision of the district court. Id. The Court exercises free review over issues of law decided by the district court to determine whether it correctly stated and applied the applicable law. Garner v. Garner, 158 Idaho 932, 935, 354 P.3d 494, 497 (2015). When a trial court's discretionary decision is reviewed on appeal, the appellate court conducts a multi-tiered inquiry to determine whether the lower court correctly perceived the issue as one of discretion; acted within the boundaries of such discretion and consistently with any legal standards applicable to the specific choices before it; and reached its decision by an exercise of reason. Sun Valley Shopping Ctr., Inc. v. Idaho Power Co., 119 Idaho 87, 94, 803 P.2d 993, 1000 (1991).

         On appeal, the sole issue is whether health insurance premiums provided by Dan's employer constitute a fringe benefit for the purpose of calculating Dan's income under the Idaho Child Support Guidelines.[1] Courts use I.C. § 32-706 and the guidelines to determine a parent's child support obligation. Any interpretation of the guidelines is a question of law over which this Court exercises free review. Kornfield v. Kornfield, 134 Idaho 383, 385, 3 P.3d 61, 63 (Ct. App. 2000). Where the language of the guidelines is clear and unambiguous, courts must interpret it in accordance with its plain language and follow it as promulgated. Noble v. Fisher, 126 Idaho 885, 889, 894 P.2d 118, 122 (1995).

         The guidelines are intended to give specific guidance for evaluating evidence in child support proceedings and establishing child support obligations. I.F.L.R.P. 126(A). For the purpose of calculating a parent's income in order to determine his or her child support obligation, the guidelines provide that "income shall include the gross income of the parents and if applicable, fringe benefits and/or potential income; less adjustments." I.F.L.R.P. 126(F). Gross income under the guidelines includes income from any source, and the rule lists numerous specific sources which are to be included in the definition, as well as exceptions. I.F.L.R.P. 126(F)(1)(a).[2] Relating to fringe benefits subject to inclusion in the income calculation formula in Rule 126(F), the guidelines provide:

Fringe Benefits Defined. Fringe benefits received by a parent in the course of employment, or operation of a trade or business shall be counted as income if they are significant and reduce personal living expenses. Such fringe benefits might include a company car, free housing, or room and board.

I.F.L.R.P. 126(F)(2).

         The magistrate ruled that Dan's employer-provided health insurance premiums were neither gross income nor a fringe benefit for the purpose of calculating Dan's child ...

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