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Miller v. Miller

Supreme Court of Nevada, En Banc

March 15, 2018

LESLIE LYNN MILLER, Appellant,
v.
BRETT ROBERT MILLER, Respondent.

         Appeal from a district court divorce decree and determination of child support. Eighth Judicial District Court, Family Court Division, Clark County; Charles J. Hoskin, Judge.

          Pecos Law Group and Jack W. Fleeman, Henderson, for Appellant.

          Christopher P. Burke, Las Vegas, for Respondent.

          Fine Carman Price and Michael P. Carman, Henderson, for Amicus Curiae State Bar of Nevada, Family Law Section.

          OPINION

          HARDESTY, J.

         In this opinion, we address a matter of first impression: how to interpret and apply Nevada's child support statutes where both parents share joint physical custody of one child but one parent has primary physical custody of the other child. We provide guidance on how to calculate child support in this type of custody arrangement. We further stress the importance of the district court's duty to make sufficient findings of fact when deviating from the statutory formula for child support calculations.

         Appellant Leslie Miller and respondent Brett Miller are the parents of two minor children. They divorced in 2015 and, through family mediation, reached an agreement on almost all aspects of the divorce, including custody of the children. They agreed to share joint physical custody of one of their children, but Leslie has primary physical custody of the other child because that child lives with Leslie and stays with Brett every other weekend. The parents were unable, however, to reach an agreement on child support. The district court determined that Brett was to pay Leslie $345 in monthly child support. Leslie filed a motion for reconsideration, to amend the judgment, and for findings of fact and conclusions of law on the child support calculation, arguing that there was no controlling Nevada authority governing a split custody situation like theirs, the district court's $345 award fell below the statutory guidelines, and the award was unreasonable given the parties' incomes and circumstances. Additionally, at the hearing on Leslie's motion, Leslie requested the district court to explain how it arrived at the amount of $345, but the district court provided no calculations.

         The district court denied Leslie's motion, finding that its $345 award was in the children's best interests. The court explained that it had "run the numbers using the statutory percentages of 18% for one child and 25% for two children and given the comparative incomes, the deviation factors permitted under NRS 125B.080(9), and all circumstances, the $345 per month in child support is the appropriate figure." Leslie brings this appeal challenging the district court's child support award.

         DISCUSSION

         On appeal, Leslie argues that the district court abused its discretion by not providing specific findings of fact to explain the deviation from the amount of child support owed under the statutory guideline. Leslie further argues that the amount of child support is unreasonable under the child support guidelines and based on the parties' custody arrangement and respective incomes. Brett argues that there is no statute that provides a guideline for determining child support in a custody situation like the Millers', so the district court could not have abused its discretion. The parties, the district court, and amicus curiae, the State Bar of Nevada Family Law Section (FLS), have asked this court to determine the appropriate formula for the calculation of child support in this type of situation. The parties and FLS provide formulas based on their varying interpretations of NRS 125B.070, the statute that provides the baseline percentages of income for determining child support.

         We have not previously considered the application of NRS 125B.070 to a split custody scenario where both parents share joint physical custody of one child and one parent has primary physical custody of another child. However, we are not without statutory guidance and jurisprudence. Therefore, in this opinion, we analyze Nevada's statutory child support framework and caselaw. Next, we consider the district court's determination of the child support award in this case and the parties' and FLS's interpretations of NRS 125B.070. Finally, we apply the appropriate formula to the Millers' custody arrangement to clarify the steps district courts must take when determining the appropriate child support amount.

         Nevada's child support framework

         "[Q]uestions of statutory construction, including the meaning and scope of a statute, are questions of law, which [we] review[ ] de novo." City of Reno v. Reno Gazette-Journal, 119 Nev. 55, 58, 63 P.3d 1147, 1148 (2003). NRS 125B.020U) states that "[t]he parents of a child . . . have a duty to provide the child necessary maintenance, health care, education and support."[1] This duty is defined in NRS 125B.070, which is the starting point for calculating child support. In NRS 125B.070, the Legislature set forth a formula for determining the "obligation for support, " which is a flat rate percentage of a parent's gross monthly income that each parent owes for the support of their children based on the number of children they have.

         NRS 125B.070(1)(b) explains the "obligation for support" as follows:

"Obligation for support" means the sum certain dollar amount determined according to the ...

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