Breitenstine v. Breitenstine, No. 02-15.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
Writing for the CourtLEHMAN, Justice.
Citation2003 WY 16,62 P.3d 587
PartiesJerald R. BREITENSTINE, Appellant (Defendant), v. Nancy L. BREITENSTINE, Appellee (Plaintiff).
Docket NumberNo. 02-15.
Decision Date30 January 2003

62 P.3d 587
2003 WY 16

Jerald R. BREITENSTINE, Appellant (Defendant),
v.
Nancy L. BREITENSTINE, Appellee (Plaintiff)

No. 02-15.

Supreme Court of Wyoming.

January 30, 2003.


62 P.3d 588
Andrea L. Richard of Rothgerber, Johnson & Lyons, LLP, Cheyenne, WY; and Christopher H. Hawks of Hawks & Levy, LLC, Jackson, WY, Representing Appellant. Argument by Ms. Richard

W. Keith Goody of Jackson, WY, Representing Appellee. Argument by Mr. Goody.

62 P.3d 589
Before HILL, C.J., and GOLDEN, LEHMAN,1 KITE, and VOIGT, JJ

LEHMAN, Justice.

[¶ 1] Jerald Breitenstine (Husband) appeals the property division ordered by the district court in conjunction with his divorce. Husband claims the district court erred in its division of the marital estate between him and Nancy Breitenstine (Wife). We find the trial court did not abuse its discretion and, therefore, affirm with modification.

ISSUES

[¶ 2] Husband presents and we consider the following three issues on appeal:

I. The trial court abused its discretion by disregarding the evidence that gifts and inheritance from Mr. Breitenstine's parents to Mr. Breitenstine accounted for substantially all of the assets at issue, and erred by including Mr. Breitenstine's inherited assets in the marital estate and awarding the bulk of Mr. Breitenstine's inherited assets to Ms. Breitenstine.
II. The trial court attempted to punish Mr. Breitenstine by awarding substantially all of Mr. Breitenstine's inherited assets to Ms. Breitenstine and in doing so, issued erroneous findings of fact that are not supported by the record.
III. The trial court attempted to punish Mr. Breitenstine by exceeding its jurisdiction and ordering territories outside the state of Wyoming to take action with respect to Mr. Breitenstine's assets.

FACTS

[¶ 3] Husband and Wife married on June 30, 1979, in Canton, Ohio. During the course of their marriage the couple had two children. Early in the marriage, Wife attended college full time and worked. Husband worked intermittently at a landfill operated by Breitenstine Landfill, Inc. Wife's earnings supported the family during that time. Husband's parents initially owned all stock in Breitenstine Landfill, Inc. Husband received shares of stock in the early part of the marriage; this stock represented twenty-one percent of the outstanding stock. In 1989, Breitenstine Landfill, Inc. sold for about $30 million. The sale took place as one transaction but it involved three parts: 1) the sale of the actual land on which the landfill was situated, 2) the sale of the corporation itself, and 3) the sale of the farm adjacent to the landfill owned by Husband and his father. The sale was structured in a manner so that Husband and his father received the money from the sale of the farm, each owner received compensation for their outstanding shares of stock, and Husband's parents received the proceeds from the sale of the landfill itself. Husband's portion of the sale proceeds amounted to $106,550.

[¶ 4] However, as was contemplated by the parties when structuring the sale, that same year Husband received a gift from his father in the amount of $1.9 million and a gift from his mother in an identical amount. Husband placed the money from these gifts into Husband and Wife's joint account. Both parties had access to the joint account and used the funds in the account of their own free will. The money was co-mingled with other marital property, and thereafter the couple lived off these funds or the income from investments purchased with these funds. After the receipt of these funds, in an effort to minimize taxes, Husband wanted to move offshore. The couple moved to the Bahamas in 1989. Husband's father died in 1994, and around that time the marriage began to have trouble. In 1994, Wife went on a hunting trip with her brother to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. She liked the area and, after discussions with Husband, both decided that a home should be purchased in Wyoming. After remodeling and renovation, the home cost approximately $2.2 million, a substantial portion of which was paid for out of the joint account. Shortly after this purchase, the marriage began to further deteriorate. The parties separated for a short time but then reconciled in March of 1995.

[¶ 5] In April of 1995, Husband received another sum of money from his mother which the parties stipulated was inheritance from his father's estate. This sum amounted to

62 P.3d 590
approximately $4 million. In November of 1995, Husband created the Breitenstine Family Trust (family trust) and transferred a substantial portion of the marital assets to the trust. In November of 1996, the couple separated again, and Wife filed for divorce. However, Wife dismissed the divorce at Husband's request with the promise of marriage counseling. Nevertheless, in April of 1997 the couple separated for the final time. During the time between the creation of the family trust and the hearing for division of marital property, Husband continued to make transfers of property to the family trust

[¶ 6] Wife filed for divorce in Wyoming, and the divorce was granted February 16, 1999. Yet, the property division matters were not heard until January 29, 2001. On August 17, 2001, the district court entered findings of fact, conclusions of law, and judgment related to the property division matters. The district court's findings concluded in relevant part that the total marital estate was at least $8,764,673, made up almost entirely of the gifts from Husband's parents. The judgment awarded Wife $2,000 per month in alimony and one-half of the marital estate. Husband appeals this judgment.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶ 7] Decisions concerning the division of marital property are within the sound discretion of the trial court. The disposition of marital property will not be disturbed on appeal unless there was an abuse of discretion. Hall v. Hall, 2002 WY 30, ¶ 12, 40 P.3d 1228 ¶ 12 (Wyo.2002) (citing Davis v. Davis, 980 P.2d 322, 323 (Wyo. 1999)). Property divisions are complex and therefore require the trial court, in its discretion, to assess what is right under the circumstances considering the respective merits and needs of the parties. McCulloh v. Drake, 2001 WY 56, ¶ 15, 24 P.3d 1162, ¶ 15 (Wyo.2001) (citing France v. France, 902 P.2d 701, 703 (Wyo.1995); Neuman v. Neuman, 842 P.2d 575, 578 (Wyo.1992); Kennedy v. Kennedy, 456 P.2d 243, 247 (Wyo.1969)). "An abuse of discretion occurs when the property disposition shocks the conscience of this court and appears so unfair and inequitable that reasonable people cannot abide it." Hall, at ¶ 12. In our review, we consider only the evidence of the prevailing party, granting the prevailing party every reasonable inference to be drawn from the evidence. We omit from consideration evidence presented by the unsuccessful party. Johnson v. Johnson, 11 P.3d 948, 950 (Wyo.2000) (citing Bailey v. Bailey, 954 P.2d 962, 965 (Wyo.1998); Grosskopf v. Grosskopf, 677 P.2d 814, 818 (Wyo.1984)).

DISCUSSION

Inherited Assets

[¶ 8] Husband claims the trial court erred in the division of the Breitenstine marital property. He contends that the gifts and inheritance from his parents should not have been awarded to Wife. Husband argues that in dividing the marital estate the trial court ignored a material factor deserving significant weight, i.e., the party through whom the property was acquired. Citing McCulloh v. Drake, ¶ 15, Husband further asserts "in Wyoming, property inherited or gifted to one spouse is awarded to the spouse who received it." We disagree.

[¶ 9] The division of marital property is controlled by Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 20-2-114 (LexisNexis 2001):

In granting a divorce, the court shall make such disposition of the property of the parties as appears just and equitable, having regard for the respective merits of the parties and the condition in which they will be left by the divorce, the party through whom the property was acquired and the burdens imposed upon the property for the benefit of either party and children.

A reading of the statute indicates that the party through whom the property was acquired is one of the multiple factors the trial court considers in determining the appropriate division of property. In McCulloh, we made it clear that property inherited by one party can be awarded to the party by whom it was inherited or given. McCulloh, at ¶ 15. But we did not hold that property inherited by one spouse must always be awarded to the spouse that received it. Before the McCulloh decision, we said no hard and fast

62 P.3d 591
rules govern property divisions. Moore v. Moore, 809 P.2d 261, 265 (Wyo.1991) (citing Dennis v. Dennis, 675 P.2d 265 (Wyo.1984); Klatt v. Klatt, 654 P.2d 733 (Wyo.1982); Paul v. Paul, 616 P.2d 707 (Wyo.1980)). We continue to adhere to that principle. We have never established bright line rules for the disposition of a gift or inheritance, and we do not do so now. Instead, we review whether the trial court considered the appropriate factors in making the disposition. The particular circumstances of the case dictate the property distribution. Bricker v. Bricker, 877 P.2d 747, 750 (Wyo.1994) (citing Biggerstaff v. Biggerstaff, 443 P.2d 524, 526 (Wyo. 1968)).

[¶ 10] In its findings of fact, the trial court stated "[t]he gifts from the Defendant's parents and the proceeds therefrom account for substantially all of the marital estate subject to division by this Court." Clearly, this statement indicates the district court considered through whom the property was acquired. Nothing in the statute or our case law would then require the district court to award this entire amount to Husband. The district court also has to weigh other appropriate factors.

[¶ 11] For instance, consideration must be given to the respective merits of the parties. The district court's findings of fact, all of which are supported by the record, include consideration of this factor. The district court found that Husband...

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19 practice notes
  • State ex rel. Petro v. Gold, No. 04AP-863.
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Ohio)
    • March 2, 2006
    ...and that such an order does not act directly upon title to the out-of-state property"), citing Breitenstine v. Breitenstine (Wy.2003), 62 P.3d 587; TWE Retirement Fund Trust v. Ream (2000), 198 Ariz. 268, 8 P.3d 1182; Gen. Elec. Capital Corp. v. Advance Petroleum, Inc. (Fla.App.1995), 660 S......
  • Mantle v. N. Star Energy & Constr. LLC, S-18-0101
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • March 12, 2019
    ...the intent test ..., whether [the debtor] was solvent at the time of the transfer is not dispositive."); see Breitenstine v. Breitenstine , 2003 WY 16, ¶ 18, 62 P.3d 587, 592 (Wyo. 2003) (stating that "[t]he determining factor" in whether a transfer is fraudulent is the transferor’s intent ......
  • Wallop v. Wallop, No. 02-248
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • April 27, 2004
    ...allowed the trial court open discretion in determining the effective date of the division. See generally Breitenstine v. Breitenstine, 2003 WY 16, 62 P.3d 587 (Wyo.2003); McCulloh v. Drake, 2001 WY 56, 24 P.3d 1162 (Wyo.2001); Bailey v. Bailey, 954 P.2d 962 (Wyo.1998); Neuman, at 582; Overc......
  • Groza-Vance v. Vance, No. 04AP-1216.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Ohio
    • July 28, 2005
    ...state and that such an order does not act directly upon title to the out-of-state property. See Breitenstine v. Breitenstine (Wy.2003), 62 P.3d 587; TWE Retirement Fund Trust v. Ream (2000), 198 Ariz. 268, 8 P.3d 1182; Gen. Elec. Capital Corp. v. Advance Petroleum, Inc. (Fla.App.1995), 660 ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
19 cases
  • State ex rel. Petro v. Gold, No. 04AP-863.
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Ohio)
    • March 2, 2006
    ...and that such an order does not act directly upon title to the out-of-state property"), citing Breitenstine v. Breitenstine (Wy.2003), 62 P.3d 587; TWE Retirement Fund Trust v. Ream (2000), 198 Ariz. 268, 8 P.3d 1182; Gen. Elec. Capital Corp. v. Advance Petroleum, Inc. (Fla.App.1995), 660 S......
  • Mantle v. N. Star Energy & Constr. LLC, S-18-0101
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • March 12, 2019
    ...the intent test ..., whether [the debtor] was solvent at the time of the transfer is not dispositive."); see Breitenstine v. Breitenstine , 2003 WY 16, ¶ 18, 62 P.3d 587, 592 (Wyo. 2003) (stating that "[t]he determining factor" in whether a transfer is fraudulent is the transferor’s intent ......
  • Wallop v. Wallop, No. 02-248
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • April 27, 2004
    ...allowed the trial court open discretion in determining the effective date of the division. See generally Breitenstine v. Breitenstine, 2003 WY 16, 62 P.3d 587 (Wyo.2003); McCulloh v. Drake, 2001 WY 56, 24 P.3d 1162 (Wyo.2001); Bailey v. Bailey, 954 P.2d 962 (Wyo.1998); Neuman, at 582; Overc......
  • Groza-Vance v. Vance, No. 04AP-1216.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Ohio
    • July 28, 2005
    ...state and that such an order does not act directly upon title to the out-of-state property. See Breitenstine v. Breitenstine (Wy.2003), 62 P.3d 587; TWE Retirement Fund Trust v. Ream (2000), 198 Ariz. 268, 8 P.3d 1182; Gen. Elec. Capital Corp. v. Advance Petroleum, Inc. (Fla.App.1995), 660 ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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