Christo Lassiter v. Sharlene W. Lassiter

Decision Date21 June 2002
Docket NumberC-010309,02-LW-2433
Citation2002 Ohio 3136
PartiesCHRISTO LASSITER, Plaintiff-Appellant v. SHARLENE W. LASSITER, Defendant-Appellee APPEAL
CourtOhio Court of Appeals

Lutz Cornetet & Albrinck and Karen Meyer, for Plaintiff-Appellant

Victor Dwayne Sims, for Defendant-Appellee.


Doan Presiding Judge.

Plaintiff-appellant, Christo Lassiter, appeals from a divorce decree that ended his marriage to defendant-appellee Sharlene Lassiter, divided the parties' property, and ordered Christo to pay child support. This court has not seen many domestic relations cases more contentious and acrimonious or more consumption of judicial time and resources than this case. The parties, who are both law professors and who ought to know better, engaged in thoroughly inappropriate behavior that was detrimental to the resolution of their case and to the welfare of their children, for which both claimed to be primarily concerned. Their actions caused this case to drag on for five years. This court takes a dim view of such tactics. After reviewing the voluminous record, we conclude that the trial court's decision was thoughtful and thorough, despite the parties' numerous motions and general lack of civility. Our review of the record shows no abuse of discretion by the trial court.

Christo presents eight assignments of error for review. In his first assignment of error, he contends that the trial court erred in calculating child support. Relying on this court's decision in Weinberger v. Weinberger (May 15, 1998), 1st Dist. No. C-970552, he contends that this case involves de facto shared parenting and that he is entitled to an offset in child support for the time that the children spend with him. We disagree.

Weinberger involved an actual shared-parenting decree in which each parent was designated the residential parent. In this case, there is no shared-parenting decree. The trial court specifically designated Sharlene as the children's residential parent and legal custodian and Christo as the nonresidential parent. Consequently, Weinberger is not dispositive, and we decline to extend it to the facts of this case, as Christo requests.

Simply put, there is no such thing as de facto shared parenting. Either a shared-parenting decree exists or it does not. The provisions of former R.C. 3113.215 and the child-support calculations it contained were mandatory, and courts were required to follow them literally and technically in all respects. Marker v. Grimm (1992), 65 Ohio St.3d 139, 601 N.E.2d 496, paragraph two of the syllabus. Former R.C. 3113.215(C) set forth presumptions that the residential parent's child-support obligation is spent on that child and does not become part of a child-support order, and that the nonresidential parent's child support does become part of the order. These presumptions apply in this case. See Pauly v. Pauly, 80 Ohio St.3d 386, 387, 1997-Ohio-105, 686 N.E.2d 1108. Christo is not entitled to a credit in his child-support payments for the time the children spend with him.

The trial court properly calculated child support in accordance with the sample worksheet set forth in former R.C. 3113.215(E). See Rock v. Cabral (1993), 67 Ohio St.3d 108, 110, 616 N.E.2d 218; Miller v. Miller (Sept. 17, 1999), 1st Dist. No. C-980892. The trial court appropriately considered the issue of extended visitation time relating to a deviation from the amount calculated in the worksheet. See Marker, supra, at 142, 601 N.E.2d 496; Fernback v. Fernback, 7th Dist. No. 00-C.A.-276, 2001-Ohio-3482. Under the circumstances, we cannot hold that the trial court's decision on child support was so arbitrary, unreasonable or unconscionable as to connote an abuse of discretion, and we overrule Christo's first assignment of error. See Pauly, supra, at 390, 686 N.E.2d 1108; Blakemore v. Blakemore (1983), 5 Ohio St.3d 217, 218, 450 N.E.2d 1140.

In his second assignment of error, Christo takes issue with the amount of the downward deviation from the calculated amount of child support. Essentially, he contends that, based on the evidence of his actual out-of-pocket expenditures, he was entitled to a larger deviation. Our review of the record shows that the trial court concluded that a deviation from the amount of child support shown in the worksheet was appropriate and in the children's best interest. It properly considered former R.C. 3113.215(B)(2)(b) because the parties' combined gross income exceeded $150,000. See Frazier v. Daniels (1997), 118 Ohio App.3d 425, 428-429, 693 N.E.2d 289; Miller, supra. It also considered the appropriate statutory factors justifying the amount of the deviation and made findings of fact supporting that deviation. See Marker, supra, at 142, 601 N.E.2d 496; Fernback, supra; Miller, supra. The record does not show that the amount of the deviation was so unreasonable, arbitrary or unconscionable as to connote an abuse of discretion. See Pauly, supra, at 390, 686 N.E.2d 1108; Blakemore, supra, at 218, 450 N.E.2d 1140. Accordingly, we overrule Christo's second assignment of error.

In his third assignment of error, Christo contends that the trial court erred by making the child-support order that included the deviation retroactive to May 9, 1999, the date Christo filed his motion for modification of child support, instead of to November 12, 1996, the date the initial order setting temporary child support was issued. While the law generally provides that the trial court may make modifications of non-delinquent child-support obligations retroactive to the date of the filing of the motion for modification, the court has broad discretion in determining whether and to what date to make a support order retroactive. Pacurar v. Pacurar (1999), 132 Ohio App.3d 787, 789-790, 726 N.E.2d 552; Hamilton v. Hamilton (1995), 107 Ohio App.3d 132, 139-140, 667 N.E.2d 1256; Torbeck v. Torbeck (Sept. 28, 2001), 1st Dist. No. C-010022. Christo has not demonstrated that making the support order retroactive to 1996 was in the children's best interest or that the trial court's decision was so unreasonable, arbitrary or unconscionable as to connote an abuse of discretion. See Blakemore, supra, at 218, 450 N.E.2d 1140; Hamilton, supra, at 139, 667 N.E.2d 1256; Torbeck, supra. Accordingly, we overrule his third assignment of error.

In his fourth assignment of error, Christo contends that the trial court's finding of sanctionable misconduct related to the sale of the marital residence was against the manifest weight of the evidence. To the contrary, the record contains substantial evidence that Christo deliberately delayed the sale of the property for his own purposes and caused additional expenses and costs to accrue. Judgments supported by some competent, credible evidence going to all essential elements of the case will not be reversed by a reviewing court as being against the manifest weight of the evidence. Middendorf v. Middendorf, 82 Ohio St.3d 397, 401, 1998-Ohio-403, 696 N.E.2d 575; Seasons Coal Co. v. Cleveland (1984), 10 Ohio St.3d 77, 80, 461 N.E.2d 1273.

The trial court has broad discretion in fashioning an equitable property division. Berish v. Berish (1982) 69 Ohio St.2d 318, 319, 432 N.E.2d 183; Cherry v. Cherry (1981), 66 Ohio St.2d 348, 421 N.E.2d 1293, paragraph two of the syllabus; Terry v. Terry (1994), 99 Ohio App.3d 228, 232, 650 N.E.2d 184. Particularly, the trial court has discretion pursuant to R.C. 3104.171(D)(3) as to whether to compensate one spouse for the financial misconduct of the other. Seybert v. Seybert, 11th Dist. No. 99-T-0119, 2001-Ohio-8739. In this case, we cannot hold that the trial court's decision to compensate Sharlene for Christo's financial misconduct was so arbitrary, unreasonable or unconscionable as to connote an abuse of discretion. See Middendorf, supra, at 401, 696 N.E.2d 575; Blakemore, supra, at 218, 450 N.E.2d 1140.

Christo further argues that Sharlene's execution of a release in relation to a failed sale of the property, which stated that all parties were released "from any obligation or liability thereunder," barred her claim of economic misconduct related to the sale. We disagree.

A release of a cause of action for damages is an absolute bar to any claim encompassed within the release. Haller v. Borror Corp. (1990), 50 Ohio St.3d 10, 13, 552 N.E.2d 207; Okocha v. Fehrenbacher (1995), 101 Ohio App.3d 309, 318, 655 N.E.2d 744. A release is a contract, subject to all requirements for a valid contract. Noroski v. Fallet (1982), 2 Ohio St.3d 77, 79, 442 N.E.2d 1302; Okocha, supra, at 318, 655 N.E.2d 744.

The interpretation of a written agreement is, in the first instance, a matter of law for the court. If it is clear and unambiguous, the court need not go beyond the plain language of the agreement to determine the rights and obligations of the parties. Aultman Hosp. Assn. v. Community Mut. Ins. Co. (1989), 46 Ohio St.3d 51, 53, 544 N.E.2d 920; Crowninshield/Old Town Comm. Urban Redevelopment Corp. v. Campeon Roofing & Waterproofing, Inc. (1998), 129 Ohio App.3d 819, 823, 719 N.E.2d 89. The release in question was signed by the Lassiters, as the sellers of the marital residence, and the prospective buyers. It stated that the contract of sale between the Lassiters and the buyers was void. The plain and unambiguous language of the release indicated that the parties intended to release the buyers and the sellers from all obligations related to that contract of sale. It did not indicate an intent to release any claims related to the property division between the Lassiters.

We agree with the trial court when it stated,

[L]anguage purporting to define and/or abolish marital rights as between the parties themselves, as part of a release involving third part

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