Goodman v. Goodman

Citation754 N.E.2d 595
Decision Date30 August 2001
Docket NumberNo. 79A02-0103-CV-128.,79A02-0103-CV-128.
PartiesIn re the Marriage of Steven F. GOODMAN, Appellant-Petitioner, v. Joy GOODMAN, Appellee-Respondent.
CourtIndiana Appellate Court

Ann G. Davis, Lafayette, IN, Attorney for Appellant.

Pamela J. Hermes, Lafayette, IN, Attorney for Appellee.

OPINION

MATHIAS, Judge.

Steven Goodman ("Husband") appeals the trial court's award of nearly all of the marital estate plus attorney fees to his former wife, Joy White ("Wife"). He raises five issues, which we restate as:

I. Whether the trial court abused its discretion when it found that Husband dissipated marital assets;

II. Whether the trial court abused its discretion when it awarded nearly all of the marital assets to Wife;

III. Whether the property settlement payments Husband was ordered to pay to Wife constitute an improper award of maintenance; and

IV. Whether the trial court abused its discretion when it awarded attorney fees to Wife.

We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.

Facts and Procedural History

Husband and Wife were married on May 29, 1998. There were no children born to the marriage, but Wife has a daughter from a prior marriage, and that daughter resided with them. Husband also has a daughter from a prior marriage, but she did not live with them at any time during the marriage. Wife brought substantial assets into the marriage, including a house and savings and several retirement accounts, for a total value of $180,000. Wife was debt-free at the time of the marriage. Husband brought two automobiles into the marriage, which were his most substantial assets, but his debts exceeded his assets by $10,000. Wife knew nothing of these debts and did not become aware of them until several months after they were married. As she had previously, Wife continued to work part-time as a nurse throughout the marriage, earning approximately $20,000 to $25,000 per year. Husband worked for A.E. Staley, earning $55,000 to $65,000 per year.

During the marriage, Wife obtained a home equity loan with a $60,000 credit limit. She gave $15,000 to Husband to pay his automobile loans, but instead, and without Wife's knowledge, he used the money to pay other premarital debts unknown to Wife. Both incurred other expenses on the home equity line of credit, mostly for improvements to the house. As a result of the improvements, the value of the house increased by approximately $47,000. In 1999, Wife obtained a $95,000, thirty-year, first mortgage on the house. She paid the original $60,000 home equity loan and used the remainder to pay debt owed on Husband's new truck. Wife obtained an additional home equity loan in the amount of $17,249 to pay the parties' credit card debts.

On February 25, 2000, Wife filed a petition for dissolution. A final hearing was held on September 27 and October 2, 2000, after which the trial court issued findings of fact and conclusions of law. The trial court found that Wife's net assets at the time of filing totaled approximately $82,500, a net decrease during the parties' marriage of almost $100,000. The trial court also found that Husband engaged in excessive spending, despite Wife's protests, resulting in dissipation of marital assets. Husband's conduct during the course of the dissolution also increased the amount of attorney fees incurred by Wife. Wife served several discovery requests to which Husband failed to respond until Wife filed a Motion to Compel. The trial court found that many of Husband's responses to discovery were either incomplete or false and misleading.

Prior to the final hearing, Husband paid $20,000 to Wife to reimburse her for his truck. In addition, the trial court ordered Husband to pay $30,000 to Wife for his fair share of existing debts including his premarital debts incorporated into the home mortgage, as well as Wife's attorney fees in the amount of $4500. The trial court recognized that this amount would be difficult for Husband to pay in one lump sum, and it ordered him to pay Wife $125 per week at 7% interest. Wife was awarded nearly all of the marital assets including the house, her car, and several other personal items. Husband received his truck as well as his personal items.

I. Dissipation of Marital Assets

Husband first argues that the trial court abused its discretion when it found that he dissipated marital assets. Our court reviews findings of dissipation in various contexts under an abuse of discretion standard. Coyle v. Coyle, 671 N.E.2d 938, 942 (Ind.Ct.App.1996). We will reverse only if the trial court's judgment is clearly against the logic and effect of the facts and the reasonable inferences to be drawn from those facts. Wallace v. Wallace, 714 N.E.2d 774, 779 (Ind.Ct.App.1999), trans. denied.

Dissipation of marital assets involves "the frivolous, unjustified spending of marital assets." Coyle, 671 N.E.2d at 943. The test for dissipation of marital assets is "whether the assets were actually wasted or misused." Id. Factors to consider in determining whether dissipation has occurred include:

1. Whether the expenditure benefited the marriage or was made for a purpose entirely unrelated to the marriage;
2. The timing of the transaction;
3. Whether the expenditure was excessive or de minimis; and
4. Whether the dissipating party intended to hide, deplete, or divert the marital asset.

Id.; see also Pitman v. Pitman, 721 N.E.2d 260, 264 (Ind.Ct.App.1999),

trans. denied.

The trial court made the following finding with regard to Husband's dissipation of marital assets:

During the course of the parties' marriage, the Husband engaged in excessive spending, despite the Wife's protests in this regard, resulting in a substantial dissipation of assets. He purchased many items on credit, many collectibles and through the Internet.

R. at 121. The trial court then noted several items as examples, including Internet purchases, Longaberger baskets, CDs, and collectible coins, for a total of $3027.

Although not included in the specific finding set forth above, the trial court also noted in various findings that in addition to the other pre-marital debts he brought into the marriage, the automobiles Husband brought into the marriage carried indebtedness. Wife took out a home equity loan, in part, to pay the debt on Husband's automobiles, and gave Husband $15,000. Without Wife's knowledge, instead of paying the debt on his automobiles, Husband used the money to pay other premarital debts unknown to Wife. Additionally, the trial court found that Husband took $8500 from his payroll checks instead of depositing it into the parties' joint checking account.1 All of this evidence supports the trial court's finding, and under these circumstances, the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it found that Husband dissipated marital assets.

II. Division of Marital Property

Husband next argues that the trial court abused its discretion when it awarded virtually all of the marital assets to Wife. When reviewing a challenge to the court's division of marital property, we determine whether the evidence supports the findings, and then whether the findings support the judgment. Wallace v. Wallace, 714 N.E.2d 774, 779 (Ind.Ct.App. 1999), trans. denied. We review a challenge to the trial court's division of marital property for abuse of discretion, and consider only the evidence favorable to the judgment. Id. We will reverse only if its judgment is clearly against the logic and effect of the facts and the reasonable inferences to be drawn from those facts. Id.

The trial court's discretion in the disposition of marital property is subject to the statutory presumption in favor of equal distribution. Newby v. Newby, 734 N.E.2d 663, 668 (Ind.Ct.App.2000). However, Indiana Code section 31-15-7-5 provides that the presumption of an equal division may be rebutted by evidence of:

(1) The contribution of each spouse to the acquisition of the property, regardless of whether the contribution was income producing.
(2) The extent to which the property was acquired by each spouse:
(A) before the marriage; or
(B) through inheritance or gift.
(3) The economic circumstances of each spouse at the time the disposition of the property is to become effective, including the desirability of awarding the family residence or the right to dwell in the family residence for such periods as the court considers just to the spouse having custody of any children.
(4) The conduct of the parties during the marriage as related to the disposition or dissipation of their property.
(5) The earnings or earning ability of the parties as related to:
(A) a final division of property; and
(B) a final determination of the property rights of the parties.

"The party challenging the trial court's property division must overcome a strong presumption that the court complied with the statute and considered evidence of statutory factors." Newby, 734 N.E.2d at 669. Husband argues that the trial court's findings that he dissipated marital assets and had substantially greater earnings or earning capacity than Wife are erroneous. Husband also contends that no consideration was given for any contribution he made to the acquisition of the marital estate.

The trial court made the following finding regarding its reasoning for awarding nearly all of the marital estate to Wife:

The extraordinary circumstances that exist in this case justify a distribution of virtually the entire marital estate to the Wife. Some of the relevant considerations include: that the Wife came into the marriage without any debts and with assets, excluding the value of her substantial personal property/household goods, totaling about $180,000; that the Husband came into the marriage with debts that exceeded the value of his personal property including $15,000 of debts that he did not reveal to the Wife prior to the marriage; that both parties contributed to the assets acquired during the marriage, the Husband primarily through his...

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