Goshorn v. Goshorn

Decision Date19 December 2003
Docket NumberNo. 01424,01424
Citation838 A.2d 1247,154 Md. App. 194
PartiesJohn A. GOSHORN v. Edna D. GOSHORN.
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Patrick R. Hudson, Waldorf, for appellant.

William C. Fanning, Jr. (Devine & Fanning, P.A., on brief), La Plata, for appellee.

Argued before EYLER, JAMES R., KRAUSER, JOHN J. BISHOP, JR. (Retired, specially assigned), JJ.

KRAUSER, J.

The Circuit Court for Calvert County granted appellant, John A. Goshorn, a judgment of absolute divorce from appellee, Edna D. Goshorn and then, in words that are to play a key role in this appeal, "ordered that all other issues, including child support, custody and marital property have been reserved and set for a future date before the Honorable Warren J. Krug in this Court." No specific juristic mention was made of alimony. When, a year later, the circuit court awarded Mrs. Goshorn indefinite alimony, that omission would create this appeal's first issue: was alimony one of the "other issues" reserved for "a future date"?

The second issue is a little more prosaic. It asks us to determine whether the circuit court misapplied the twelve factor test of Md.Code (1984, 1999 Repl.Vol.), § 11-106(b) of the Family Law Article ("FL") in awarding Mrs. Goshorn indefinite alimony. While the second issue is almost routine in cases such as this, the third issue is not. It takes us into less familiar territory and asks that we consider the duty of a non-custodial parent (in this instance, Mrs. Goshorn) to support a handicapped adult child, specifically, one who is not self-supporting but who is presently receiving Social Security Income ("SSI") benefits until she reaches the age of twenty-one. The handicapped adult child at issue here is Sarah, the oldest of the parties' three children. After awarding custody of the two other children to Mr. Goshorn and finding, by agreement of the parties, that the eighteen year old Sarah was a "destitute adult child" under FL §§ 13-101(b), the circuit court did not include her in calculating Mrs. Goshorn's child support obligation because Sarah was temporarily receiving SSI assistance.

Claiming error, Mr. Goshorn challenges the jurisdiction of the circuit court to belatedly award indefinite alimony to Mrs. Goshorn, the circuit court's application of the twelve factor alimony test, and the exclusion of the parties' adult child by that same court from Mrs. Goshorn's child support obligation. We can only grant him partial relief.

The circuit court, we hold, did have jurisdiction to make an award of indefinite alimony to Mrs Goshorn. Nonetheless, we shall vacate that award because of a judicial error made in calculating Mr. Goshorn's income. A vacation of an alimony award requires a vacation of any concomitant monetary award because the two must be considered in tandem. Consequently, we shall also vacate Mrs. Goshorn's monetary award so that the court may make any adjustment in alimony or to that award it deems appropriate.

Furthermore, we shall vacate the circuit court's child support award, as it was calculated without considering that Sarah may be without any SSI assistance once she reaches the age of twenty-one. The record and the briefs suggest that the SSI benefits are only temporary, and counsel was unable to clarify, during argument before this Court, whether Sarah will still be eligible for those or other benefits once she turns twenty-one. There is, moreover, no basis in the record for the court to conclude that Sarah's SSI benefits provide her with an appropriate level of support.

Background

The parties had been married for twenty years when they separated in June 2000. During their marriage, they had three children: Sarah, born on July 28, 1983; John Jr., born on August 5, 1988; and Zachary, born on May 21, 1992. Sarah, the oldest child, was born with Down's Syndrome. Although now an adult, Sarah functions at the level of a three or four year old, and the parties agree that she cannot support herself. Because of her disability, Sarah receives $545 per month in SSI benefits; those payments apparently cease when she turns twenty-one.

Mr. Goshorn, an employee of the United States Bureau of the Census for over thirty years, was the primary breadwinner of the family, while Mrs. Goshorn devoted herself, for the most part, to the care of the parties' children. In fact, Mrs. Goshorn stopped working shortly after Sarah's birth. Three years after that, Mrs. Goshorn obtained a daycare license that permitted her to operate a small daycare business out of the family home,1 which she did for approximately ten years. The daycare business allowed Mrs. Goshorn to stay at home and raise the children, while providing additional income for the family. With the problems that Sarah faced, the arrangement "worked out pretty fair," observed Mr. Goshorn.

After her daycare business ended,2 Mrs. Goshorn went to work for the Kmart Corporation part-time and for the Calvert County School System as a part-time cook. Eventually, she left both jobs to work full-time as a cook for the Prince George's County School System, the position she currently holds. As a full-time cook, Mrs. Goshorn earns $9.36 an hour and works thirty hours a week. Although she works only thirty hours a week, the circuit court, without objection from Mrs. Goshorn, imputed forty hours of work a week to Mrs. Goshorn and, based on that number of hours, concluded that she earned $1622.40 per month.

Making further professional advancement problematic, Mrs. Goshorn reads at a third grade level and, as her testimony disclosed, she had great difficulty in understanding and preparing a financial statement for the divorce proceedings. Given "Mrs. Goshorn's education and her skills," the circuit court concluded, "it is impossible for her to be wholly self-supporting...."

In June 2000, Mrs. Goshorn took the children and left the marital home to move in with her sister in St. Mary's County. There, she lived with her children, her sister, and her brother-in-law in a house that was partly owned by a Mr. James Boswell. At some point a relationship between Mr. Boswell and appellee developed because, at the time of the divorce proceedings, the two were living together. That living arrangement apparently began when Boswell moved into the St. Mary's house in November 2000. Several months later, Mr. Boswell and Mrs. Goshorn moved to Lusby, Maryland, where they rented a three bedroom home and shared expenses.

Procedural History

On July 21, 2000, Mr. Goshorn filed a complaint for absolute divorce in the Circuit Court for Calvert County seeking principally a divorce, custody of the parties' children, and child support.3 A year later, on August 9, 2001, Mrs. Goshorn responded by filing a counterclaim, seeking a divorce, custody of the two minor children (Sarah having by now reached adulthood), child support, and permanent alimony. Before the counterclaim was filed, however, a custody hearing was held on February 18, 2001. Seven months after that, the circuit court issued an order, granting the parties joint custody of the minor children, but awarding Mr. Goshorn primary "physical and residential custody" of all three children on a pendente lite basis.4

On August 16, 2001, the parties appeared before a domestic relations master solely on the issue of the divorce. At the conclusion of that hearing, the master stated he was "satisfied that there's been sufficient evidence produced to grant [Mr. Goshorn] an actual divorce from his wife, Edna Goshorn." The next day, the Circuit Court for Calvert County granted Mr. Goshorn a judgment of absolute divorce. In doing so, it stated "that all other issues, including child support, custody and marital property have been reserved and set for a future date before the Honorable Warren J. Krug in this Court...."

A hearing on the issues reserved began on January 23, 2002, and continued on April 18, 2002. On the first day of what was, despite its conclusion three months later, only a two-day hearing, Mr. Goshorn's counsel moved to prohibit any testimony relating to alimony on the ground that the divorce decree "did not reserve alimony specifically." Disagreeing, Mrs. Goshorn's attorney asserted that he had raised the issue during the divorce hearing, that opposing counsel had orally assured him that it was preserved, and that the court's divorce decree reserved "all other issues." After hearing from both sides, the court ruled that it was "reserv[ing] on the alimony issue," but would permit Mrs. Goshorn to testify about matters relevant to that issue.

When that hearing concluded three months later, the circuit court awarded Mrs. Goshorn indefinite alimony in the amount of $1,500 a month. In doing so, it stated:

Okay. Let me address the issue of alimony first. In looking at the factors in 11.106, the Court has to consider the twelve factors that are listed in that section: the ability of the party seeking alimony to be wholly or partly self-supporting. I think in view of Mrs. Goshorn's education and her skills that is impossible for her to be wholly self-supporting and it would be very difficult for her—she can partly self-support herself, but I think not to the extent that she can fully self-support herself.
The time necessary for her to gain sufficient education and training to enable the party to find suitable employment, I don't think that would be possible in light of her education and her skills.
The standard of living the parties have established. I agree they've established a middle income or a fairly reasonable standard of living. Nothing outlandish. Nothing—I think it's a fairly modest standard of living.
Duration of the marriage. The parties were married about twenty years, twenty-one years.
Contributions, monetary and non-monetary of each party to the well-being of the family. I think they both contributed. Mr. Goshorn was the primary breadwinner. Mrs. Goshorn was home raising the children, caring for them. Also
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