Hill v. Hill, No. 24843.

CourtSupreme Court of South Dakota
Writing for the CourtMeierhenry
Citation763 N.W.2d 818,2009 SD 18
Decision Date18 March 2009
Docket NumberNo. 24843.
PartiesRegan Renee HILL, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. Jonathan Lee HILL, Defendant and Appellant.
763 N.W.2d 818
2009 SD 18
Regan Renee HILL, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
Jonathan Lee HILL, Defendant and Appellant.
No. 24843.
Supreme Court of South Dakota.
Considered on Briefs on January 12, 2009.
Decided March 18, 2009.

[763 N.W.2d 821]

Terri Lee Williams of Gunderson, Palmer, Nelson & Ashmore, LLP, Rapid City, South Dakota, Attorneys for plaintiff and appellee.

Timothy R. Johns of Johns & Kosel, Prof. LLC, Lead, South Dakota, Attorneys for defendant and appellant.

MEIERHENRY, Justice.


[¶ 1.] This appeal involves a divorce action brought by Regan Hill (Regan) against Jonathan Hill (Jon). Jon appeals the trial court's child support determination, distribution of marital assets, and denial of alimony. We reverse and remand the child support determination and affirm the distribution of marital property and denial of alimony.

[¶ 2.] Jon and Regan Hill were married in 1994 in North Dakota. Jon was an electrical engineer at the time they were married. The couple originally located in Minnesota because of Jon's employment. There, Regan worked as a cashier and as a nurse's assistant. Regan eventually completed a degree in cellular biology and genetics in 1996 at the University of Minnesota. After a one-year deferment for the birth of the parties' first child in 1997, Regan entered medical school at the University of North Dakota Medical School. The family moved to North Dakota, and Jon's employer transferred him to North Dakota where he continued to be employed while Regan attended medical school. A second child was born in 2002.

[¶ 3.] Regan graduated from medical school in 2002 and entered a residency program in Obstetrics and Gynecology in Saginaw, Michigan. The couple decided on the location because the cost of living in Saginaw allowed Jon to quit his job and care for the children full time. Before moving to Michigan, Jon earned approximately $54,000 per year. During Regan's residency, the family lived on her income of $30,000 to $38,000 per year. Regan also took out student loans in the amount of $87,595 to pay for medical school and the living expenses of the family. The couples' third child was born in 2004, during Regan's residency. After completing her residency in 2006, Regan accepted a position in Spearfish, South Dakota. At the time of trial, Regan earned approximately $285,000 annually as a physician, and Jon earned approximately $65,000 to $70,000 annually as an engineer.

[¶ 4.] Regan filed for divorce on August 16, 2006, on grounds of mental cruelty or, in the alternative, irreconcilable differences. The couple eventually stipulated to a divorce on grounds of irreconcilable differences. They agreed to joint legal custody of the three children and primary physical custody with Regan. They also agreed on the child visitation schedule.

763 N.W.2d 822

The issues at trial were the amount of Jon's child support, Jon's request for alimony, and the division of property. On appeal, Jon claims that the trial court erred in setting child support without making any findings as to the actual needs and standard of living of the children. He also challenges the trial court's division of marital property and denial of alimony.

[¶ 5.] Our standard of review is well-settled. We review the trial court's determination of child support, alimony and the division of property under an abuse of discretion standard. Billion v. Billion, 1996 SD 101, ¶ 14, 553 N.W.2d 226, 230 (citing Vander Pol v. Vander Pol, 484 N.W.2d 522 (S.D.1992); Kanta v. Kanta, 479 N.W.2d 505 (S.D.1991); Johnson v. Johnson, 471 N.W.2d 156 (S.D.1991); Fox v. Fox, 467 N.W.2d 762 (S.D.1991); Nelson v. Nelson, 454 N.W.2d 533 (S.D.1990)). We review findings of fact under the clearly erroneous standard and questions of law de novo. Laird v. Laird, 2002 SD 99, ¶ 13, 650 N.W.2d 296, 299 (citations omitted). An abuse of discretion is "`a discretion exercised to an end or purpose not justified by, and clearly against, reason and evidence.'" Id. (quoting Billion, 1996 SD 101, ¶ 14, 553 N.W.2d at 230).

Child Support Obligation

[¶ 6.] The court is required to set a child support obligation based on an income schedule established by the Legislature. See SDCL 25-7-6.2. According to SDCL 25-7-6.2, "the combined monthly net incomes of both parents shall be used in determining the obligation and divided proportionately between the parents based upon their respective net incomes." The schedule currently provides obligation calculations up to a combined net monthly income of $10,000. Id. For a combined net monthly income above $10,000, "the child support obligation shall be established at an appropriate level, taking into account the actual needs and standard of living of the child." SDCL 25-7-6.9.

[¶ 7.] The parties' combined income exceeds $10,000. The trial court set monthly child support at $750.1 Jon claims the trial court erred because its determination of a monthly child support amount of $750 was not based on the actual needs and standard of living of the children as required by SDCL 25-7-6.9. A review of the trial court's findings shows that the court made no specific findings on the actual needs and standard of living of the children other than a general finding that "the [$750] amount is an appropriate amount taking into consideration the children's needs and standard of living." Regan argues that even if the trial court failed to set forth specific findings of fact, the error is harmless because the record contained evidence that supported the court's child support award.

[¶ 8.] We have consistently required adequate findings of fact regarding the child's needs and standard of living when a court sets support above the schedule's maximum. See McKittrick v. McKittrick, 2007 SD 44, ¶ 12, 732 N.W.2d 404, 409; Laird, 2002 SD 99, ¶ 13, 650 N.W.2d at 296; Watson-Wojewski v. Wojewski, 2000 SD 132, ¶¶ 17, 24, 617 N.W.2d 666, 670, 671 (citations omitted), abrogated on other grounds by Roberts v. Roberts, 2003 SD 75, 666 N.W.2d 477. With only limited findings, we are unable "`to make the appropriate calculations or render a meaningful review.'" Watson-Wojewski, 2000 SD 132, ¶ 19, 617 N.W.2d at 671 (citations omitted).

763 N.W.2d 823

[¶ 9.] Here, the trial court's findings on child support are limited, and we are unable to determine if the $750 child support amount reflects the actual needs or standard of living of the children. See SDCL 25-7-6.9. Regan presented evidence of her monthly budgetary expenditures, including the cost of a live-in nanny. However, whether the expenses correlate to the child support amount is not apparent from the record, the findings of fact, or the conclusions of law. Consequently, we are unable to make a meaningful review. We reverse on this issue and remand for the trial court to enter specific findings as to the children's needs and standard of living and the correlation to the amount awarded.

[¶ 10.] Jon also contends that the trial court erred when it did not grant his request for abatement of his child support obligation during the months he has custody of the children for more than ten days. See SDCL 25-7-6.14. Since the trial court did not specifically address the abatement request, the trial court may consider Jon's request on remand.

Property Division and Alimony

[¶ 11.] Jon claims that the trial court erred in its division of the marital assets and denial of alimony. We review the trial court's property division and alimony determinations jointly. Terca v. Terca, 2008 SD 99, ¶ 28, 757 N.W.2d 319, 326 (citing Evans v. Evans, 1997 SD 16, ¶ 31, 559 N.W.2d 240, 247). "The symbiotic relationship between property division and spousal support requires consideration of the two together, as an award of more assets can eliminate or reduce the need for spousal support and vice versa." Id. (citing Heckenlaible v. Heckenlaible, 1996 SD 32, ¶ 20, 545 N.W.2d 481, 485).

[¶ 12.] The trial court valued the marital assets at $74,829 and the debts at $111,160. A large portion of the debt was attributable to Regan's student loans of $87,595. The court awarded Regan $19,336 in assets and $103,160 in debts. Jon received $55,493 in assets and $8,000 in debts. Jon claims that the trial court abused its discretion when it adopted Regan's values and proposed distribution of marital assets.

[¶ 13.] Jon cites error in the trial court's valuation of certain property including, but not limited to, guns, a home theater receiver, and a hydraulic jack. He also claims the closing costs of the house sale should not have been included in the marital estate and that the debt of the van awarded to Regan was incorrectly valued from an earlier date rather than at the date of trial.

[¶ 14.] We review a trial court's distribution of assets under an abuse of discretion standard. Johnson v. Johnson, 2007 SD 56, ¶ 16, 734 N.W.2d 801, 806 (quoting Grode v. Grode, 1996 SD 15, ¶ 6, 543 N.W.2d 795, 799). "`The valuation of property involved in a divorce proceeding will not be overturned unless it is clearly erroneous.'" Id. (quoting Priebe v. Priebe, 1996 SD 136, ¶ 8, 556 N.W.2d 78, 80). We will normally not overturn the trial court's...

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22 practice notes
  • State v. Hayes, No. 26817
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • October 15, 2014
    ...against, reason and evidence.” Schieffer v. Schieffer, 2013 S.D. 11, ¶ 14, 826 N.W.2d 627, 633 (quoting Hill v. Hill, 2009 S.D. 18, ¶ 5, 763 N.W.2d 818, 822 ) (internal quotation marks omitted). “Under this standard, ‘not only must error be demonstrated, but it must also be shown to be prej......
  • Halbersma v. Halbersma, No. 25115.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • November 10, 2009
    ...of each party to the accumulation of the property; and (7) the income-producing capacity of the parties' assets. Id. See Hill v. Hill, 2009 SD 18, ¶ 18, 763 N.W.2d 818, 824; Terca v. Terca, 2008 SD 99, ¶ 20, 757 N.W.2d 319, 325; Billion, 1996 SD 101, ¶ 21, 553 N.W.2d at 232; Johnson v. John......
  • Schieffer v. Schieffer, No. 26101.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • March 12, 2013
    ...decisions regarding child support and the division of property are reviewed for an abuse of discretion. Hill v. Hill, 2009 S.D. 18, ¶ 5, 763 N.W.2d 818, 822 (citing Billion v. Billion, 1996 S.D. 101, ¶ 14, 553 N.W.2d 226, 230). Further, “[a] circuit court's ruling on the allowance or disall......
  • Osdoba v. Kelley-Osdoba, 28103
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • June 6, 2018
    ...proposed valuation, "but the value must be within the range of evidence presented to the court." Hill v. Hill , 2009 S.D. 18, ¶ 14, 763 N.W.2d 818, 823.¶ 14.] Here, Daniel introduced evidence that the appraised value of the residence was $611,000. Likewise, Amy agreed with Daniel’s appraise......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
22 cases
  • State v. Hayes, No. 26817
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • October 15, 2014
    ...against, reason and evidence.” Schieffer v. Schieffer, 2013 S.D. 11, ¶ 14, 826 N.W.2d 627, 633 (quoting Hill v. Hill, 2009 S.D. 18, ¶ 5, 763 N.W.2d 818, 822 ) (internal quotation marks omitted). “Under this standard, ‘not only must error be demonstrated, but it must also be shown to be prej......
  • Halbersma v. Halbersma, No. 25115.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • November 10, 2009
    ...of each party to the accumulation of the property; and (7) the income-producing capacity of the parties' assets. Id. See Hill v. Hill, 2009 SD 18, ¶ 18, 763 N.W.2d 818, 824; Terca v. Terca, 2008 SD 99, ¶ 20, 757 N.W.2d 319, 325; Billion, 1996 SD 101, ¶ 21, 553 N.W.2d at 232; Johnson v. John......
  • Schieffer v. Schieffer, No. 26101.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • March 12, 2013
    ...decisions regarding child support and the division of property are reviewed for an abuse of discretion. Hill v. Hill, 2009 S.D. 18, ¶ 5, 763 N.W.2d 818, 822 (citing Billion v. Billion, 1996 S.D. 101, ¶ 14, 553 N.W.2d 226, 230). Further, “[a] circuit court's ruling on the allowance or disall......
  • Osdoba v. Kelley-Osdoba, 28103
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • June 6, 2018
    ...proposed valuation, "but the value must be within the range of evidence presented to the court." Hill v. Hill , 2009 S.D. 18, ¶ 14, 763 N.W.2d 818, 823.¶ 14.] Here, Daniel introduced evidence that the appraised value of the residence was $611,000. Likewise, Amy agreed with Daniel’s appraise......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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