Holte v. Holte

Decision Date30 September 2013
Docket NumberNo. 20120312.,20120312.
Citation837 N.W.2d 894,2013 ND 174
PartiesDawn R. HOLTE, Plaintiff, Appellee and Cross–Appellant v. Nathan W. HOLTE, Defendant, Appellant and Cross–Appellee.
CourtNorth Dakota Supreme Court

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

H. Malcolm Pippin (argued), Williston and Charlotte J. Skar (on brief), Fargo, ND, for plaintiff, appellee and cross-appellant.

Faron E. Terry, Minot, ND, for defendant, appellant and cross-appellee.

KAPSNER, Justice.

[¶ 1] Nathan Holte appeals from a district court judgment granting him a divorce from Dawn Holte, distributing their property, and awarding Dawn Holte spousal support. We affirm the spousal support award and reverse and remand the property distribution.

I

[¶ 2] Nathan and Dawn Holte were married in 1989 and have one adult child. The couple lived in northwest North Dakota, where Nathan Holte worked for the railroad for much of the marriage. He quit his employment shortly before trial due to health issues, but testified he would be able to return to work after trial. Dawn Holte has worked at a local medical center for the past 32 years, and she also cleans houses.

[¶ 3] In 2008, Nathan Holte's parents established an irrevocable trust and assigned to it mineral rights located in Williams County. Nathan Holte; his parents, collectively; and his two brothers were named beneficiaries of the trust, each having one-quarter interests. In 2009 and 2010, Nathan Holte's share of the trust generated approximately $150,000 in income.

[¶ 4] In 2010, Dawn Holte filed for divorce citing irreconcilable differences. Nathan Holte moved into an investment home his mother had recently purchased, and he spent approximately $41,000 to furnish the home. At trial, the court heard evidence from both parties that the marriage had been over for nearly ten years. Dawn Holte testified that although she filed for divorce, Nathan Holte first stated he wanted a divorce. Dawn Holte testified that once the oil money started coming in, Nathan Holte went “overboard” spending money on various items. She further testified that Nathan Holte “firmly believed that [the oil income] was his family's money and that I had no title to it.” In contrast, Nathan Holte testified that he “believe[d] that the dissolution of the marriage was her doing” because Dawn Holte withheld her affection from him. He also testified that Dawn Holte was not “entitled to have any share of that [trust] money.”

[¶ 5] The district court granted the couple a divorce. The court found the net marital estate to be worth $271,225.74 and awarded Dawn Holte $177,471.60 and NathanHolte $93,754.14 in net assets. After dividing up the marital estate, the court awarded Dawn Holte $1,000 per month of spousal support for ten years, and it awarded Dawn Holte one-half of Nathan Holte's future trust income and ordered Nathan Holte to regularly provide an accounting of the trust income.

[¶ 6] Nathan Holte appealed, and Dawn Holte cross-appealed.

II

[¶ 7] Nathan Holte argues [t]he trial court's award of $1,000 per month spousal support to Dawn [Holte] is clearly erroneous.”

[¶ 8] A district court may award spousal support by taking into consideration the circumstances of the parties and by applying the RuffFischer guidelines. Dronen v. Dronen, 2009 ND 70, ¶ 41, 764 N.W.2d 675;see alsoN.D.C.C. § 14–05–24.1. Under the RuffFischer guidelines, the court considers:

[T]he respective ages of the parties, their earning ability, the duration of the marriage and conduct of the parties during the marriage, their station in life, the circumstances and necessities of each, their health and physical condition, their financial circumstances as shown by the property owned at the time, its value at the time, its income-producing capacity, if any, whether accumulated before or after the marriage, and such other matters as may be material.

Rebel v. Rebel, 2013 ND 116, ¶ 7, 833 N.W.2d 442 (citation and quotation omitted); see Ruff v. Ruff, 78 N.D. 775, 52 N.W.2d 107 (1952), Fischer v. Fischer, 139 N.W.2d 845 (N.D.1966).

[¶ 9] A spousal support award is a finding of fact, which is reviewed under the clearly erroneous standard of review. Dieterle v. Dieterle, 2013 ND 71, ¶ 31, 830 N.W.2d 571 (citation omitted). “A finding of fact is clearly erroneous if it is induced by an erroneous view of the law, if there is no evidence to support it, or if, after reviewing the entirety of the evidence, this Court is left with a definite and firm conviction a mistake has been made.” Lynnes v. Lynnes, 2008 ND 71, ¶ 12, 747 N.W.2d 93 (citation omitted). Similar to a property distribution, a court is not required to make specific findings on each factor if this Court can determine the reasons for the court's decision. Lindberg v. Lindberg, 2009 ND 136, ¶ 28, 770 N.W.2d 252 (citation omitted).

[¶ 10] ‘Property division and spousal support are interrelated, and often must be considered together.’ Dronen, 2009 ND 70, ¶ 41, 764 N.W.2d 675 (quoting Mellum v. Mellum, 2000 ND 47, ¶ 19, 607 N.W.2d 580). ‘A difference in earning power is an important factor in both spousal support and property division determinations.’ Dronen, at ¶ 41 (quoting Mellum, at ¶ 19). ‘An award of spousal support must be made in light of the supporting spouse's needs and ability to pay, and maintaining relative standards of living.’ Dronen, at ¶ 41 (quoting Wald v. Wald, 556 N.W.2d 291, 297 (N.D.1996)).

A

[¶ 11] Nathan Holte argues the district court erred because it “compared the parties' gross income rather than their net income,” and the court “was clearly mistaken concerning Dawn's ability to earn more income.”

[¶ 12] The district court's findings considered the parties' gross and net incomes in its award. The court recognized that property division and spousal support are interrelated, and noted that: “Spousal support is appropriate when a substantial disparity between the earning abilities of the spouses exist. Where property division alone is not sufficient to maintain each party at the same standard of living, spousal support may be ordered to more equitably allocate the reduction in standard of living.”

[¶ 13] The district court made findings under the RuffFischer guidelines and determined that a substantial disparity between Dawn Holte and Nathan Holte's income earning abilities existed. The court found the conduct of each party during the marriage, the health and physical condition of the parties, and the fault factors were equal. The court found that the earning ability, station in life, and financial circumstance factors all favored Dawn Holte; and, in contrast, the only factor that favored Nathan Holte was the source of property factor. The court noted, “even at a minimum, [Nathan Holte] has the ability to earn at least $70,000.00 per year versus [Dawn Holte's] $38,500.00 per year.”

[¶ 14] The court's findings are in accord with the evidence. Dawn Holte presented evidence that after working for the same employer for over thirty years, in conjunction with her cleaning income, she earned approximately $38,500 per year. Nathan Holte testified that although he recently quit a high-paying job due to health reasons, he could “probably” earn up to $70,000 a year based on at least one job offer he has received. He testified he would go back to work shortly after trial.

[¶ 15] The court also considered Nathan Holte's ability to pay in the context of his net pay. The court noted the RuffFischer guidelines applied to spousal support, and the court's previous finding on the financial circumstances of the parties stated:

The Court finds that [Nathan Holte] has the ability to and has earned more money than [Dawn Holte], both in the form of employment and also as a 1/4 beneficiary of trust income, but also has more monthly expenses. When reviewing the testimony and 8.3 statement, the Court finds that [Nathan Holte] has more monthly income than monthly debts, and [Dawn Holte's] monthly debts exceed her monthly income. This factor favors [Dawn Holte].

[¶ 16] Though Nathan Holte asserts the district court “determin[ed] Dawn's needs based on an inflated list of expenses that far exceed the expenses the parties jointly incurred while living together,” the district court is in a better position to make these determinations. See Kostelecky v. Kostelecky, 2006 ND 120, ¶ 9, 714 N.W.2d 845 (citation omitted). The record shows that the court considered the RuffFischer guidelines and the “needs of the spouse seeking support and the supporting spouse's needs and ability to pay” in making its award. Parisien v. Parisien, 2010 ND 35, ¶ 7, 779 N.W.2d 130 (citation omitted).

[¶ 17] Although the district court could have explained its rationale in greater depth, we are able to adequately understand the basis for its spousal support award.

B

[¶ 18] Nathan Holte argues that the award was erroneous because Dawn Holte is not a “disadvantaged” spouse, “but rather has been greatly enriched” by the divorce and has the ability to earn more income by applying for one of the “high-paying jobs” in western North Dakota's “booming energy economy.”

[¶ 19] “The words ‘disadvantaged spouse’ may be a handy label but it is not a term of legal significance.” Becker v. Becker, 2011 ND 107, ¶ 28, 799 N.W.2d 53 (quoting Sack v. Sack, 2006 ND 57, ¶ 12, 711 N.W.2d 157). Here, the district court did not determine whether Dawn Holte is a disadvantaged spouse; rather, in deciding whether to award spousal support, the court correctly considered the RuffFischer guidelines and “the needs of the spouse seeking support and the ability of the other spouse to pay.” See Becker, at ¶ 28;Hoverson v. Hoverson, 2013 ND 48, ¶ 14, 828 N.W.2d 510 (citing Sack, at ¶ 12 (directing spousal support focus at RuffFischer guidelines rather than separate freestanding “disadvantaged spouse doctrine”)).

[¶ 20] In analyzing the RuffFischer guidelines, the court found the conduct of each party during the marriage, the health and physical condition of the parties, and the fault factors were...

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5 cases
  • Norberg v. Norberg
    • United States
    • North Dakota Supreme Court
    • 29 Abril 2014
    ...the parties' assets and debts in the marital estate and determine the total value of the estate to make an equitable distribution. Holte v. Holte, 2013 ND 174, ¶ 25, 837 N.W.2d 894;Hoverson, at ¶ 9. Marital property is generally valued as of the date of the divorce trial. Hoverson, at ¶ 9. ......
  • Devine v. Hennessee
    • United States
    • North Dakota Supreme Court
    • 24 Junio 2014
    ...the totality of the testimony and documentation produced during hearing,....”); State v. Arot, 2013 ND 182, ¶ 2, 838 N.W.2d 409; Holte v. Holte, 2013 ND 174, ¶¶ 41–43, 48, 837 N.W.2d 894; Niles v. Eldridge, 2013 ND 52, ¶ 2, 828 N.W.2d 521; Reciprocal Discipline of Kitchen, 2013 ND 18, ¶ 2, ......
  • Lewis v. Smart
    • United States
    • North Dakota Supreme Court
    • 29 Agosto 2017
    ...[¶ 27] Generally, we have said trusts are included as marital property subject to equitable distribution by the district court. Holte v. Holte , 2013 ND 174, ¶ 32, 837 N.W.2d 894. "[L]ike pensions or retirement plans, a trial court may divide a trust by awarding the present value of the ben......
  • Holm v. Holm, 20160299
    • United States
    • North Dakota Supreme Court
    • 25 Abril 2017
    ...try to disentangle the parties' financial affairs to reduce further conflict, litigation, and rancor between them. See, e.g. , Holte v. Holte , 2013 ND 174, ¶ 42, 837 N.W.2d 894 ; Brown v. Brown , 1999 ND 199, ¶ 28, 600 N.W.2d 869 ; Fox v. Fox , 1999 ND 68, ¶ 17, 592 N.W.2d 541 ; Fisher v. ......
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1 books & journal articles
  • § 8.05 A Spouse's Interest in a Trust
    • United States
    • Full Court Press Divorce, Separation and the Distribution of Property Title CHAPTER 8 Miscellaneous Property Interests
    • Invalid date
    ...262 (N.D.2010).[409] In re Marriage of Beadle, 291 Mont. 1, 968 P.2d 698 (1998). [410] S.L. v. R.L., N. 32 supra.[411] Holte v. Holte, 837 N.W.2d 894 (N.D.2013).[412] Marriage of Parker, 371 Mont. 74, 305 P.3d 816 (2013). Cf. Marriage of Foreman, 294 Mont. 181, 979 P.2d 193 (1999).[413] Min......

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