Horton v. Horton, 48224

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Idaho
Writing for the CourtSTEGNER, JUSTICE
PartiesDESIREE LASHAWN HORTON, Petitioner-Appellant, v. ANDREW PATRICK HORTON, Respondent-Respondent on Appeal
Docket Number48224
Decision Date03 October 2022

DESIREE LASHAWN HORTON, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.

ANDREW PATRICK HORTON, Respondent-Respondent on Appeal

No. 48224

Supreme Court of Idaho, Lewiston

October 3, 2022


Appeal from the District Court of the First Judicial District, State of Idaho, Kootenai County. Richard S. Christensen, District Judge. Timothy Van Valin, Magistrate Judge.

The decision of the district court is affirmed in part and reversed in part.

James, Vernon & Weeks, P.A., Coeur d'Alene, for appellant, Desiree Lashawn Horton. Monica Flood Brennan argued.

Kevin J. Waite, P.C., Coeur d'Alene, for respondent, Andrew Patrick Horton. Kevin J. Waite argued.

STEGNER, JUSTICE

This case arises out of a divorce proceeding between Desiree and Andrew Horton.[1] Desiree served Andrew with an Amended Complaint for Divorce in December of 2016. On June 15, 2017, in lieu of a trial, Desiree and Andrew entered into an oral stipulation on the record specifying how their community property would be divided between them. Because Desiree was employed as a teacher in Italy by the United States government and Andrew was a member of the United States military on active duty, the decree of divorce required specific language to be enforceable as to their respective retirement accounts. The magistrate court stated that, due to this specific language, it would "retain jurisdiction" with respect to the parties' retirement accounts.

A written judgment and decree of divorce was entered on February 26, 2018, and dated nunc pro tunc to June 15, 2017, the date of the parties' oral stipulation. After later motions and hearings on behalf of both parties, an amended judgment and decree of divorce was entered on

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October 18, 2018. The later amended judgment and decree did not indicate it was being issued nunc pro tunc.

Andrew appealed the decision to enter the amended judgment and decree of divorce to the district court, arguing that the magistrate court had abused its discretion in several ways. After oral argument, the district court agreed and concluded the magistrate court had abused its discretion in three distinct ways: (1) by deciding to remove the nunc pro tunc language from the initial judgment entered on February 26, 2018; (2) by requiring Andrew to obtain "Survivor Benefit Coverage" for Desiree; and (3) by excluding, over Andrew's objection, language related to Desiree's Federal Employee Retirement System account. The district court ordered that the amended judgment and decree of divorce entered on October 18, 2018, be vacated and the case remanded to the magistrate court for various findings of fact and conclusions of law. Desiree timely appealed to this Court. For the reasons discussed below, we affirm in part and reverse in part the decision of the district court.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

Desiree and Andrew Horton were married in Idaho on August 19, 1998. Andrew was in the United States military, stationed mostly in Europe. Desiree was a teacher, working for the United States government in Italy. The couple had no children together but became co-guardians of Desiree's two granddaughters.

Approximately eighteen years after they were married, in September 2016, Desiree filed a complaint for divorce in Idaho's First Judicial District on the grounds that there were irreconcilable differences between the couple. In December 2016, Desiree filed an amended complaint for divorce. Andrew filed a response in February 2017, contesting the division of community property and incurred debts set out in Desiree's amended complaint.

In March 2017, Desiree filed a motion for an order of mediation, stating that "the [p]arties [we]re not very far apart regarding property issues[.]" Mediation was ordered, and the mediation took place in May 2017 with Desiree's proposed mediator, Martha Roletto. Believing the parties had reached an agreement through mediation, Roletto prepared a draft decree of divorce the parties could sign as a stipulation. Andrew signed the proposed stipulated decree on May 3, 2017; however, Desiree never signed it.

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The parties continued to negotiate and, on June 15, 2017, entered into an oral stipulation (the "Stipulation") before the magistrate court, which was read into the record by Andrew's counsel. The Stipulation provided in pertinent part:

Judgment is entered as follows: . . . The parties are divorced on the grounds of irreconcilable differences
. . .
3.The military pension plan in Andrew's name shall be awarded as follows:
A. All funds earned up to the date of marriage, August 19, 1998, shall be awarded to Andrew; and
B. All funds earned from August 19, 1998, until the date of the entry of this judgment and decree re: divorce shall be equal - shall be equally divided between the parties, since this portion represents the community property portion of the earnings.
4. The FERS account in Desiree's name - and I believe FERS stands for Federal Employment Retirement System - shall be awarded as follows:
A. All funds earned up to the date of the marriage, August 19, 1998, shall be awarded to Desiree; and
B. All funds earned from August 19, 1998, until the date of the entry of this judgment and decree re: divorce shall be divided - shall be equally divided between the parties, since this portion represents the community property portion of the earnings.

Counsel for Desiree then stated, "I think we need to add a clause right there where it says the [c]ourt will retain jurisdiction over this matter . . . [a]nd make any modifications necessary, so that the parties are awarded what they were intended to be awarded with regards to the retirement accounts." The magistrate court clarified, "[c]ourt will retain jurisdiction over this matter for the purposes of the retirement and military accounts." Because Desiree, who was attending the hearing via Skype, was having trouble hearing, the magistrate court reiterated, "[T]he [c]ourt is retaining jurisdiction over the issue as to the retirements and whatever other type accounts there are that are going to be divided by [Peter] Svennungsen[,]" an attorney enlisted to help with the specific language needed with regard to the retirement accounts.

The magistrate court then asked both Desiree and Andrew, "do you agree with the decree of divorce as it was read into the record?" Both Desiree and Andrew answered in the affirmative. The magistrate court stated, "All right. That will be the order of the [c]ourt." Counsel for Andrew volunteered to draft the decree for the parties to sign and the magistrate court to enter.

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On June 27, 2017, before a written decree of divorce had been entered or any draft decree had been put before the magistrate court, Desiree filed an objection to the entry of the decree and moved to include an order for health insurance into the decree of divorce. Desiree requested that "an additional term" be added to the decree of divorce that ordered Andrew to keep Desiree and her two granddaughters on his health insurance. She also requested, in the alternative, that "the divorce be stayed for a period of one year so that she does not lose health insurance options in the military." A hearing was held on the motion on July 11, 2017. Andrew objected, arguing that both of Desiree's requests were "additional provisions that were not agreed to as part of" the Stipulation. The magistrate court did not rule on Desiree's requests but continued the hearing for thirty days for the parties to provide authority or stipulate to the correct course of action. Desiree moved to continue the hearing, and on October 30, 2017, the magistrate court held another hearing. Again, the magistrate court did not rule on Desiree's requests.

On February 2, 2018, Desiree filed a motion to stay the divorce proceedings until August 2018. The resulting stay would mean that Desiree and Andrew would be married a full twenty years, which would allow Desiree to become a "20/20/20" military spouse, entitling her "to significant military benefits, including pension, health insurance, and other important benefits." Desiree had previously asked Andrew to stay married until the twenty-year mark, but he had refused. Citing Byrd v. Byrd, No. 04-11-00700-CV, 2012 WL 4576945 (Tex. App. Oct. 3, 2012), withdrawn and superseded by 2012 WL 6013424 (Tex. App. Nov. 30, 2012), Desiree requested that, "in the interest of justice," the magistrate court order the divorce be stayed until after she and Andrew had been married for a full twenty years.

Desiree filed a proposed decree on February 21, 2018. The magistrate court then held a hearing on February 26, 2018. The magistrate court stated that, because "there [wa]sn't any good cause at this particular point" to grant the stay, it was not going to stay the divorce until August 2018, and that the parties were divorced as of June 2017. On February 26, 2018, the magistrate court entered a Judgment and Decree of Divorce (the "Original Decree"), dated nunc pro tunc to June 15, 2017. The Original Decree provided in relevant part:

3. The military pension plan, in Andrew's name, shall be awarded as follows:
a. All funds earned up to the date of marriage (August 19, 1998), shall be awarded to Andrew; and
b. All funds earned from August 19, 1998[,] until the date of the entry of this Judgment and Decree Re: Divorce, shall be equally divided between
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the parties since this portion represents the community property portion of the earnings.
4. The FERS account, in Desiree's name, shall be awarded as follows: All funds earned until the date of the entry of this Judgment and Decree Re: Divorce shall be equally divided between the parties.
5. The parties shall provide [sic] cooperate in good faith to have a Domestic Relations Order be prepared for both the FERS account and the military retirement pension account as follows:
a. They shall agreed
...

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