In re Marriage of Bartsch

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Montana
Citation337 Mont. 386,2007 MT 136,162 P.3d 72
Docket NumberNo. 05-297.,05-297.
PartiesIn re the MARRIAGE OF Patsy A. BARTSCH, Petitioner and Respondent, and Alvin E. Bartsch, Respondent and Appellant.
Decision Date11 June 2007
162 P.3d 72
2007 MT 136
337 Mont. 386
In re the MARRIAGE OF Patsy A. BARTSCH, Petitioner and Respondent, and
Alvin E. Bartsch, Respondent and Appellant.
No. 05-297.
Supreme Court of Montana.
Submitted on Briefs June 7, 2006.
Decided June 11, 2007.
Rehearing Denied July 18, 2007.

[162 P.3d 74]

For Appellant: Steven T. Potts, Thompson, Potts & Donovan, P.C., Great Falls, Montana.

For Respondent: Marcia Birkenbuel, Great Falls, Montana.

Justice JOHN WARNER delivered the Opinion of the Court.


¶ 1 Alvin E. Bartsch (Alvin) appeals from an Order of the District Court of the Eighth Judicial District Court, Cascade County, distributing the marital estate of his now dissolved

162 P.3d 75

marriage to Patsy A. Bartsch (Patsy). We affirm in part and remand in part for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

¶ 2 Alvin raises two issues on appeal:

¶ 3 (1) Did the District Court err in distributing 20 percent of the stock of Bartsch Farms, Inc., to Patsy?

¶ 4 (2) Did the District Court err in distributing 80 percent of the remaining marital estate, after distribution of the Stock, to Patsy?

BACKGROUND

¶ 5 This is the second time this case has come before this Court. See In re Marriage of Bartsch, 2004 MT 99, 321 Mont. 28, 88 P.3d 1263 (Bartsch I). This Court outlined facts applicable to this litigation in Bartsch I. We summarize additional facts relevant to this appeal as follows.

¶ 6 In Bartsch I, ¶¶ 27, 43, this Court affirmed the District Court's valuation of the stock of Bartsch Farms, Inc. The parties do not contest the valuation of the remainder of the marital estate. Thus, the value of the marital estate is settled. Alvin appeals the distribution of the estate.

¶ 7 Stock in Bartsch Farms, Inc. (hereinafter Stock) was gifted to Alvin prior to and during the marriage. In Bartsch I, ¶¶ 38, 43, we remanded the case for findings on whether and to what extent Patsy actually contributed to the preservation or appreciation of the gifted Stock. Additionally, we reversed and remanded to the District Court for findings of fact, considering the factors listed in § 40-4-202, MCA, regarding distribution of the marital estate. Bartsch I, ¶ 20.

¶ 8 On remand, the District Court heard argument from counsel and issued its Amended Order. The order included detailed findings regarding Patsy's contribution to the preservation of the value of the gifted Stock. The District Court, considering the factors contained in § 40-4-202(1), MCA, found it equitable to distribute 20 percent of that Stock to Patsy. The District Court went on to distribute to Patsy approximately 80 percent of the remaining assets of the marital estate, the value of which is $215,467. Alvin was distributed 20 percent of the remaining assets valued at $54,899. This distribution resulted in an approximate 50-50 percent distribution of the total value of the marital estate, including the Stock.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶ 9 Section 40-4-202, MCA, governs the distribution of a marital estate. It vests a district court with broad discretion to apportion the marital estate in a manner equitable to each party under the circumstances. In re Marriage of Swanson, 2004 MT 124, ¶ 12, 321 Mont. 250, ¶ 12, 90 P.3d 418, ¶ 12 (citing In re Marriage of Bee, 2002 MT 49, ¶ 34, 309 Mont. 34, ¶ 34, 43 P.3d 903, ¶ 34). We review a district court's findings of fact regarding a division of marital assets to determine whether the findings are clearly erroneous. Findings are clearly erroneous if: (1) they are not supported by substantial evidence; (2) the district court misapprehended the effect of the evidence; or (3) the district court made a mistake. We review a district court's conclusions of law to determine whether the conclusions are correct. We will affirm a district court's division of property, absent clearly erroneous findings, unless we identify an abuse of discretion. In re Marriage of Horton, 2004 MT 353, ¶ 7, 324 Mont. 382, ¶ 7, 102 P.3d 1276, ¶ 7 (citing Bartsch I, ¶ 13 (citations omitted) ).

ISSUE ONE

¶ 10 Did the District Court err in distributing 20 percent of the stock of Bartsch Farms, Inc., to Patsy?

¶ 11 Alvin argues that no substantial evidence supports the District Court's findings that Patsy is entitled to be distributed 20 percent of the Stock. He faults the District Court for failing to consider evidence he presented affecting the value of the Stock. He argues that Patsy can claim no interest in the Stock because she failed to show how she contributed to the appreciation of its value. According to Alvin, the District Court should not have distributed any of the Stock to Patsy.

162 P.3d 76

¶ 12 Patsy counters that the District Court acted within its broad discretion to resolve the disputes surrounding her contributions to the preservation or maintenance of the value of the Stock. She reasons that the District Court sufficiently followed this Court's instructions on remand, and made specific findings, which are supported by substantial evidence, regarding whether and how she contributed to the farming operation, and thus maintained the value of the Stock.

¶ 13 In its findings of fact 12 through 14, the District Court discussed its reasoning behind how Patsy, as a homemaker, facilitated the farming operation and thus contributed to the maintenance of the value of the Stock.

¶ 14 The District Court found:

(12) Ms. Bartsch enabled Mr. Bartsch to work the farm and preserve its value and thereby contributed to the preservation of the family farm stock by being a full time homemaker. Ms. Bartsch was virtually exclusively responsible for the home. She cooked all of the meals for Mr. Bartsch and their children. When needed she took the meals out to the field. She did the family laundry, raised a garden, canned, did the shopping, and cleaned the home. She took the children into school every day which was 20 miles each direction, for a total of 80 miles per day. She also took them to doctor's appointments and cared for them when they were ill. Ms. Bartsch also would occasionally contribute directly to the preservation of the farm by obtaining parts when needed, preparing food for extra workers during harvest, which was approximately two weeks out of the year, and performing other tasks when requested.

(13) Ms. Bartsch's contributions directly enabled Mr. Bartsch to have a minimum of two hours per day to work on the farm and preserve the value of the farming operations by relieving him of any responsibility or duty to provide childcare and maintain the operation of the family farm during the course of the marriage. Assuming an eight-hour workday, this computes to 20% of Mr. Bartsch's workday on the farm resulting from the contribution of Ms. Bartsch.

(14) Considering this contribution by Ms. Bartsch which directly facilitated Mr. Bartsch in the preservation of the farming operation, the Court finds that it is equitable under the provisions of 40-4-202(1), MCA, to award Ms. Bartsch 20% of the value of the stock of Bartsch Farms in the marital estate ($400,115.00 × .20 = $80,023.00).

¶ 15 In their briefs on appeal, both parties note that the District Court's calculations contain an error of 5 percent in Alvin's favor. However, Patsy makes no protest. Neither, of course, does Alvin.

¶ 16 Alvin argues the District Court's findings are flawed because they ignored factors affecting the value of the Stock. However, in Bartsch I, ¶ 27, we affirmed such valuation. When this Court affirms a part of a case and remands for reconsideration another part of a judgment, the affirmed parts of the judgment become the law of the case. The parts of the original judgment affirmed on appeal become binding upon the trial court and the parties in subsequent proceedings. In re Marriage of Becker, 255 Mont. 357, 361, 842 P.2d 332, 334 (1992) (citing City of Missoula v. Mountain Water Co., 236 Mont. 442, 446, 771 P.2d 103, 105 (1989)). The value of the Stock is fixed as the law of the case. The District Court's findings of fact are not flawed because of valuation issues.

¶ 17 Alvin further argues that the District Court misapprehended and misapplied In re Marriage of Steinbeisser, 2002 MT 309, ¶ 47, 313 Mont. 74, ¶ 47, 60 P.3d 441, ¶ 47, when it awarded a portion of the Stock to Patsy. Alvin contends that Patsy did not contribute to the appreciation of the gifted Stock as required by Steinbeisser and § 40-4-202, MCA. Patsy counters that the district court has broad discretion to apportion the marital estate equitably. She asserts that a district court is not required to adhere to a specific formula in its distribution of a marital estate.

¶ 18 The dissent finds fault with the District Court's findings of fact saying that they do not specifically justify the distribution

162 P.3d 77

of a 20 percent share of the value of the stock to Patsy as instructed in Bartsch I, ¶¶ 38, 42. In In re the Marriage of Barron, we held that if a trial judge's findings and conclusions are clear to this Court, failure to state them in the recommended form is not substantial error. 177 Mont. 161, 164, 580 P.2d 936, 938 (1978). Findings of fact and conclusions of law provide a foundation for the court's judgment. This foundation need not consist of a multitude of evidentiary facts and the required findings of fact is nothing more than a recordation of the essential and determining facts upon which the District Court rested its conclusions of law and without which the District Court's judgment would lack support. See In re Marriage of Krause, 200 Mont. 368, 374-75, 654 P.2d 963, 966 (1982) (omission of the effect or weight given to findings of non-monetary contributions is not reversible error; district court's broad discretion in dividing marital estate prevented this Court from finding error even where a spouse's non-monetary contributions were deemed substantial contributions); In re Marriage of Lawrence, 2005 MT 125, ¶ 15, 327 Mont. 209, ¶ 15, 112 P.3d 1036, ¶ 15; In re Marriage of...

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