Issertell v. Issertell, 041620 UTCA, 20190467-CA

Docket Nº:20190467-CA
Party Name:James J. Issertell Jr., Appellee, v. Tish Kristina Issertell, Appellant.
Attorney:Brian E. Arnold and Lauren Schultz, Attorneys for Appellant Ryan J. Stanger and Melissa A. Aland, Attorneys for Appellee
Judge Panel:Judge David N. Mortensen authored this Opinion, in which Judges Ryan M. Harris and Diana Hagen concurred.
Case Date:April 16, 2020
Court:Court of Appeals of Utah

2020 UT App 62

James J. Issertell Jr., Appellee,


Tish Kristina Issertell, Appellant.

No. 20190467-CA

Court of Appeals of Utah

April 16, 2020

Second District Court, Farmington Department The Honorable John R. Morris No. 154700825

Brian E. Arnold and Lauren Schultz, Attorneys for Appellant

Ryan J. Stanger and Melissa A. Aland, Attorneys for Appellee

Judge David N. Mortensen authored this Opinion, in which Judges Ryan M. Harris and Diana Hagen concurred.


¶1 A divorce in 2015 ended the twenty-two-year marriage of James J. Issertell Jr. and Tish Kristina Issertell. The district court ordered James to pay child support and alimony based on his level of income at that time. The next summer, however, James lost his job. Later that year, he petitioned for a modification of the divorce decree due to his military-service-related disabilities and lack of success in obtaining employment, despite ultimately applying for over 800 jobs. After a trial in 2018, the district court granted James's petition, concluding that James was involuntarily unemployed and setting new child-support and alimony obligations. Tish appeals and contends that the court erred in determining James's income. We affirm.[1]


¶2 In 2015, Tish and James's twenty-two-year marriage ended in divorce. At that time, James was working at L-3 Communications (L-3), earning a gross income of $8, 670 per month. Based on James's level of income, the district court ordered him to pay $1, 497 in child support and $2, 500 in alimony per month.

¶3 In the summer of 2016, James was fired from L-3 due to comments he made about software changes and perceived ethics concerns during a company meeting. About a month later, he received a job offer from Woodbury Technologies (Woodbury), which was contingent upon Woodbury securing a contract for which it was competing. Woodbury ultimately did not obtain the contract, however, and James did not end up working there.

¶4 James thereafter continued to apply for jobs and petitioned the district court to modify the divorce decree based on his unemployment. In the time between the filing of his petition to modify and the court's order granting it, James applied for over 800 jobs through numerous websites, including LinkedIn, ZipRecruiter, SimplyHired, Glassdoor, Indeed, Ladders, and CareerBuilder. James suffers from various disabilities related to his time in the United States military. Due to these disabilities, he experiences various health problems, the management of which requires several medications. A letter from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) states that James's disability rating is one hundred percent.3 James also receives $3, 698.32 per month from a disability payment provided by the VA.

¶5 Due to his conditions, James worked with the VA in a vocational-rehabilitation program. As part of a feasibility study- intended to place James in a job that would not aggravate his disabilities-the VA placed James in a job at the Salt Lake City Library working four-hour shifts three times a week at $11 per hour. This led to the VA paying for James to pursue a master's degree in information systems, which eventually caused James to leave the library position. However, due to his disabilities, James struggled to keep up with his studies.

¶6 In October 2018, the district court issued its order granting James's petition to modify his child-support and alimony obligations. The court concluded that James's situation qualified "as [a] substantial change in circumstances," that "was unforeseeable," and that James was involuntarily unemployed. Because of these conclusions and because both James's and Tish's respective net monthly incomes left them in the financial red, the court utilized the doctrine of equalization of income to reduce James's monthly child-support obligation to $796 and his alimony obligation to $131.

¶7 Tish appeals.


¶8 Tish raises two contentions on appeal that ultimately amount to one broad issue: whether the district court properly determined James's income. First, Tish contends that "the court failed to properly impute income to [James] for the child support and alimony determination." Then, Tish contends that it was improper "to not consider any and all income including gifts when determining alimony."

¶9 "In divorce actions, a district court is permitted considerable discretion in adjusting the financial and property interests of the parties, and its actions are entitled to a presumption of validity." Gardner v. Gardner, 2019 UT 61, ¶ 18, 452 P.3d 1134 (cleaned up). Moreover, "a court's decision to impute income to a spouse, and its decision on the amount of income that ought to be imputed are each reviewed for an abuse of discretion." Id. ¶ 98; see also Pulham v. Kirsling, 2019 UT 18, ¶ 41, 443 P.3d 1217. Finally, we "review a [district] court's determination to modify or not to modify a divorce decree for an abuse of discretion. However, we review for correctness any challenges to the legal adequacy of...

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