Jackson v. Jackson

Decision Date31 January 2008
Docket NumberNo. 05-659.,05-659.
Citation177 P.3d 474,341 Mont. 227,2008 MT 25
PartiesIn re the Marriage of Peggy Joyce JACKSON, Petitioner and Appellee, v. David Carter JACKSON, Respondent and Appellant.
CourtMontana Supreme Court

For Appellant: Kevin T. Sweeney, Attorney at Law, Billings, Montana.

For Appellee: George T. Radovich, Radovich Law Firm, Billings, Montana.

Justice JAMES C. NELSON delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶ 1 On March 2, 2005, Peggy Joyce Jackson filed a petition for dissolution of her marriage to David Carter Jackson. The District Court for the Thirteenth Judicial District, Yellowstone County, entered an order on August 29, 2005, dissolving the marriage, distributing the parties' marital property, and awarding maintenance to Peggy. David now appeals. We affirm in part and reverse in part.

¶ 2 We restate the issues on appeal as follows:

1. Did the District Court err by not accounting for Peggy's destruction of a bed that David estimated was worth $2,000?

2. Did the District Court err by leaving David financially exposed to a Veterans Affairs loan foreclosure on a residence awarded to Peggy?

3. Did the District Court fail to make adequate findings in awarding maintenance?

4. Did the District Court err in making the maintenance award for the duration of Peggy's lifetime or until she remarries, without making findings as to how this maintenance award could be covered long-term?

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

¶ 3 Peggy and David married on May 26, 1982, in Glenrock, Wyoming. They subsequently moved to Billings, Montana, in approximately 1985. At the time she filed the petition for dissolution, Peggy was 62 years old and David was 49 years old. Peggy and David have one adopted son, Noah, who is an adult. Since 2001, Peggy has been employed as a lunch supervisor at Sodexho in Billings and earns an annual salary of approximately $6,900 per year. Peggy also receives $523 per month in social security benefits. Prior to 2001, Peggy worked a series of jobs after she and David married, but she was also unemployed for several years to be a stay-at-home mother.

¶ 4 Although David did not graduate from high school, he later earned his GED, received a bachelor's degree in business administration, and completed auctioneering school. At the time of the dissolution proceedings, David was employed as an apprentice electrician, earning approximately $42,000 per year. He was to receive incremental raises every six months until he completed all the units of his apprenticeship program. David also received $2,400 per month in VA benefits, but he expected this amount to decrease to $1,056 per month, as he was found to have only a 70% disability instead of the previously determined 100% disability and he would no longer receive a dependent benefit upon dissolution of his marriage. The District Court found that David's earnings, overtime pay, and VA benefits combined for an income of approximately $60,000 per year.

¶ 5 Peggy and David's assets included their family home, which the District Court determined had a fair market value of $150,000. A mortgage debt of approximately $135,400 encumbered the home on a VA home loan obtained through David's eligibility as an Army Veteran. The parties' marital property also included a 1979 Ford Lariat pickup truck, a 1979 Ford Custom 100 pickup truck, a 1990 Ford Taurus, a 2004 Ford Explorer, a number of tools primarily used by David during the marriage, and household furnishings. The parties also had debts of approximately $54,700, excluding the home mortgage debt.

¶ 6 In her petition for dissolution, Peggy requested that David be required to pay her $1,500 per month in maintenance and that the assets and debts of the parties be equitably distributed. The District Court then issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting the parties from disposing of any real or personal property, without the consent of the other party or a court order. The court issued the temporary restraining order pursuant to § 40-4-121(3), MCA, which mandates the issuance of such an order when the clerk of a district court issues a summons pursuant to Title 40, Chapter 4, MCA. The court also issued a separate order prohibiting David from entering the family residence.

¶ 7 The District Court held a nonjury trial on August 17, 2005, and heard testimony from Peggy and David. The court entered its Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Decree of Dissolution on August 29, 2005. The court awarded the family home solely to Peggy, but ordered her to sell or refinance the property within 36 months so that David would not appear as an obligor on the mortgage. If Peggy failed to sell or refinance the property within 36 months, the court stated that the property would be sold and the net proceeds distributed equally between the parties. The court allocated other personal property between David and Peggy. The court also ordered David to pay. Peggy $1,000 per month in maintenance until her death or remarriage.

¶ 8 On September 12, 2005, David filed a Motion to Amend Findings of Fact/Motion for New Trial, Amendment of Judgment and Notice of Hearing. He requested that the court account for Peggy's destruction of a bed worth, he claimed, $2,000. David also requested that the court add language to the judgment stating that maintenance would continue until the "death or remarriage of the petitioner or upon respondent's change of employment or his retirement." The District Court entered an order and memorandum on September 29, 2005, denying David's motion to amend. This appeal followed.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶ 9 Section 40-4-202, MCA, governs the distribution of a marital estate and 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 Bartsch, 2007 MT 136, ¶ 9, 337 Mont. 386, ¶ 9, 162 P.3d 72, ¶ 9. We initially review a district court's division of marital property and maintenance awards to determine whether the findings of fact upon which the division is based are clearly erroneous. In re Marriage of Swanson, 2004 MT 124, ¶ 12, 321 Mont. 250, ¶ 12, 90 P.3d 418, ¶ 12. "A finding is clearly erroneous if it is not supported by substantial evidence, if the district court misapprehended the effect of the evidence, or if our review of the record convinces us that the district court made a mistake." In re Marriage of Gerhart, 2003 MT 292, ¶ 15, 318 Mont. 94, ¶ 15, 78 P.3d 1219, ¶ 15. Absent clearly erroneous findings, we will affirm a district court's division of property and award of maintenance unless we identify an abuse of discretion. In re Marriage of Rudolf, 2007 MT 178, ¶ 15, 338 Mont. 226, ¶ 15, 164 P.3d 907, ¶ 15. In a dissolution proceeding, the test for an abuse of discretion is whether the district court acted arbitrarily without employment of conscientious judgment or exceeded the bounds of reason resulting in a substantial injustice. In re Marriage of Killpack, 2004 MT 55, ¶ 8, 320 Mont. 186, ¶ 8, 87 P.3d 393, ¶ 8. We review a district court's conclusions of law to determine if they are correct. in re Marriage of Olson, 2005 MT 57, ¶ 9, 326 Mont. 224, ¶ 9, 108 P.3d 493, ¶ 9.

DISCUSSION

¶ 10 Issue One. Did the District Court err by not accounting for Peggy's destruction of a bed that David estimated was worth $2,000?

¶ 11 On March 24, 2003, David purchased an Eastman House Omega queen-sized bed from Mattress King in Billings, Montana, for $1,980. At trial, Peggy admitted that she had destroyed the bed. In her brief to this Court, Peggy explains that David had "defiled" the bed by "having intimate relations with his girlfriend in that bed," and once she learned of this, she chopped the bed into pieces. In his motion to amend, David asked the District Court to account for Peggy's destruction of the bed and to credit him with $2,000 out of Peggy's share of the marital estate. The District Court declined to do so, in its September 29, 2005 order and memorandum, stating that "there was insufficient evidence to determine the fair market value of the used bed was anything more than de minimus [sic]" and that although Peggy admitted to destroying the bed, it was unclear if she had done so before or after service of the temporary restraining order. Accordingly, the court considered what remained of the bed to be part of the household furnishings equitably divided between the parties.

¶ 12 In support of his contention that the District Court erred in failing to credit him with $2,000 for the destruction of the bed, David claims that the destruction of the bed violated the temporary restraining order, thereby warranting the sanction, and that the District Court erred in finding that the bed had a de minimis value, given David testified that he purchased the bed one year earlier for $2,000 (although the record reveals that David purchased the bed on March 24, 2003, over two years prior to the time of trial, for $1,980).

¶ 13 Peggy argues that the District Court's decision should be upheld because the date of the bed's destruction is unspecified and it is unknown whether it occurred before or after service of the temporary restraining order. She also argues that the bed was clearly not in existence as the time of trial and there was nothing for the court to divide under § 40-4-202, MCA.

¶ 14 We agree that the District Court did not err in declining to grant David a $2,000 credit for the bed's destruction. The court found that while Peggy admitted to the destruction, it was unclear if she destroyed the bed before or after service of the temporary restraining order. To prevail on appeal David must demonstrate that this finding is clearly erroneous, but he has failed to present any evidence that Peggy destroyed the bed after service of the temporary restraining order. As such, he has not established clear error on the part of the District Court.

¶ 15 Furthermore, even...

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