Knowles v. Knowles, 20200032

CourtCourt of Appeals of Utah
Writing for the CourtCHRISTIANSEN FORSTER, Judge
Citation509 P.3d 265
Parties Duane Croft KNOWLES, Appellant, v. Celia Fern KNOWLES, Appellee.
Docket Number20200032
Decision Date07 April 2022

509 P.3d 265

Duane Croft KNOWLES, Appellant,
v.
Celia Fern KNOWLES, Appellee.

No. 20200032

Court of Appeals of Utah.

Filed April 7, 2022


Julie J. Nelson and Alexandra Mareschal, Attorneys for Appellant

Emily Adams and Sara Pfrommer, Park City, Attorneys for Appellee

Judge Michele M. Christiansen Forster authored this Opinion, in which Judges Ryan M. Harris and Diana Hagen concurred.

Opinion

CHRISTIANSEN FORSTER, Judge:

¶1 In 2016, Duane Croft Knowles and Celia Fern Knowles separated after nearly thirty years of marriage. During their separation, the district court awarded Celia1 temporary alimony and, after a bench trial, entered a final alimony award. Duane now appeals those awards, arguing the court abused its discretion in (1) declining to award him credit for purported overages he paid in temporary alimony, (2) calculating the parties’ expenses in determining the final alimony award, and (3) selecting the date to value the retirement accounts. We affirm in part and reverse in part and remand.

BACKGROUND2

¶2 Duane and Celia were married in December 1989. They remained married for twenty-nine years, during which time they had six children. For the duration of the marriage, Duane worked as an optometrist and supported the family financially.

¶3 In 2016, Duane and Celia separated. At that time, only two of the children were

509 P.3d 270

minors.3 Upon the parties’ separation, Celia remained in the marital home, which was paid off. Each month Duane used his income to pay the family's bills and any remaining funds were then divided between the parties; in the initial months following their separation, Celia received $200 more per month than Duane, after which the excess was split 50/50. After several months of this informal arrangement, both parties filed motions for temporary orders, supported by financial declarations.

¶4 In Celia's financial declaration, she reported a nominal monthly income of $103.52 from her massage therapist side business but requested the court impute the minimum wage for full-time employment to her in the amount of $1,257 per month. Celia also declared that her monthly financial needs were $8,476.91. This total included, among other things, orthodontic expenses for one of the parties’ minor children and a monthly donation for tithing to Celia's church.

¶5 In Duane's financial declaration, he reported a net monthly income of $9,671.08 from his job as an optometrist. Duane calculated his monthly expenses as $5,054.70 and included in those expenses a line-item for a tithing donation to his church.

¶6 The competing motions for temporary orders were reviewed before a commissioner in September 2017. Duane was ordered to pay Celia $3,797 in alimony each month, beginning in July 2017. The commissioner noted that "the issue of retroactive alimony prior to July 1, 2017," would be "reserve[d]" and that Duane "shall receive credit for amounts he has paid [Celia] or on behalf of [Celia] during this time." In calculating temporary alimony, the commissioner adjusted the stated monthly expenses for both parties, including eliminating the claimed monthly expense for tithing. The commissioner did not exclude, however, Celia's claimed orthodontic expenses for the parties’ minor children.

¶7 Duane objected to the commissioner's alimony recommendations, arguing that the commissioner had improperly calculated the parties’ needs by failing to "equalize the parties[’] standards of living" and "by failing to consider the parties[’] historical standard of living." In addition, he argued that the temporary award should cover only the actual expenses of the parties and not "projected expenses" such as possible orthodontics for the parties’ ten-year-old child who did not yet have braces.

¶8 Following briefing and argument on Duane's motion, the district court sustained the commissioner's recommendations as to the parties’ temporary expenses and incomes. In particular, the court noted that including the orthodontic expenses in calculating Celia's needs "was not erroneous" because "[e]ven if orthodonti[cs] is not presently involved, it could occur in the immediate future." However, the court agreed with Duane that some of Celia's expenses were inflated and that alimony should be adjusted accordingly. The court then reduced the temporary alimony award from $3,797 to $2,809, with payments set to begin on July 1, 2017, the same day set by the commissioner in his initial order.4

¶9 In 2019, two years after Duane filed for divorce, the parties went to trial. During the course of the two-day bench trial on financial issues, both parties testified, along with their respective experts.

¶10 Duane first challenged the district court's award of temporary alimony, arguing that Celia's financial declarations were not adequately supported and that she had failed to prove the marital standard of living and her actual needs. In support of this argument, Duane called as an expert a forensic accountant to testify regarding the parties’ marital standard of living. The expert first testified that prior to the parties’ separation in 2016, the monthly marital expenses for both parties together were $9,338, or $4,669 each. He then explained that Celia had requested

509 P.3d 271

$8,476.91 in her financial declaration but had been spending only around $4,755.02 per month. He also opined that, based on the parties’ historical spending, tithing donations to their church were part of the marital standard of living.

¶11 In addition to challenging the amount of alimony, Duane asked the court to credit him $64,000 for what he characterized as an "overage" he paid in temporary alimony. In essence, Duane argued that the temporary alimony figure he had paid for approximately two years had been too high and asked the court to adjust that figure retroactively and award him the difference between what he had paid and what he should have paid. He argued that Celia had "intentionally dissipated the marital estate by overspending," "over-inflat[ing] her needs," and "refusing to work" despite having "the ability to work full time."

¶12 Following trial, the district court entered its findings of fact and conclusions of law. Based on its analysis of the parties’ income and needs, the court awarded Celia $2,770 in permanent alimony per month moving forward.

¶13 In reaching that amount, the court first analyzed each party's income. It calculated Duane's monthly net income at $9,368, after averaging the prior four years of his annual income as stated in his tax returns. The court also imputed a monthly net income of $1,874 to Celia, finding that "she is voluntarily underemployed" and "capable of employment."

¶14 The court then analyzed the needs of each party. It first declined to "award any donations or tithing for either party." It reasoned that the tithing payments were "a religious preference" and "not a necessary living expense."

¶15 Next, after examining Celia's multiple financial declarations and other relevant evidence, the district court found that her post-divorce living expenses would be $5,382 per month. To reach this amount, the court excluded some of Celia's claims for expenses, finding the supporting evidence "lacking, remote in time[,] and remote in detail." But the court also added additional expenses for a future mortgage and for health insurance, which had not been included in Celia's financial declarations.

¶16 Finally, the court examined Duane's financial declarations and supporting evidence and determined that his monthly post-divorce living expenses, excluding child support, would be $5,833. In so doing, the court excluded only "the expense of donations," finding Duane's other expenses "to be appropriate."

¶17 After setting the amount of permanent alimony, the district court addressed both parties’ claims regarding alimony arrears and overpayments. Without addressing the merits of the parties’ arguments, the court summarily concluded that both parties had failed "to provide or to carry the weight of the evidence in their respective favor" and declined to credit Duane for any overpayments of temporary alimony.

¶18 With respect to the parties’ retirement accounts, the court awarded each party "one-half of the value of the marital portion of the retirement accounts, ... with a valuation date of August 2, 2019," the date on which the court announced its oral ruling.

¶19 Following the district court's oral ruling, Duane filed a document requesting further clarification on a number of issues, including, as relevant here, his taxpayer filing status and the valuation date of the retirement accounts. As to his taxpayer filing status, Duane noted that his "ability to pay should be reduced by $224/month as his taxable income will be higher" because of the change in his filing status following the divorce. As to the valuation date of the retirement accounts, Duane noted that the division date "should be the date of separation" and not the date of divorce.

¶20 In response to Duane's request, the district court issued an order rejecting both arguments. First, it declined to change Duane's taxpayer filing status, reasoning that Duane had not provided sufficient evidence to rebut its previous ruling. Second, it declined to change...

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1 practice notes
  • State v. Rivera, 20200169-CA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Utah
    • April 7, 2022
    ...the screwdriver tested for fingerprints. Rivera suggests that such testing might have shown that there were fingerprints from David or 509 P.3d 265 Benjamin; if there were, Rivera argues that this would have supported his theory that David and Benjamin planted the screwdriver. ¶43 But this ......
1 cases
  • State v. Rivera, 20200169-CA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Utah
    • April 7, 2022
    ...the screwdriver tested for fingerprints. Rivera suggests that such testing might have shown that there were fingerprints from David or 509 P.3d 265 Benjamin; if there were, Rivera argues that this would have supported his theory that David and Benjamin planted the screwdriver. ¶43 But this ......

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