Leedom v. Leedom, #29092

CourtSupreme Court of South Dakota
Writing for the CourtJENSEN, Justice
Citation947 N.W.2d 143
Docket Number#29092
Decision Date15 July 2020
Parties Cindy Bea LEEDOM, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. David Wayne LEEDOM, Defendant and Appellant.

947 N.W.2d 143

Cindy Bea LEEDOM, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
David Wayne LEEDOM, Defendant and Appellant.

#29092

Supreme Court of South Dakota.

CONSIDERED ON BRIEFS MAY 27, 2020
OPINION FILED July 15, 2020


RICHARD L. JOHNSON, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Attorney for plaintiff and appellee.

THOMAS M. KELLER, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Attorney for defendant and appellant.

JENSEN, Justice

¶1.] David and Cindy Leedom divorced in 2004. The divorce court ordered David to pay Cindy monthly alimony in the amount of $3,000. David stopped paying alimony in January 2017, after reaching the age of social security eligibility. Cindy filed a motion to restore alimony in the circuit court (modification court) alleging that David was obligated to pay lifetime alimony of $3,000 per month. The modification court held David's obligation to pay alimony was continuing. The court also determined that he owed accrued alimony from the time he stopped paying until the time of the modification hearing, which totaled $87,000. The court then reduced David's monthly alimony obligation to $1,750 beginning on June 1, 2019. David appeals. We affirm.

Facts and Procedural History

[¶2.] Cindy commenced a divorce action against David in March 2003. David and Cindy had been married for 22 years. David was employed in the banking business and earned between $200,000 and $384,000 annually in the four years prior to the divorce. Cindy worked sporadically during the marriage.

[¶3.] A two-day divorce trial was held in May 2004. At the time of trial, Cindy was working part-time at a clothing store, earning approximately $2,000 per month.

[947 N.W.2d 146

David testified his income had been reduced to $125,000 annually because of a downturn in the credit card industry.

¶4.] The divorce court entered a written memorandum opinion on July 8, 2004, resolving all the issues in the divorce, including Cindy's request for alimony. The memorandum opinion required David to pay Cindy alimony of $3,000 per month, stating:
The $3,000 per month of alimony will be payable every month to Cindy until any of the following conditions present themselves:

a. Cindy remarries;

b. David reaches the age of social security eligibility; or

c. David's income increases substantially.

[¶5.] The memorandum opinion further detailed that:

If Cindy remarries the alimony terminates. If David reaches the age of social security eligibility and chooses to retire, then alimony may be subject to modification due to a change in David's income, if any. If David's income increases substantially over the next fifteen years, then alimony may be modified if Cindy can establish modification is warranted. Of course, alimony modification sought by either party may be warranted if other factors as recognized by South Dakota law are present.

[¶6.] The divorce court entered written findings of fact and conclusions of law and a decree of divorce (divorce decree) on August 24, 2004. The divorce court incorporated the findings of fact and conclusions of law from the memorandum opinion into the divorce decree. The divorce decree provided the following with respect to David's obligation to pay alimony:

[David] shall pay to [Cindy] the sum of $3,000 per month alimony until any of the following conditions present themselves:

a. [Cindy] remarries;

b. [David] reaches the age of social security eligibility; or

c. Either party undergoes a substantial change in circumstances.

[¶7.] Over the years, David consistently paid his alimony obligation and neither party moved to modify alimony. In November 2016, David turned 62 and became eligible to draw social security. David also retired from his position at MetaBank in January 2017. He stopped paying monthly alimony after making the December 2016 payment. Cindy texted David in January 2017 after she did not receive the January alimony payment. David responded that he would no longer be paying alimony to her "by the terms of the decree."

[¶8.] Cindy filed a motion to restore alimony in October 2017. The modification court held a hearing on the motion and received evidence from both parties. Cindy argued that the divorce court had ordered David to pay lifetime alimony and David had an ongoing obligation to pay $3,000 per month unless modified by the court. David argued that he was no longer obligated to pay alimony under the divorce decree after he became eligible for social security and retired. David also argued that he was not able to pay alimony because he was no longer earning income.

[¶9.] The modification court entered a written memorandum opinion on May 20, 2019, which was incorporated into a final order. The court determined that David's alimony obligation did not automatically terminate under the divorce decree when David reached the age of social security eligibility and therefore ordered David to pay the accrued alimony of $87,000 to Cindy for the period from January 2017 through May 2019. The court also reduced

[947 N.W.2d 147

David's ongoing alimony obligation to $1,750 per month beginning on June 1, 2019.

¶10.] David appeals raising multiple issues that we state as follows:
1. Whether the original alimony award terminated upon David reaching the age of social security eligibility.

2. Whether the modification court abused its discretion when it modified the terms of the alimony obligation.1

Standard of Review

[¶11.] "We review alimony determinations under the abuse of discretion standard." Haanen v. Haanen , 2009 S.D. 60, ¶ 12, 769 N.W.2d 836, 841. A circuit court's decision regarding whether to modify an alimony award is also reviewed for abuse of discretion. Barton v. Barton , 2012 S.D. 44, ¶ 9, 815 N.W.2d 553, 557. This Court reviews a "circuit court's findings of fact under the clearly erroneous standard" and reviews "conclusions of law de novo." Lowe v. Schwartz , 2007 S.D. 85, ¶ 9, 738 N.W.2d 63, 66-67.

Analysis and Decision

1. Whether the original alimony award terminated upon David reaching the age of social security eligibility.

[¶12.] David argues that the modification court erred by considering the divorce court's memorandum opinion in determining that David's alimony obligation did not automatically terminate when he became eligible to draw social security. He also contends that the divorce decree and the memorandum opinion are inconsistent as to when his alimony obligation was to terminate. Finally, David argues that the divorce court intended David's alimony obligation to terminate when he became age eligible for social security, and the modification court erred by concluding otherwise.

[¶13.] SDCL 15-6-52(a) provides in part, "If an opinion or memorandum of decision is filed, the facts and legal conclusions stated therein need not be restated but may be included in the findings of fact and conclusions of law by reference." The incorporation of a memorandum opinion into a circuit court's findings and conclusions "is clearly permitted by SDCL 15-6-52(a) and has been repeatedly endorsed by this court." Eichmann v. Eichmann , 485 N.W.2d 206, 208 (S.D. 1992) ; see also Speck v. Anderson , 349 N.W.2d 49, 51 (S.D. 1984) (holding the court's findings of fact and conclusions of law incorporated the memorandum by reference); Saint-Pierre v. Saint-Pierre , 357 N.W.2d 250, 253 (S.D. 1984) (acknowledging that the trial court's...

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1 practice notes
  • State v. Wilson, #28742
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • July 15, 2020
    ...demonstrate an impact on his substantial rights.[¶44.] The circuit court correctly denied Wilson's judgment for acquittal on the assault [947 N.W.2d 143 charges because designating them as "domestic" did not constitute an additional essential element. However, given the legislative amendmen......
1 cases
  • State v. Wilson, #28742
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of South Dakota
    • July 15, 2020
    ...demonstrate an impact on his substantial rights.[¶44.] The circuit court correctly denied Wilson's judgment for acquittal on the assault [947 N.W.2d 143 charges because designating them as "domestic" did not constitute an additional essential element. However, given the legislative amendmen......

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