Marriage of Eschenbacher, In re, 91-517

Citation253 Mont. 139, 49 St.Rep. 393, 831 P.2d 1353
Case DateMay 01, 1992
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Montana

Clinton H. Kammerer, Kammerer Law Offices, Missoula, for petitioner and appellant.

Bruce Barrett, ASUM Legal Services, Missoula, for respondent and respondent.

HARRISON, Justice.

Steven Eschenbacher (Steven) appeals the July 8, 1991, decree of dissolution of his marriage to Michele Crepeau (Michele) entered in the Fourth Judicial District Court, Missoula County, Montana, which awarded Michele $800 monthly maintenance for an eighteen month period. We affirm.

Steven and Michele began living together in June of 1990 and were married on August 18, 1990. No children were born of their marriage, although Steven had two children and Michele had one child from prior relationships.

Prior to and during the marriage, Steven was a commissioned officer in the United States Army stationed at the University of Montana as an Assistant Professor of Military Science earning approximately $46,800 per year. He owned his home free of all encumbrances, he had a savings account with approximately $6,000, and virtually no debt. In addition to his home and savings, Steven brought into the marriage assets including two motor vehicles, a motorcycle, and personal belongings. Prior to the marriage, Steven supported his children and himself.

Michele was a student at the University of Montana working towards a bachelor's degree. She received financial aid from the University to finance her education and basic living expenses. Prior to the marriage, Michele supported her son and resided in the University's student housing complex. She also received Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). Apparently, Michele did not engage in outside employment while she attended school. Michele brought no assets to the marriage aside from her personal effects and a 1981 automobile. When Michele moved into Steven's home, she disposed of most of her personal belongings including the car which she gave to her parents.

After Michele moved into Steven's home, but prior to the marriage, Steven obtained a $30,000 home equity loan. Steven used the majority of the loan proceeds to purchase a new van to provide Michele with reliable transportation. Steven used the balance of the loan proceeds to pay for their wedding, reception, honeymoon trip, a holiday cruise, and home improvement materials.

During the marriage Michele assumed household duties including cleaning, preparing meals, and caring for the children while she attended school full-time. However, Steven and Michele hired domestic help to perform the weekly heavy housework. Michele also managed the household finances at Steven's request. Additionally, Michele and her father extensively remodeled the bathrooms in the home.

On January 7, 1991, the Army ordered Steven to Saudi Arabia as a result of the Desert Storm conflict. Michele remained at home caring for the three children and the home. While in Saudi Arabia, Steven deposited his earnings into the couple's joint checking account. After paying her educational expenses, Michele deposited the balance of her financial aid into the couple's joint account.

On or about February 14, 1991, while still in Saudi Arabia, Steven learned that Michele desired a divorce. Steven received an early return from Saudi Arabia. When he returned home on March 11, 1991, Steven discovered that Michele had moved out of his home taking the van and her personal belongings.

Steven petitioned for dissolution of marriage on March 27, 1991. In her response, Michele requested the court award her the van and monthly maintenance. Thereafter, Michele moved the court for temporary maintenance and property distribution; Steven moved the court for an expedited hearing on the petition for dissolution to accommodate his military transfer to Germany.

The court scheduled the hearing on Michele's motion for temporary maintenance on June 17, 1991. At that time, the parties, with the court's approval, agreed to proceed directly to a final hearing on the dissolution. Michele waived all claims to marital property except for the van and basic household items.

After hearing the evidence, the court awarded Michele $1,000 as full settlement for her interest in the marital property and $800 monthly maintenance for eighteen months. The District Court entered its final decree of dissolution on July 8, 1991, containing its findings of fact and conclusions of law. Steven appeals the District Court's award of maintenance to Michele.

The standard of review is whether the district court's findings of fact are clearly erroneous. In re Marriage of Eide (Mont.1991), 821 P.2d 1036, 1037, 48 St.Rep. 1054, 1055; and Steer, Inc. v. Department of Revenue (1990), 245 Mont. 470, 474, 803 P.2d 601, 603. Recently, we adopted a three-part test to determine if a finding is clearly erroneous. Interstate Prod. Credit Ass'n v. DeSaye (Mont.1991), 820 P.2d 1285, 1287, 48 St.Rep. 986, 987.

First, the Court will review the record to see if the findings are supported by substantial evidence. Second, if the findings are supported by substantial evidence, we will determine if the trial court has misapprehended the effect of evidence. [Citation omitted.] Third, if substantial evidence exists and the effect of the evidence has not been misapprehended, the Court may still find that "[A] finding is 'clearly erroneous' when, although there is evidence to support it, a review of the record leaves the court with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." [Citation omitted.]

Interstate Prod. Credit Ass'n, 820 P.2d at 1287, 48 St.Rep. at 987. Substantial evidence is defined as "evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion; it consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be somewhat less than a preponderance." Barrett v. Asarco Inc. (1990), 245 Mont. 196, 200, 799 P.2d 1078, 1080 (citation omitted).

The only issue Steven raises on appeal is whether, considering the short duration of the marriage, the District Court erred in awarding Michele $800 monthly maintenance for eighteen months.

A court may award maintenance after the marital property has been equitably divided pursuant to § 40-4-202, MCA, and the court has properly applied the criteria of § 40-4-203, MCA, which provides:

(1) In a proceeding for dissolution of marriage or legal separation or a proceeding for maintenance following dissolution of the marriage by a court which lacked personal jurisdiction over the

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absent spouse, the court may grant a maintenance order for either spouse only if it finds that the spouse seeking maintenance:

(a) lacks sufficient property to provide for his reasonable needs; and

(b) is unable to support himself through appropriate employment or is the custodian of a child whose condition or circumstances make it appropriate that the custodian not be required to seek employment outside the home.

(2) The maintenance order shall be in such amounts and for such periods of time as the court deems just, without regard to marital misconduct, and after considering all relevant facts including:

(a) the financial resources of the party seeking maintenance, including marital property apportioned to him, and his ability to meet his needs independently, including the extent to which a provision for support of a child living with the party includes a sum for that party as custodian;

(b) the time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking maintenance to find appropriate employment;

(c) the standard of living established during the marriage;

(d) the duration of the marriage;

(e) the age and the physical and emotional condition of the spouse seeking maintenance; and

(f) the ability of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought to meet his needs while meeting those of the spouse seeking maintenance.

In the instant case, the District Court found that Michele required maintenance because she did not receive sufficient income-producing property to support herself and that she could not obtain appropriate employment to support herself due to her lack of training and sufficient education. After a thorough review of the record, we agree.

For property to be "sufficient property" under § 40-4-203(1)(a), MCA, it must be income-producing rather than income-consuming property. In re Marriage of Van Atta (Mont.1992), 829 P.2d 3, 5, 49 St.Rep. 264, 265. Due to the short duration of the marriage in the instant case, the couple obtained few marital assets. As a result, the court apparently divided the marital property pursuant to § 40-4-202, MCA, and awarded Michele $1,000. Although these funds are income-producing, the court awarded Michele the $1,000 cash award to replace the basic household items she disposed of prior to and during the marriage. We hold that sufficient evidence exists supporting the District Court's finding that Michele did not receive sufficient income-producing property to provide for her reasonable needs.

The court also found sufficient evidence to conclude that the second criteria for awarding maintenance, § 40-4-203(1)(b), MCA, was satisfied. The court concluded that Michele was unable to support herself through appropriate employment because she lacked sufficient education and training.

Generally, an award of maintenance is appropriate if the spouse seeking maintenance is unable to obtain appropriate employment with relation to the standard of living achieved by the parties during the marriage. In re...

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27 cases
  • Marriage of Davies, In re, 93-205
    • United States
    • Montana United States State Supreme Court of Montana
    • 20. Oktober 1994
    ...not reverse the district court's award of maintenance unless the findings are clearly erroneous. In re Marriage of Eschenbacher (1992), 253 Mont. 139, 142, 831 P.2d 1353, 1355; In re Marriage of Eide (1991), 250 Mont. 490, 493, 821 P.2d 1036, In awarding maintenance, the district court is g......
  • Marriage of Stufft, In re, 97-040
    • United States
    • Montana United States State Supreme Court of Montana
    • 19. Dezember 1997
    ...court's findings of fact related to maintenance to determine if they are clearly erroneous. See In re Marriage of Eschenbacher (1992), 253 Mont. 139, 142, 253 Mont. 139, 831 P.2d 1353, 1355. If they are not clearly erroneous, we review the district court's award to determine if there has be......
  • In re Marriage of Hanni, 98-585.
    • United States
    • Montana United States State Supreme Court of Montana
    • 9. März 2000
    ...role is limited to a determination of whether the District Court's findings are clearly erroneous. In re Marriage of Eschenbacher (1992), 253 Mont. 139, 142, 831 P.2d 1353, ¶ 34 Prior to judgment, the parties stipulated that starting August 10, 1995, Ron would pay Jacalyn maintenance in the......
  • Marriage of Boharski, In re, 92-055
    • United States
    • Montana United States State Supreme Court of Montana
    • 18. März 1993
    ...reverse the determination of the District Court unless the findings of fact are clearly erroneous. In re Marriage of Eschenbacher (1992), 253 Mont. 139, 831 P.2d 1353, 1355. Upon reviewing conclusions of law relating to the maintenance award, this Court will simply determine whether the low......
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