Marriage of Weed, In re

Citation836 P.2d 591,254 Mont. 162
Decision Date06 August 1992
Docket NumberNo. 91-627,91-627
PartiesIn re the MARRIAGE OF J. Spencer WEED, III, Petitioner and Respondent, and Karen M. Weed, Respondent and Appellant.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Montana

James P. O'Brien, O'Brien Law Office, Missoula, for respondent and appellant.

Keith W. McCurdy, McCurdy Law Firm, Polson, for petitioner and respondent.

HUNT, Justice.

Appellant Karen M. Weed appeals from a decree of dissolution entered in the Twentieth Judicial District Court, Lake County.

We affirm in part and reverse in part.

The issues raised by appellant for our consideration are as follows:

1. Did the District Court err in its computation of child support?

2. Did the District Court err in the division of the marital estate?

3. Did the District Court err in the award of maintenance to appellant?

The parties were originally married in 1969. Prior to the marriage, the parties entered into an antenuptial agreement. The marriage ended in dissolution on December 11, 1972. The parties remarried on March 23, 1973, and entered into a second antenuptial agreement. Both antenuptial agreements were essentially the same. Two children were born during the second marriage--Barbara, age 15, and Douglas, age 7.

Respondent J. Spencer Weed began his own cattle ranch in 1967 which he expanded to approximately 2800 acres prior to the parties' second marriage. The ranch is currently being leased to two individuals. The income from the leases amounts to approximately $12,000 annually. In addition to the ranch, Spencer's property consists of a savings account, a gun collection, and miscellaneous property. Finally, Spencer is a contingent beneficiary of two trusts. The current value of the 1923 trust is approximately $1.3 million, while the 1929 trust is valued at about $1.4 million. Currently, his 83-year-old mother is the beneficiary of these trusts.

At the time of trial, Karen was 41 years old and Spencer was 51. Spencer is in general good health, but does suffer from alcohol abuse and is hearing impaired. Karen suffers from chronic low back pain and respiratory infections. The parties' oldest child has a form of epilepsy which requires constant medication and monitoring by a neurologist. Both parties are capable of working at minimum wage level jobs, but are unemployed and Karen is currently receiving monthly AFDC benefits in the amount of $390. It is unclear from the record whether the parties' daughter is receiving state medical assistance.

On March 15, 1990, Spencer filed a petition for dissolution. Pursuant to a motion, the court granted partial summary judgment relating to the disposition of the marital estate. The court ruled that pursuant to the 1973 antenuptial agreement the parties were to retain their own real and personal property owned prior to the second marriage. In effect, this order barred Karen from asserting any claim to the ranch and the two trusts. Karen does not challenge the validity of the order in her appeal.

On September 23, 1991, the District Court conducted a hearing concerning the distribution of the remaining marital estate child custody and support, and maintenance. On November 14, 1991, the court issued its findings of fact and conclusions of law and decree. It is from this order that Karen appeals.

I.

Did the District Court err in its computation of child support?

In its findings of fact, the court ruled that both Karen and Spencer were capable of minimum wage employment. In the child support guidelines work sheet, the District Court imputed to Karen a yearly minimum wage of $8840, based on its finding that she was capable of minimum wage employment. The court imputed a yearly wage of $12,116 to Spencer, based on his income derived from the ranch leases. Unlike its treatment of Karen, the court did not impute income from minimum wage to Spencer and offers no explanation for the disparate approach. Based on these figures, the District Court ordered that Spencer pay $247.25 per month in child support for both children and ordered that both Spencer and Karen share equally in the health expenses of the children.

Our standard of review in reviewing child support is that a presumption exists in favor of the district court determination, and this court will reverse the district court only if it has abused its discretion. In re Marriage of Sacry (1992), --- Mont. ----, 833 P.2d 1035.

Section 40-4-204(3)(a), MCA, provides that:

Whenever a court issues ... an order concerning child support, the court shall determine the child support obligation by applying the standards in this section and the uniform child support guidelines adopted by the department of social and rehabilitative services ... unless the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the application of the standards and guidelines is unjust to the child or to any of the parties or is inappropriate in that particular case.

Section 46.30.1513(1)(a), A.R.M., of the guidelines defines gross income for child support as:

[I]ncome from any source, except as excluded below, and includes but is not limited to income from salaries, wages, commissions, bonuses, dividends, severance pay, pensions, interest, trust income, annuities, capital gains, social security benefits, worker's compensation benefits, unemployment benefits, gifts and prizes and alimony or spousal maintenance.

Section 46.30.1513(1)(b), A.R.M., defines "imputed income" as income from a parent who is either voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, and that income may be imputed to the parent based on the parent's ability or capacity to earn net income.

Because of the guidelines definition of gross income and imputed income, Spencer's income derived from leasing his ranch was appropriately considered by the court as gross income for the purposes of calculating child support. In addition, while the District Court concluded that Spencer was capable of minimum wage employment, it failed to offer any explanation as to why it did not impute this income to Spencer for child support purposes while at the same time imputing the income to Karen. Because the court found that Spencer was capable of minimum wage employment, we hold that the court should have imputed this income for calculating child support. See generally, In re Marriage of Chivaro (1991), 247 Mont. 185, 805 P.2d 575. We hold that the District Court abused its discretion in not imputing to Spencer a yearly minimum wage for the purpose of calculating child support.

Karen also contends that the District Court abused its discretion in directing that the parties share equally in the...

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9 cases
  • IN RE MARRIAGE OF BEE
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Montana
    • March 19, 2002
    ...257 Mont. 197, 848 P.2d 1020 (income imputed to incarcerated prisoner due to voluntary nature of criminal acts); In re Marriage of Weed (1992), 254 Mont. 162, 836 P.2d 591 (minimum wage earnings imputed to voluntarily unemployed ¶ 23 We also recognize a parent's right to attempt to improve ......
  • Frazer v. Frazer
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Virginia
    • October 29, 1996
    ...obligation is "divided proportionately between the parents in relation to their 'adjusted actual incomes' "); In re Marriage of Weed, 254 Mont. 162, 836 P.2d 591, 594 (1992) (holding that extraordinary medical expenses "should be prorated between the parents and added to supplement the chil......
  • In re Marriage of Payer, 04-589.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Montana
    • April 12, 2005
    ...equitably pursuant to § 40-4-202, MCA, and the court properly has applied the criteria of § 40-4-203, MCA. In re Marriage of Weed (1992), 254 Mont. 162, 168, 836 P.2d 591, 594. ¶ 10 Whether the District Court erred by awarding Nicki maintenance before determining the value of the marital es......
  • IN RE MARRIAGE OF ROLF, 04-109.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Montana
    • October 5, 2004
    ...divided pursuant to § 40-4-202, MCA, and the court has properly applied the criteria of § 40-4-203, MCA. In re Marriage of Weed (1992), 254 Mont. 162, 168, 836 P.2d 591, 594. ¶ 19 On his third appeal, David argues there is insufficient evidence in the record to support the District Court's ......
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