Neppel v. Neppel, 940255

Decision Date08 March 1995
Docket NumberNo. 940255,940255
Citation528 N.W.2d 371
PartiesJohn Thomas NEPPEL, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. Pamela Ann NEPPEL, Defendant and Appellant. Civ.
CourtNorth Dakota Supreme Court

Shirley Faye Lawonn Jahnke, Grand Forks, for plaintiff and appellee.

Henry H. Howe, Howe & Seaworth, Grand Forks, for defendant and appellant.

VANDE WALLE, Chief Justice.

Pamela Ann Neppel appealed from an amended judgment of the district court, Northeast Central Judicial District, modifying the child support obligations and terminating the spousal support obligations of her former husband, John Thomas Neppel. We affirm the modification of child support but reverse and remand for further consideration of the issue of spousal support.

At the time of their divorce in 1990, Pamela and John had been married for seventeen years. In 1973, the year of their marriage, Pamela moved with John from Nashville, Tennessee, to Grand Forks so that John could take a job as an engineer at the KBM company. Evidence suggests that Pamela assumed most of the responsibility for raising the couple's two children. At the time of the divorce, the children were thirteen and eleven years old. At times during the marriage, Pamela was employed outside the home, but she was never self-supporting. At the time of the divorce, she was thirty-nine years old. John was forty-three.

In 1979, John founded Neppel Engineering, Inc., and owned fifty percent of this business at the time of the divorce. The original divorce judgment valued the corporation at $290,000. Since the divorce, John disposed of the business and filed for personal bankruptcy. The final bankruptcy discharge was entered on February 23, 1994.

The original divorce judgment awarded Pamela a $55,000 property settlement to be paid, including interest, in installments of $660.10 per month for fifteen years. None of these payments were made.

The original divorce judgment also awarded Pamela spousal support of six hundred dollars per month for six years. Although Pamela asked for this support so that she could attend the University of North Dakota, the judgment did not expressly make the reception of the payments contingent on her attending the University. Pamela attended some computer courses to help her with her job at St. Mary's Church. At the time of the divorce, this job paid her approximately $6,000 per year. In February 1994, her salary was more than doubled and she now makes approximately $14,000 per year, and she supplements this income with another part-time job which pays her around $2,000.

Pamela testified that she did not seek a four-year degree at the University because she did not receive any of the property settlement payments and because, for a time, John was not prompt with the support payments. She believed it would be too risky to give up her job in order to attend school full time. She also testified to a concern that her age after attending college for four years would limit her employment opportunities.

In January 1994, John filed a motion in the district court to modify his child support and spousal support obligations. He claimed a material change in his financial circumstances. He argued that his business failure and his bankruptcy were not voluntary and that Pamela should share in the loss. He also argued that Pam's decision not to attend the University constituted an abandonment of her efforts for rehabilitation and, therefore, he should not have to make any more spousal support payments.

The trial court found that a material change of circumstances had occurred and amended its original judgment, reducing John's child support obligation and terminating the spousal support.

Pamela challenges the reduction of John's child support payments and the amendment of the apportionment of responsibility for medical expenses. A trial court's findings on a motion to modify child support will not be overturned on appeal unless they are clearly erroneous. N.D.R.Civ.P. 52(a); Hartman v. Hartman, 466 N.W.2d 155 (N.D.1991). We see no error in the trial court's finding of a material change in circumstances requiring John's child support obligation to be reduced from one thousand dollars to seven hundred dollars per month and requiring the reapportionment of medical expenses. We affirm those portions of the amended judgment.

Pamela also alleges error in the trial court's failure to find a material change in circumstances requiring a modification of the judgment to provide for permanent spousal support. It appears from the record that the trial court did not consider the issue of permanent spousal support. The issue of permanent spousal support was apparently not raised to the trial court until the "written closing argument." Nevertheless, the circumstances of this marriage, the divorce, and the aftermath of the divorce are such that the trial court should have considered the issue of permanent spousal support and the alternative of retaining jurisdiction in order to address the spousal support issue in the event of future material changes in circumstance. We reverse and remand for the trial court to address the issue of...

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6 cases
  • Fox v. Fox
    • United States
    • North Dakota Supreme Court
    • April 12, 1999
    ...Gierke v. Gierke, 1998 ND 100, p 22, 578 N.W.2d 522. ¶21 We prefer rehabilitative over permanent spousal support. Neppel v. Neppel, 528 N.W.2d 371, 374 (N.D.1995). Rehabilitative spousal support is preferred in cases in which the disadvantaged spouse will be able to retrain to independent e......
  • Finstad v. James Gord & Wendy Gord, Beresford Bancorporation, Inc.
    • United States
    • North Dakota Supreme Court
    • May 2, 2014
  • Withey v. Hager
    • United States
    • North Dakota Supreme Court
    • December 2, 1997
    ...a material change of circumstances before amending an obligor's medical support obligation for his children. See, e.g., Neppel v. Neppel, 528 N.W.2d 371, 373 (N.D.1995). "Only after the trial court determines that a material change of circumstances has occurred, without reference to the gui......
  • Bakes v. Bakes
    • United States
    • North Dakota Supreme Court
    • May 31, 1995
    ...one spouse has contributed to the earning capacity of the other to the detriment of his or her own earning capacity, Neppel v. Neppel, 528 N.W.2d 371, 374 (N.D.1995), but permanent support may be required to maintain a spouse who cannot be adequately restored to independent economic status.......
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