Parrett v. Parrett, 87-1279

Decision Date26 October 1988
Docket NumberNo. 87-1279,87-1279
Citation146 Wis.2d 830,432 N.W.2d 664
PartiesJudith M. PARRETT, Petitioner-Appellant-Cross-Respondent, v. James R. PARRETT, Respondent-Cross Appellant. *
CourtWisconsin Court of Appeals

Thomas M. Rusch and Rusch & Rusch Law Office, S.C., Medford on the briefs, for petitioner-appellant-cross-respondent.

William A. Grunewald and Corliss V. Jensen and Nikolay, Jensen, Scott, Gamoke & Grunewald, S.C., Medford, on the briefs, for respondent-cross-appellant.

Before GARTZKE, P.J., and DYKMAN and EICH, JJ.

GARTZKE, Presiding Judge.

Judith Parrett appeals from a judgment divorcing her from James Parrett. Judith contends that the trial court abused its discretion (1) by awarding her limited term maintenance leaving her with $54,000 annual income and James with over $400,000 annual income; (2) by awarding child support of $1,000 per month; (3) by awarding an unequal property division; (4) by failing either to award interest on or to determine the present value of the property award payable in the future; and (5) by failing to provide security for the support, maintenance and property payments. James has cross-appealed. He contends that the court should have awarded no maintenance whatever. We reject the contentions of both parties except as to the limited term for maintenance and as to security for the property payments, and we reverse and remand only in those respects.

1. Background

The facts are unusual. The parties married on March 16, 1979, when Judith was 27 and James was 38 years old. Judith owned a car and a mobile home, and James's major asset was a car which was encumbered. Both parties had full-time jobs at Weather Shield Manufacturing in Medford, Wisconsin, where James ran a machine in the tool division and she was a millworker.

In the fall or winter of 1982, Weather Shield wanted to manufacture curved windows. James independently developed a unique method to produce wooden parts for such windows. He started his own business and became Weather Shield's only supplier of those parts. Weather Shield is his only customer. He operated the business as a sole proprietor through December 31, 1985 when he incorporated as Parrett Mfg. Co., Inc., and is its sole shareholder. The sales of his business rose from about $100,000 in 1983 to about $1,000,000 in 1986.

Judith has continued to work as a millhand at Weather Shield. From 1983 through July 1985 she also did clerical work for James's business.

Judith began this divorce action in April 1986. The case was tried on January 8, 1987. The trial court found that the value of the business was $554,634. After deducting his debts, the net value of James's other property was $123,623, the value of Judith's property was $30,406, and the total marital estate was therefore $708,663.

The court began with the presumption that an equal property division is appropriate. It reasoned, however, that the property should be divided 60% to James and 40% to Judith because the marriage had lasted only about seven years, neither had brought much property to the marriage, and while Judith had been a contributing and dedicated housewife, she had very little part in developing the principal asset, Parrett Manufacturing. She did not contribute to the education, training or increased earning power of James. She is young, in good health and continues to work as a millworker at Weather Shield. Since maintenance as well as generous child support was awarded, in the court's view the division should favor James, "the genius and driving force behind the commencement of the business and its development and prosperity."

To effect that division, under which James would receive $425,198 and Judith would receive $283,465, the trial court assigned to James his other property having a net value of $77,436, and his corporate stock in Parrett Manufacturing valued at $554,634. The court assigned to Judith her other property valued at $30,406, leaving a balance due her which the court fixed at $253,000. The court ordered that the $253,000 cash award be paid in 51 monthly installments of $5,000, with no interest.

The trial court found that the parties' monthly incomes and expenses were as set forth in their financial disclosure statements. Those statements show the following:

                                        James   Judith
                                      -------  -------
                Salary/Wages          $10,750  $ 1,510
                Rents                   5,800     None
                                      -------  -------
                Total                 $16,550  $ 1,510
                Monthly Deductions
                Fed. and State Taxes  $ 6,987    $ 430
                Insurance                           15
                                      -------  -------
                Net Take Home         $ 9,563  $ 1,065
                Expenses:               5,429    1,052
                                      -------  -------
                Net                   $ 4,134     $ 13

The trial court rejected James's contention that no maintenance should be allowed. The court concluded that family maintenance did not involve a question of need, since Judith continued to work at her previous employment and has adequate funds for her present needs. The improved status of the parties had not substantially changed their lifestyle, except that Judith had recently hired household help. The court distinguished these facts, in which the parties had not established an elevated lifestyle "for any period of time," from situations such as that in Bahr v. Bahr, 107 Wis.2d 72, 318 N.W.2d 391 (1982). In Bahr, the parties began with little, but during the twenty-four year marriage the husband developed a successful medical practice, and by the time of divorce the parties had a long-established lifestyle at an elevated income. The court concluded, however, that "equitable treatment calls for some sharing of [James's] good fortune and highly elevated income" and fixed maintenance at $3,000 per month for seven years.

The parties have one child. The court concluded that to apply the child support guidelines to James's gross income would result in a figure so far beyond the child's needs as to be irrational. It held that $1,000 per month is the largest justifiable award to meet the needs of the child.

2. Maintenance

We review a maintenance award for abuse of discretion. In re Marriage of Harris v. Harris, 141 Wis.2d 569, 573, 415 N.W.2d 586, 588 (Ct.App.1987). A circuit court when fixing maintenance and an appellate court when reviewing a maintenance award must begin with sec. 767.26, Stats. In re Marriage of LaRocque, 139 Wis.2d 23, 31, 406 N.W.2d 736, 739 (1988). That statute enumerates nine statutory factors the trial court is to consider, and, as provided in subsec. (10), adds "[s]uch other factors as the court may in each individual case determine to be relevant." According to LaRocque, the statutory factors

reflect and are designed to further two distinct but related objectives in the award of maintenance: to support the recipient spouse in accordance with the needs and earning capacities of the parties (the support objective) and to ensure a fair and equitable financial arrangement between the parties in each individual case (the fairness objective).

Id. 139 Wis.2d at 33, 406 N.W.2d at 740.

The trial court considered the statutory factors and took into account, without identifying it as such, the "fairness objective" identified by the LaRocque court. 1 The court did so by reference to "equitable treatment [which] calls for some sharing of [James's] good fortune and highly elevated income."

Because the trial court relied almost exclusively on the "good fortune and highly elevated income" factors, which are not enumerated in sec. 767.26(1) through (9), Stats., it must have employed sec. 767.26(10). This is permissible. Nothing in the statute or the case law obligates the trial court to rely exclusively upon the factors enumerated in subsecs. (1) through (9). The obligation is only to consider relevant statutory factors, and the court need not address every factor. In re Marriage of Trattles v. Trattles, 126 Wis.2d 219, 228, 376 N.W.2d 379, 384 (Ct.App.1985); In re Marriage of Lewis v. Lewis, 113 Wis.2d 172, 181, 336 N.W.2d 171, 175-76 (Ct.App.1983).

"Good fortune and highly elevated income" are factors which the trial court could reasonably conclude affect the "fairness objective" identified by the LaRocque court. Those factors are therefore properly considered relevant to the maintenance issues for purposes of sec. 767.26(10), Stats.

James argues that reliance on the fairness objective is inappropriate to a short marriage and that the facts differ vastly from those in LaRocque, where the parties had been married for twenty-five years and their financial circumstances were relatively modest. The argument misses the point. When describing sec. 767.26, Stats., factors as designed to further the support and the fairness objectives, the LaRocque court spoke to marriages generally. Since the statute applies to all marriages, so must the objectives it is designed to further. Reliance on the fairness objective through use of sec. 767.26(10) was not error.

James claims an additional abuse of discretion in that the trial court awarded maintenance for seven years. Judith raises the same issue, and we discuss it later.

We conclude that the trial court properly exercised its discretion when it ruled that Judith is entitled to maintenance. We therefore reach Judith's claim that too little maintenance was awarded.

Judith's claim that more maintenance should have been awarded emphasizes LaRocque. She asserts that the award fails to meet the "fairness objective." We disagree. The LaRocque facts are hardly comparable to those before us. Here the marriage is much shorter, the accumulations of the parties are much greater, and Judith shares in a substantial marital estate, the value of which is largely attributable to her husband's efforts. Under the circumstances, the maintenance award meets the...

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