Quesnel v. Quesnel, 86-020

Docket NºNo. 86-020
Citation150 Vt. 149, 549 A.2d 644
Case DateJune 24, 1988
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Vermont

Page 644

549 A.2d 644
150 Vt. 149
No. 86-020.
Supreme Court of Vermont.
June 24, 1988.

Page 645

Patrick L. Biggam, Montpelier, for plaintiff-appellee.

McKee, Giuliani & Cleveland, Montpelier, for defendant-appellant.

Before ALLEN, C.J., PECK, J., BARNEY, C.J. (Ret.), COSTELLO, District Judge (Ret.) and MARTIN, Superior Judge, Specially Assigned.

ALLEN, Chief Justice.

The parties were divorced by decree of the Washington Superior Court after a contested hearing. Defendant husband[150 Vt. 150] appeals the trial court's property disposition and its award of permanent maintenance to plaintiff. We affirm.

Defendant first complains that the trial court's division of the marital assets is inequitable because of the respective contributions of the parties to the marital estate. He also assigns error to the award of maintenance, arguing that the court wrongly attempted to equalize the monthly incomes of the parties. Defendant maintains further that the court awarded funds to plaintiff for the education of the parties' adult children and that such an award is not authorized by statute. Finally, defendant contends that the court erred in ordering him to maintain a life insurance policy naming plaintiff as beneficiary.

The primary factor in the breakup of the parties' twenty-four year marriage was a severe drinking problem on the part of defendant. Although divorce had been discussed previously, plaintiff's filing was precipitated by a doctor's announcement that defendant would die within six months if he continued his abuse of alcohol. At the time of the final hearing, plaintiff was working as a customer service representative for an insurance agency, making about $11,500 per year. Defendant was a civil engineer for the state earning approximately $30,000 annually. The parties have two adult children who are attending college. The court's order awarded plaintiff 58.6% and defendant 41.4% of the total marital assets, ordered defendant to make maintenance payments of $500 per month and to maintain his life insurance policy or another policy of equal value naming plaintiff as beneficiary.

Defendant's first argument on appeal is that the trial court's division of the marital assets was inequitable. Defendant

Page 646

focuses on the disparity in the parties' monetary contribution to the marriage. He alleges that he contributed 81.7% of the marital estate through his wages. It is clear from the record that the court did consider the contributions of the defendant to the marital estate. It concluded, however, that the significantly lower earning capacity of the plaintiff, the length of the marriage, and the respective merits of the parties warranted a larger award of the marital assets to her. The trial court has wide discretion in formulating awards, and under the circumstances here disclosed we find no abuse of discretion. See Philburt v. Philburt, 148 Vt. 394, 533 A.2d 1181 (1987).

Defendant also challenges the constitutionality of 15 V.S.A. § 751(b)(10) and (11). This challenge is raised for the first [150 Vt. 151] time on appeal. Defendant makes no showing of any extraordinary circumstances that would suggest that we should address the issue, and we decline to do so. See State v. Maguire, 146 Vt. 49, 54, 498 A.2d 1028, 1031 (1985).

Defendant next directs our attention to the award to plaintiff of a certificate of deposit in the amount of $20,000. He argues that the award was improper because it was intended for the education of the parties' adult children. In Beaudry v. Beaudry, 132 Vt. 53, 56, 312 A.2d 922, 925 (1973), we held that a trial court's discretion in the area of property settlements and support orders "does not extend to the creation of obligations regarding the children of the parties other than provision for their care, custody and maintenance during minority." Plaintiff requested that the $20,000 be awarded to her and concedes that her stated intention was to use the money to complete the education of the children. But the court imposed no limitations on the award, and the plaintiff was free to use the monies in any way she saw fit. There is no showing that the court abused or withheld its discretion and no error appears.

Defendant attacks the court's award of separate maintenance, arguing that the court erroneously attempted to equalize the incomes of the parties. He maintains that it is inequitable to equalize the income of the parties "when the disparity of training and professional attainment is no different than a doctor and his secretary...." He suggests, instead, that plaintiff could augment her salary by investing the cash settlement awarded by the court, so as to "attain such a standard of living as benefits a person trained as she is and so placed in the employment scale." We note first that the record belies the assertion that the court was attempting to equalize the parties' income. Our calculations indicate that plaintiff's salary and maintenance payments combined will total about $17,000 per year; defendant's annual income, after payment of maintenance, will be approximately $24,000.

Even were defendant correct in his contention, however, we would find no error. Defendant has the burden of showing that there is no reasonable basis to support the maintenance award. Buttura v. Buttura, 143 Vt. 95, 99, 463 A.2d 229, 231 (1983). Under the provisions of 15 V.S.A. § 752(a), a court may properly order maintenance payments if it finds that the spouse seeking maintenance lacks sufficient assets and income to "provide for his or her reasonable needs," and "is unable to support himself or [150 Vt. 152] herself through appropriate employment at the standard of living established during the marriage...." 15 V.S.A. § 752(a)(1) and (2) (emphasis added). Here, the court's maintenance award is supported by its findings, and defendant has failed to carry his burden on appeal.

Defendant also challenges the court's requirement that he maintain his current life insurance policy, or another policy of "like amount," naming plaintiff as beneficiary. He cites 15 V.S.A. § 762, which provides that a court "may assign insurance benefits to a spouse or children, and may require the spouse who is required to make the assignment to execute a...

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  • In re Handy, No. 98-015
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • 17 Noviembre 2000
    ...to consider argument, raised for first time on appeal, that city ordinance was unconstitutional bill of attainder); Quesnel v. Quesnel, 150 Vt. 149, 150-51, 549 A.2d 644, 646 (1988) (refusing to address challenge to constitutionality of statute where argument was raised for first time on ap......
  • Klein v. Klein, 86-274
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • 21 Octubre 1988
    ...we note that we have recognized considerable discretion in the trial court in ruling on maintenance. See, e.g., Quesnel v. Quesnel, 150 Vt. 149, ----, 549 A.2d 644, 646 (1988) (reverse only if trial court order has "no reasonable basis to support" it); Lalumiere v. Lalumiere, 149 Vt. 469, 4......
  • Weaver v. Weaver, 2016-306
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • 23 Junio 2017
    ...are entitled to "wide discretion." Strauss v. Strauss, 160 Vt. 335, 339, 628 A.2d 552, 554 (1993); see also Quesnel v. Quesnel, 150 Vt. 149, 151, 549 A.2d 644, 646 (1988) (explaining that maintenance award must be affirmed unless "there is no reasonable basis to support" it). A maintenance ......
  • Weaver v. Weaver, 16–306
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • 23 Junio 2017
    ...are entitled to "wide discretion." Strauss v. Strauss, 160 Vt. 335, 339, 628 A.2d 552, 554 (1993) ; see also Quesnel v. Quesnel, 150 Vt. 149, 151, 549 A.2d 644, 646 (1988) (explaining that maintenance award must be affirmed unless "there is no reasonable basis to support" it). A maintenance......
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