Savage v. Savage

Decision Date09 February 1983
Docket NumberNo. 17855,17855
Citation658 P.2d 1201
PartiesGaylie Ann B. SAVAGE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Neal SAVAGE, Defendant and Appellant.
CourtUtah Supreme Court

Allen K. Young, Jackson Howard, Provo, for defendant and appellant.

Harold G. Christensen, Salt Lake City, for plaintiff and respondent.

DURHAM, Justice:

The defendant-appellant seeks reversal of the decree of divorce entered by the lower court in this action, claiming that the trial court erred in its division of the parties' marital property and its award of alimony, child support and attorney's fees. We affirm.

The plaintiff and the defendant were married on February 16, 1960. At the time of the marriage, the plaintiff owned an automobile and stocks and bonds worth several thousand dollars. The defendant owned a one-third interest in Savage Coal & Lumber Co., a small business founded and operated by family members. His full-time employment with that company commenced in 1957, three years before the marriage. From that time to the present, the defendant has continued employment with that company and its successors. Twelve corporations have evolved from Savage Coal & Lumber. Their combined earnings in 1979 were in excess of $1.8 million. The defendant's income in 1979 was $133,370; the plaintiff received approximately $7,000 in income from her personal stock holdings, which were largely gifts from her family. Both parties had university training, although the defendant did not complete a degree. The plaintiff taught school for two years following her marriage, and thereafter until the time of the divorce was a full-time homemaker and caretaker for the parties' three children. During the marriage, the parties enjoyed a high standard of living which included household and gardening services, travel and entertainment, and a generous level of support for all of the family's activities.

The trial court divided the personal property of the parties pursuant to their stipulation. The plaintiff received the marital residence with all of the furnishings, a building lot, a car, her own savings and securities, and her personal belongings, all of which were valued at $243,827.60. The defendant was awarded stock, securities, his profit sharing account and his personal belongings, all of which were valued at $221,085.27. The court divided the stock in the Savage Companies, with 60% awarded to the defendant and 40% to the plaintiff. The defendant was also ordered to pay $2,000 per month in alimony, $500 per month per child in child support (for a total of $1,500), and $17,500 toward the plaintiff's attorney's fees.

The defendant raises three issues on appeal, claiming: first, that the trial court abused its discretion in awarding a portion of the Savage Companies stock to the plaintiff; second, that the amount of alimony awarded to the plaintiff was excessive; and third, that no attorney's fees should have been awarded.

In a divorce proceeding, it is well established that the trial court is permitted considerable discretion in adjusting the financial and property interests of the parties, and its actions are entitled to a presumption of validity. See, e.g., Cox v. Cox, Utah, 532 P.2d 994 (1975); Mitchell v. Mitchell, Utah, 527 P.2d 1359 (1974). In Turner v. Turner, Utah, 649 P.2d 6 (1982), we stated that:

Although this Court may weigh the evidence and substitute its judgment for that of the trial court in divorce actions, this Court will not do so lightly and merely because its judgment may differ from that of the trial judge. A trial court's apportionment of property will not be disturbed unless it works such a manifest injustice or inequity as to indicate a clear abuse of discretion.

Id. at 8 (citations omitted) (emphasis added). See also McCrary v. McCrary, Utah, 599 P.2d 1248 (1979).

The defendant's objections to the trial court's division of the Savage Companies stock focus on the court's failure to determine a value for the stock, the absence of any ruling on the tax consequences of the division, and the perpetuation of a tie between the parties by virtue of the continued co-ownership of stock in a closely held corporation. However, a review of the voluminous trial transcript and post-trial memoranda of the parties makes it clear that the trial court had virtually no feasible alternative to an in-kind division of the stock. Three witnesses testified at great length about the value of the Savage Companies stock. Each was well qualified as an expert and each agreed on most of the fundamental principles applicable to the valuation of closely held corporate stock, including the fact that there are no universal, well-established formulae for determining appropriate price-earnings ratios for such a corporation. The two defense witnesses testified, respectively, that the parties' one-third interest in the Savage corporations was worth $899,340 and $1,079,207. The plaintiff's expert testified to a value of $4,072,000, nearly 3 million dollars higher than the highest estimate of the defendant's witnesses. Each of the witnesses was subject to meticulous cross-examination by opposing counsel, and the strengths and weaknesses in each of their opinions were scrupulously exposed. Each of the parties claims on appeal that the expert testimony of the other was entirely discredited at trial. We disagree. The experts for both sides presented plausible, credible testimony respecting value, and all three of the experts acknowledged a very high subjective "professional judgment" factor in their appraisals. In such a circumstance, the trial court legitimately found that neither party had proved value by a preponderance of the evidence and that, therefore, the court could not accurately determine value. The court's finding of fact on that issue reads:

Because of the great disparity between the value of the stock owned by the parties as represented by the expert witnesses called by each of the parties, the Court finds that it cannot accept either party's expert testimony as accurately reflecting said value and accordingly rejects the same.

This finding is entirely supported by the record and we will not overturn it.

In view of the failure of the evidence to establish value, and the defendant's inability to pay the plaintiff her share even under the low valuation, the trial court had virtually no alternative to an in-kind distribution of the Savage stock. The defendant insists that only a lump sum pay-out to the plaintiff in lieu of her interest would be fair to him. However, all of his proposals and evidence in that regard depend on the low valuation which was properly rejected by the court. It is quite clear that the defendant has no ability to make a lump sum pay-out over time in an amount in excess of the low figures his experts testified to. Even under his proposal, the defendant would have to dramatically reduce his monthly support payments in order to have enough cash from his income to pay the plaintiff her share. That proposal would virtually require the plaintiff to subsidize the defendant's payments to her of her own interest in the business properties. We note in passing that the defendant's proposal also depends on a one-third, two-thirds split between him and the plaintiff. In view of the 20-year length of this marriage, and the fact that both parties devoted full-time efforts throughout that period to the ends of the marriage, we see no abuse of discretion in the 40%/60% split fashioned by the trial court. Virtually the entire present value of the corporations was developed during the marriage and, while it is true that the plaintiff took no responsibility for the business, it was her assumption of the domestic burdens which made possible the defendant's full-time participation in the business. She is therefore entitled to a fair and equitable share of the financial benefits accumulated by virtue of their joint efforts in the marriage.

The defendant argues strenuously that the tax consequences of the court's in-kind distribution mean financial disaster for him. Depending on the level at which the stock is valued for tax purposes, the defendant's evidence was that, as a result of the stock transfer, he would incur over $500,000 in federal taxes (at the $4 million level) or over $100,000 (at the $1 million level). It is evident from a review of the post-trial briefs, memoranda of the parties, and the testimony and exhibits at trial that the issue of the tax impact of an in-kind distribution was fully and thoroughly presented to and considered by the trial court. The reason for the trial court's failure to...

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33 cases
  • Taft v. Taft
    • United States
    • Utah Court of Appeals
    • June 30, 2016
    ...we afford to a trial court when it adjusts the financial interests of parties to a divorce is at its most robust. See Savage v. Savage , 658 P.2d 1201, 1203 (Utah 1983) (“In a divorce proceeding, it is well established that the trial court is permitted considerable discretion in adjusting t......
  • Lindsey v. Lindsey
    • United States
    • Utah Court of Appeals
    • March 2, 2017
    ...the "very unique" situation in which the spouse's efforts substantially increased the value of marital property); cf. Savage v. Savage , 658 P.2d 1201, 1202–04 (Utah 1983) (upholding a division of property given the spouse's household and childcare duties and the fact that "[v]irtually the ......
  • Finlayson v. Finlayson
    • United States
    • Utah Court of Appeals
    • April 13, 1994
    ...its actions are entitled to a presumption of validity." Naranjo v. Naranjo, 751 P.2d 1144, 1146 (Utah App.1988) (citing Savage v. Savage, 658 P.2d 1201, 1203 (Utah 1983)). " '[E]ach party should, in general, receive the real and personal property he or she brought to the marriage or inherit......
  • Roberts v. Roberts
    • United States
    • Utah Court of Appeals
    • September 5, 2014
    ...the financial and property interests of the parties, and its actions are entitled to a presumption of validity.” Savage v. Savage, 658 P.2d 1201, 1203 (Utah 1983). Accordingly, we will not disturb a decision adjusting the financial interests of the parties in a divorce action unless the dec......
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3 books & journal articles
  • The Conundrum of Gifted, Inherited and Premarital Property in Divorce
    • United States
    • Utah State Bar Utah Bar Journal No. 11-3, April 1998
    • Invalid date
    ...personalty); Weaver v. Weaver, 21 Utah 2d 166, 168, 442 P.2d 928, 929 (1968) (stock acquired by purchase and gift); see Savage v. Savage, 658 P.2d 1201, 1203 (Utah 1983) (premarital stock interests in family corporation); Workman v. Workman, 652 P.2d 931, 933 (Utah 1982) (assuming premarita......
  • Recent Twists and Turns in the Evolution of Alimony
    • United States
    • Utah State Bar Utah Bar Journal No. 7-6, July 1994
    • Invalid date
    ...put forward by the spouses during the marriage, should be given some weight in fashioning the support award. Cf. Savage v. Savage, 658 P.2d 1201, 1205 (Utah, 1983). Thus, if one spouse's earning capacity has been greatly enhanced through the efforts of both spouses during the marriage, it m......
  • The Impact of Tax Laws on Divorce
    • United States
    • Utah State Bar Utah Bar Journal No. 4-7, April 1991
    • Invalid date
    ...the lawyer consider taxes in any respect, he might be aware of the general articulations of the Utah Supreme Court in Savage v. Savage, 658 P.2d 1201, 1204 (Utah 1983), or the Utah Court of Appeals in Alexander v. Alexander, 737 P.2d 221, 224 (Utah App. 1987), where the court affirmed the t......

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