Spier v. Spier, 2006 Ohio 1289 (OH 3/7/2006)

Decision Date07 March 2006
Docket NumberNo. 05 MA 26.,05 MA 26.
Citation2006 Ohio 1289
PartiesKatina Marie Spier, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Michael Ewald Spier, et al., Defendants-Appellant.
CourtOhio Supreme Court
OPINION

DeGENARO, J.

{¶1} Defendant-Appellant, Michael Spier, appeals the decision of the Mahoning County Court of Common Pleas, Domestic Relations Division, that granted a divorce between he and Plaintiff-Appellee, Katina Spier, and, among other things, established a child support order and divided the marital property. Michael raises eight issues on appeal which address these aspects of the trial court's divorce decree, but none of the arguments Michael raises in his eight assignments of error have any merit. Accordingly, the trial court's decision is affirmed.

Facts

{¶2} Michael and Katina were married in April 1994. At the time of the marriage, Michael owned a home in Canfield, Ohio, which subsequently became the marital residence. The parties have three children who are all unemancipated. During the marriage, Michael worked for General Motors and was the primary wage-earner. Near the end of the marriage, Katina began working for Avon and became a manager. As part of her employment package, Katina paid Avon $135.00 per month for unlimited use of a vehicle, gasoline, and automobile insurance.

{¶3} Katina filed a complaint for divorce in February 2004. After a hearing, a magistrate entered temporary orders dealing with child custody, child support, and spousal support in April 2004. That order, among other things, required that Michael pay child and spousal support, prevented either party from incurring debt on the credit of the other party, and provided that Katina would only be responsible for the monthly expenses set forth in her affidavit of income.

{¶4} While the divorce was pending, Michael fell behind in paying his child and spousal support and incurred an arrearage. Furthermore, he gave several checks directly to Katina, rather than to the child support agency, and sought to have these payments credited toward his arrearage at the final divorce hearing.

{¶5} Prior to the final hearing, the parties entered into an agreement regarding the custody of the children, which left only monetary issues related to child support, spousal support, and the property division for the trial court to decide. They also stipulated that the de facto date the marriage ended was April 3, 2004.

{¶6} During the divorce hearing, Michael requested that he be reimbursed for one-half of the mortgage payments and other expenses he paid while the divorce was pending. He also tried to introduce evidence showing that much of the appreciation in the value of the marital residence since the marriage was due to improvements he made to the home prior to the marriage.

{¶7} In its judgment, the trial court refused to award Michael any increase in the value of his separate property interest in the marital home, finding that he failed to prove that any increase in the value of the home was passive income. It also refused to reimburse Michael for the payments he made toward various obligations while the divorce was pending. The trial court further refused to credit most of the payments Michael made directly to Katina toward his arrearage. Finally, the trial court refused to impute income to Katina based on the automobile-related employment benefits she enjoyed.

{¶8} On appeal, Michael has raised eight assignments of error, but some of these assignments of error address similar subjects. Accordingly, we will address those together.

Standard of Review

{¶9} In each of his eight assignments of error, Michael challenges either the manner in which the trial court calculated child support or the manner in which it divided the couple's marital property. We review both child support orders and property divisions under the same standard, abuse of discretion. Neville v. Neville, 99 Ohio St.3d 275, 2003-Ohio-3624, at ¶5; Pauly v. Pauly, 80 Ohio St.3d 386, 390, 1997-Ohio-0105. The term "abuse of discretion" implies more than an error of law or judgment; it implies that the court's attitude was unreasonable, arbitrary, or unconscionable. Blakemore v. Blakemore (1983), 5 Ohio St.3d 217, 219. This court may not substitute its judgment for that of the trial court unless, considering the totality of the circumstances, the trial court abused its discretion. Holcomb v. Holcomb (1989), 44 Ohio St.3d 128, 131. Further, this court should not independently review the weight of the evidence but should be guided by the presumption that the trial court's findings are correct. Miller v. Miller (1988), 37 Ohio St.3d 71, 74.

Imputing Income for Child Support Purposes

{¶10} In his first assignment of error, Michael argues:

{¶11} "The court failed to impute necessary income to the Appellee in the Ohio Child Support Guidelines Worksheet pursuant to Ohio Revised Code Section 3109.05(A)(1) and Ohio Revised Code Section 3119.01 through 3119.967 which was set forth in Exhibit B in the fact and conclusions of law order filed by the court on or about February 1, 2005."

{¶12} According to Michael, Katina had two sources of income other than her salary from her employer: 1) income from teaching aerobics and 2) vehicle-related benefits, such as a car, auto insurance, and gasoline reimbursement, from her employer. He believes this income should be imputed to her for the purposes of child support. In particular, Michael argues that R.C. 3119.07(C)(7) requires that the vehicle-related benefits be included as part of her income for child support purposes.

{¶13} Michael argues that Katina's aerobics-related income was not included in the child support calculations because he assumes that her Avon-related income would be listed on the first line of the child support computation worksheet, while her aerobics income would be listed on the sixth line of that worksheet. His argument ignores both the plain language of the worksheet and the trial court's findings of fact and conclusions of law.

{¶14} First, line one of the child support computation worksheet does not distinguish between types of employment-related income. Instead, it requires that the trial court use "annual gross income from employment" to fill that line. Michael's claim that a trial court should only include a party's income from his or her primary employer on this line ignores the language in the worksheet. The phrase "annual gross income from employment" clearly contemplates that a party's total income from all employment be listed on this first line of the worksheet. Michael's argument to the contrary is meritless.

{¶15} Second, the trial court's findings of fact and conclusions of law explicitly states at page 18 that Katina was employed both as a district sales manager for Avon and an aerobics instructor. The trial court calculated Katina's total income from both employers to be $40,430.84, the amount listed on the first line of the child support computation worksheet. Michael's claim that the trial court erred by not including Katina's aerobics-related income is factually incorrect.

{¶16} His argument regarding the employment benefits is just as meritless. Michael refers to R.C. 3119.01(C)(7) to argue that these employment benefits are income for the purposes of child support calculations. However, these kinds of benefits are income only if the party receiving those benefits is self-employed, the proprietor of a business, or is a joint owner of a partnership or closely held corporation.

{¶17} R.C. Chapter 3119 requires that the parties' gross incomes be used to calculate a proper amount of child support. R.C. 3119.01(C)(7) defines "gross income" and provides:

{¶18} "'Gross income' means, except as excluded in division (C)(7) of this section, the total of all earned and unearned income from all sources during a calendar year, whether or not the income is taxable, and includes income from salaries, wages, overtime pay, and bonuses to the extent described in division (D) of section 3119.05 of the Revised Code; commissions; royalties; tips; rents; dividends; severance pay; pensions; interest; trust income; annuities; social security benefits, including retirement, disability, and survivor benefits that are not means-tested; workers' compensation benefits; unemployment insurance benefits; disability insurance benefits; benefits that are not means-tested and that are received by and in the possession of the veteran who is the beneficiary for any service-connected disability under a program or law administered by the United States department of veterans' affairs or veterans' administration; spousal support actually received; and all other sources of income. 'Gross income' includes * * * self-generated income * * *."

{¶19} This definition does not specifically include employment-related benefits as income, leading to the conclusion that they should not be included as income. This conclusion is supported by the statutory definition of "self-generated income."

{¶20} "'Self-generated income' means gross receipts received by a parent from self-employment, proprietorship of a business, joint ownership of a partnership or closely held corporation, and rents minus ordinary and necessary expenses incurred by the parent in generating the gross receipts. 'Self-generated income' includes expense reimbursements or in-kind payments received by a parent from self-employment, the operation of a business, or rents, including company cars, free housing, reimbursed meals, and other benefits, if the reimbursements are significant and reduce...

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