Stevens v. Stevens

Decision Date20 February 2014
Docket NumberNo. S–13–0125.,S–13–0125.
PartiesDaniel L. STEVENS, Appellant (Plaintiff), v. Kacie J. STEVENS, Appellee (Defendant).
CourtWyoming Supreme Court

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Representing Appellant: John P. Worrall of Worrall & Greear, P.C., Worland, WY.

Representing Appellee: George Simonton, Cody, WY.

Before KITE, C.J., and HILL, VOIGT *, BURKE, and DAVIS, JJ.

HILL, Justice.

[¶ 1] In his appeal from a divorce decree, Father challenges the district court's property division, alimony award, child support determination, and custody award. We affirm.

ISSUES

[¶ 2] Father states the following five issues for our consideration:

1. The District Court abused its discretion in the division of property between the parties in this matter.

2. The District Court abused its discretion in determining to award alimony to the Appellee.

3. The District Court abused its discretion in failing to determine that the Appellee was voluntarily under employed (sic) as a hostess at a local restaurant rather than at her chosen profession as a Certified Public Accountant and in other ways in calculating child support.

4. The District Court abused its discretion in determining the custody and visitation of the minor children in this matter.

5. The District Court abused its discretion in reaching its decision in this matter as a whole.

FACTS

[¶ 3] Daniel L. Stevens (Father) and Kacie J. Stevens (Mother) were married in October of 2004. After marrying, Mother earned her Certified Public Accountant (CPA) degree, and worked as an accountant for about nine months at the beginning of the marriage. After the couple had two children, Mother became a stay-at-home mom.

[¶ 4] Father filed for divorce in November of 2011. Mother and the children, ages 6 and 3 at the time of trial, moved into a rental home owned by Mother's father. Father exercised his agreed upon visitation. To produce some income, Mother worked as a waitress in a Cody, Wyoming restaurant.

[¶ 5] The parties' relationship devolved to the point that communication became difficult. Even the longtime relationship between their families became strained. Unable to reach a settlement, the parties proceeded to trial in November of 2012. The trial lasted three days, and a divorce decree was entered by the trial court on March 15, 2013. In it, the court awarded Mother “physical custody” of the children, with visitation for Father. The court revised its decree several times to reflect its final decision. An accidental omission was made regarding Father's summer visitation. Father was granted six weeks per summer of visitation, as well as every other weekend, and one weekday. To calculate child support, the court calculated Father's monthly income at $23,670.22 and Mother's to be $934.41. Father's income included $9,090.91 he paid as part of a business succession plan. Using these figures, the court ordered Father to pay child support in the amount of $2,275.69 per month. In the division of marital property, the court awarded Father the marital home and its debt. The home, valued at $403,100.00, was subject to a mortgage of $279,000.00. After further dividing the parties' investment accounts and other property, the court declared Father owed Mother $135,099.00 in cash, and ordered him to pay that amount in 36 monthly installments of $3,750.00. Finally, the court also ordered Father to pay alimony of $2,000.00 per month for five years.

[¶ 6] Father timely filed his notice of appeal.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶ 7] The overall standard to be used in this case is abuse of discretion. Specifically to the issues, we have stated as follows regarding the division of marital property:

The district court has broad discretion to divide marital property in a divorce. Root v. Root, 2003 WY 36, ¶ 8, 65 P.3d 41, 44 (Wyo.2003). See also,Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 20–2–114 (LexisNexis 2009). We review the district court's disposition of marital property using the abuse of discretion standard. Sweat v. Sweat, 2003 WY 82, ¶ 6, 72 P.3d 276, 278 (Wyo.2003). “An abuse of discretion occurs when the property disposition shocks the conscience of this court and appears to be so unfair and inequitable that reasonable people cannot abide it.” Hall v. Hall, 2002 WY 30, ¶ 12, 40 P.3d 1228, 1230 (Wyo.2002). In determining whether the district court abused its discretion, we consider only the evidence of the successful party and grant to that party every favorable inference that can be drawn from the record. Sweat, ¶ 6, 72 P.3d at 278.See also, Welch v. Welch, 2003 WY 168, ¶ 4, 81 P.3d 937, 938 (Wyo.2003).

Sanning v. Sanning, 2010 WY 78, ¶ 8, 233 P.3d 922, 923 (Wyo.2010).

[¶ 8] The abuse of discretion remains the same as to the remaining issues—child custody, visitation, child support, and alimony—and regarding these we have stated:

Custody, visitation, child support, and alimony are all committed to the sound discretion of the district court. Scherer v. Scherer, 931 P.2d 251, 253–54 (Wyo.1997); Triggs v. Triggs, 920 P.2d 653, 657 (Wyo.1996); Basolo v. Basolo, 907 P.2d 348, 352 (Wyo.1995). It has been our consistent principle that in custody matters, the welfareand needs of the children are to be given paramount consideration. Scherer, 931 P.2d at 254;Rowan v. Rowan, 786 P.2d 886, 890 (Wyo.1990); see also Gurney v. Gurney, 899 P.2d 52, 55 (Wyo.1995); and Fink v. Fink, 685 P.2d 34, 36 (Wyo.1984). The determination of the best interests of the child is a question for the trier of fact. We do not overturn the decision of the trial court unless we are persuaded of an abuse of discretion or the presence of a violation of some legal principle.” Fink, 685 P.2d at 36.

A court does not abuse its discretion unless it acts in a manner which exceeds the bounds of reason under the circumstances. Pinther v. Pinther, 888 P.2d 1250, 1252 (Wyo.1995) ( quoting Dowdy v. Dowdy, 864 P.2d 439, 440 (Wyo.1993)). Our review entails evaluation of the sufficiency of the evidence to support the district court's decision, and we afford the prevailing party every favorable inference while omitting any consideration of evidence presented by the unsuccessful party. Triggs, 920 P.2d at 657;Cranston v. Cranston, 879 P.2d 345, 351 (Wyo.1994). Findings of fact not supported by the evidence, contrary to the evidence, or against the great weight of the evidence cannot be sustained. Jones v. Jones, 858 P.2d 289, 291 (Wyo.1993). Similarly, an abuse of discretion is present ‘when a material factor deserving significant weight is ignored.’ Triggs, 920 P.2d at 657 (quoting Vanasse v. Ramsay, 847 P.2d 993, 996 (Wyo.1993)).

Bingham v. Bingham, 2007 WY 145, ¶ 10, 167 P.3d 14, 17–18 (Wyo.2007).

DISCUSSION
Property Division

[¶ 9] Father contends that the district court abused its discretion when it divided the parties' property in two specific areas. First, Father argues that he was improperly required to reimburse Mother for $33,000.00 in equity in the marital home. He contends that Mother had already realized that equity when the parties originally refinanced the mortgage, and if he is made to pay, Mother will twice receive her share of the equity. Second, Father contends that the district court failed to consider the tax consequences of awarding him retirement accounts and giving Mother dollar-for-dollar credit against such awards. Mother responds that the overall distribution was not unfair.

[¶ 10] In property division cases we look to Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 20–2–114 (LexisNexis 2013), which states:

§ 20–2–114. Disposition of property to be equitable; factors; alimony generally.

(a) ... [I]n granting a divorce, the court shall make such disposition of the property of the parties as appears just and equitable, having regard for the respective merits of the parties and the condition in which they will be left by the divorce, the party through whom the property was acquired and the burdens imposed upon the property for the benefit of either party and children. The court may decree to either party reasonable alimony out of the estate of the other having regard for the other's ability to pay and may order so much of the other's real estate or the rents and profits thereof as is necessary be assigned and set out to either party for life, or may decree a specific sum be paid by either party.

Also regarding property division, this Court stated that

[t]he trial court possesses a great amount of discretion in dividing marital property. A just and equitable division of property is just as likely not to be equal. Carlton v. Carlton, 997 P.2d 1028, 1032 (Wyo.2000). Although the trial court cannot divide the property in such a way that it would punish one of the parties, it may consider fault of the respective parties, together with all other facts and circumstances surrounding the dissolution of the marriage in dividing a couple's marital assets. 997 P.2d at 1034. We are required to limit our review of the record to an evaluation of whether the trial court's decision was supported by sufficient evidence, and we afford to the prevailing party every favorable inference while omitting any consideration of evidence presented by the unsuccessful party. Id. Findings of fact not supported by the evidence, contrary to the evidence, or against the great weight of the evidence cannot be sustained. Id.

Hall v. Hall, 2002 WY 30, ¶ 14, 40 P.3d 1228, 1230 (Wyo.2002).

[¶ 11] [O]n appellate review this Court evaluates whether the district court's property division is equitable from the perspective of the overall distribution rather than from a narrow focus on the effects of any particular disposition.” Walters v. Walters, 2011 WY 41, ¶ 7, 249 P.3d 214, 222 (Wyo.2011). In the instant case, the divorce decree divides the parties' property as follows:

11. Defendant is entitled to the 2010 Suburban, subject to the debt thereon, the EDJ Joint Account in the amount of $5,534.55, her Roth IRA in the amount of $6,334.68, Plaintiff's Edward Jones Account in the amount of $11,217.27 and her Edward Jones Account in the amount of...

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