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White v. White

Supreme Court of Vermont

October 31, 2014

Mark A. White
Denise C. White

Editorial Note:

This decision has been designated as "Supreme Court of Vermont Appeals Disposed of Without Published Opinion or Memorandum Decision." table in the Atlantic Reporter.

APPEALED FROM: Superior Court, Franklin Unit, Family Division. DOCKET NO. 335-10-11 Frdm. Trial Judge: Linda Levitt.

Paul L. Reiber, Chief Justice, John A. Dooley, Associate Justice, Harold E. Eaton, Jr., Associate Justice.


In the above-entitled cause, the Clerk will enter:

Husband appeals the maintenance and property division decisions incorporated in the court's final divorce order. On appeal, husband argues that the court failed to make sufficient findings. We affirm.

The basic facts are undisputed. The parties were married in 1984 and separated in 2011. Wife began working for the City of St. Albans in 1996. At the time of the final hearing, wife was working part time. Wife had previously worked full time, but when she was reduced to part time, she claimed she was unable to get another similarly paid position. She worked a second part-time job for a few months, but quit because she could not handle the position. Husband began working for a company doing building maintenance in 1993 and has been there ever since.

The court held a hearing in August 2012. The main marital assets included the marital residence and some retirement accounts. The parties agreed that husband would receive the marital home. At the outset, the parties agreed that their main source of disagreement was spousal maintenance for wife. Wife requested maintenance of $800 a month for fourteen years, and husband opposed paying any maintenance. The parties agreed to present evidence solely on that issue with the hope that the court's decision on maintenance would help the parties to agree on distribution of property. At the close of the initial hearing, the court made findings on the record and granted wife maintenance.[1] The court found that spousal maintenance was appropriate given the length of the marriage, the parties' relative incomes and wife's need for support. The court found that husband earned between $4500 and $5000 a month at his full-time employment and wife earned $2000 a month working part time. The court further found that it was not likely wife could find or maintain employment at her previous income level and granted wife's request for maintenance of $800 a month for fourteen years.

Following the decision, the parties negotiated the property settlement but were unable to resolve the issue, and the hearing resumed in October 2012. At the beginning of the October hearing, husband's attorney explained that the parties had stipulated to the value of the house and retirement accounts, but disagreed on the value of the personal property. At the hearing and before the close of the evidence, the parties announced that they had reached an agreement on the issues, and wife's attorney offered to prepare an order. Wife filed a proposed order on December 4, 2012, with a letter from wife's attorney stating that the parties were unable to agree on a written order and setting forth the areas of dispute between the parties. The letter stated that the parties were not in agreement on: the date maintenance should commence; the date husband should assume payment obligations for payments related to the marital home; the date by which husband should make the property settlement payment; and the ownership of certain personal property items. On December 19, 2012, husband's attorney filed a response to the proposed order, setting forth his position on the disputed items. The court issued a final order the same day, which essentially adopted wife's order with one change requested by husband. Husband subsequently filed a motion to reconsider, which the court denied.

On appeal, husband first argues that the court's maintenance award is not supported by sufficient findings. Spousal maintenance may be awarded if the court finds that one spouse lacks sufficient funds to provide for her reasonable needs and is unable to support herself at the standard of living established during the marriage. 15 V.S.A. § 752(a); Gravel v. Gravel, 2009 VT 77, P 23, 186 Vt. 250, 980 A.2d 242. The statute contains seven criteria to guide the court in determining the amount and duration of an award. 15 V.S.A. § 752(b). The court has broad discretion in awarding maintenance, and an award will be reversed " only if there is no reasonable basis to support it." Gravel, 186 Vt. 250, 2009 VT 77, P 23, 980 A.2d 242.

Husband argues that the award of spousal maintenance to wife was erroneous because the court did not consider all of the relevant statutory factors. Husband contends the court failed to consider " the property apportioned to the party," 15 V.S.A. § 752(b)(1), because the court awarded maintenance prior to any property division decision. Husband's argument ignores the fact that he specifically agreed that the court should decide the issue of maintenance prior to considering property division. Given husband's express agreement to this procedure, he has waived any ability to challenge that on appeal.

Husband also asserts that the court made no findings on his ability to meet his own needs or wife's ability to support herself without the maintenance. The court has broad discretion in considering the factors, and we will reverse only where there is " no reasonable basis" to support the court's decision. Chaker v. Chaker, 155 Vt. 20, 25, 581 A.2d 737 (1990). The parties' abilities to meet their needs were addressed by the court. The court found that husband was employed full time with a monthly income of $4500 to $5000 while wife had only part-time employment and made $2000 a month. The court further found that wife could not easily obtain employment at a greater income level and had need for support. These findings are sufficient to support the court's decision.

Husband also argues that the court did not make sufficient findings to support its property-division decision, despite his request for findings. Pursuant to statute, the family court is required to " equitably divide and assign the property." 15 V.S.A. § 751(a). " The trial court has broad discretion to consider the statutory factors and fashion an appropriate order, but it must provide a clear statement as to what was decided and why." Turner v. Turner, 2004 VT 5, P 7, 176 Vt. 588, 844 A.2d 764 (mem.).

Husband presents his challenge to the court's property division without acknowledging that much of the court's order was a product of the parties' stipulation. While the parties did not have a written agreement, they certainly agreed at the hearing to the fundamental terms of their settlement. They also both submitted proposed ...

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