Failure to Include an Issue in a Pretrial Statement
In Arizona, a divorced individual with a spousal maintenance obligation can ask the court for a modification if there is significant changes to their circumstances and their ability to cover the agreed upon amount financially.
If the individual responsible for paying spousal maintenance obtains a court order for modification, the ex spouse can appeal the court’s decision. Appeals regarding court ordered spousal maintenance changes in Arizona should be based upon apparent errors in interpreting the law in regards to the situation at hand.
Background of the Case Leading to Appeal:
Lanny D. Leathers and Carol A. Leathers were married in May of 1962. They divorced after forty three years of marriage in July 2005. The husband, Lanny, was the breadwinner and the wife, Carol, was a homemaker and stay-at-home mother.
Both parties are of similar age – early sixties. The wife, Carol, experienced a stroke five years prior to the couple’s divorce. The husband, Lanny, testified as to his own health stating, he should start “slowing down” and that traveling for his work was beginning to become more difficult. He also noted that he had recently experienced accelerated heart rate and issues with his breathing that took him to the emergency room.
Before the trial, the two parties were able to reach an agreement settling the division of property including division of their home, their personal property, and three separate pieces of real estate that were valued at approximately $125,000-135,000.
The agreement was to sell the home and real property allowing them to divide the proceeds from the sale equally. Issues considered by the trial court in this case included spousal maintenance, a life insurance policy on husband in which wife was the named beneficiary, attorneys’ fees and distribution of additional assets and debt.s Upon receiving the trial court’s ruling, Lanny D. Leathers (husband) filed for an appeal.
Issues Considered on Appeal: Leathers v. Leathers
Lanny D. Leathers (husband) asserts on appeal that the trial court abused its discretion when determining spousal maintenance due to the wife; both in the amount and the duration. He also asserts that there was an err on the part of the trial court in regards to the order that he pay his wife 50% of his future Social Security benefits.
Leathers also stated that the trial court abused its discretion when ordering him to be held solely responsible for a line of credit and not requiring the wife to divide the $24,000 that she withdrew from a joint money market account prior to the proceedings.
Leathers feels that the trial court exceeded its own authority by ordering him to maintain a life insurance policy benefitting his ex wife. Lastly, Leathers insists that the trial court abused its discretion by ordering husband to pay attorneys’ fees on behalf of wife in relation to the case.
Findings of the Appellate Court:
In regards to the amount and duration of spousal maintenance, the appellate court finds that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in ordering that spousal maintenance last indefinitely or in determining that any potential income wife could be expected to earn would be minimal. However, the appellate court did find that the trial court abused its discretion in determining the amount of the spousal maintenance.
In determining the amount of the spousal maintenance, the nature of the husband’s work must be considered in addition to the financial statements submitted and testimony provided by the parties involved. The estimated annual income the trial court arrived at and used for spousal maintenance calculations was higher than the estimates of income provided by both the husband and the wife involved in the case. The variability of the husband’s income and the unavoidable lags between jobs must be taken into account when calculating the spousal maintenance. The award was reversed for further proceedings.
The appellate court found no err in the portion of the order requiring the husband to provide wife with half of his Social Security earnings, so long as the wife’s potential Social Security earnings were also taken into consideration. The trial court should reconsider the issue during recalculation of the spousal maintenance award.
The trial court was reversed on the matter of life insurance due to the fact that the issue of life insurance was not listed as a contested issue in the pretrial statement and was not mentioned in closing arguments. It was simply included in the post-trial proposed decree provided by the wife and, as such, the trial court was reversed on the issue of life insurance policy ordered maintained for benefit of wife.
In regards to property settlement, the appellate court supports the trial court’s decision. In regards to attorney’s fees, in consideration of the decision regarding spousal maintenance above the trial court should reconsider their decision on this matter.
In Conclusion: Lanny D. Leathers, Petitioner/Appellant, v. Carol A. Leathers, Respondent/Appellee
Per the discussion above, the Court of Appeals of Arizona reversed and remanded on issues of spousal maintenance, Social Security, attorney’s fees and life insurance. They affirmed regarding the distribution and division of community assets and debts.