Saturday, October 12, 2013

Inherited Impacts

Hausermann v. Hausermann, 2013 VT 50

Today’s case is a brief addition to the ever-growing area of law covering spousal support and the need for modification when one spouse receives an inheritance.

Let’s go to the facts.  Husband and Wife divorced in 2006.  Wife was awarded $6,300 per month for 15 years from Husband for spousal support to ensure that Wife could maintain her then-current lifestyle.  This amount was reduced when Husband’s illness reduced his income.  By 2010, however, Husband was on the mend, and Wife filed to reinstate the full support payments.  Husband filed to end them all together.

At the hearing, the trial court found that Husband had indeed recovered and was once more earning the six-figures that he had before.  The trial court also found that Wife was still unable to earn enough to maintain her at her previous middle-class lifestyle.  The end result was that the trial court reinstated the original maintenance order. 

Two small issues give life to today’s appeal.  The first is that the trial court only awarded the reinstatement from the date of the order and not from the date that the motion was first filed.  On appeal, the SCOV finds that this was likely an oversight by the trial court.  While the trial court has the discretion on whether or not to order retroactive payments, the SCOV finds that the facts compel retroactive payments (Husband’s income had returned well in advance of the motion) and there was no reason not to back date the order found in either the facts from the hearing or the trial court’s order.  In this case retroactive application is the fairer decision and in lieu of any other reason, the SCOV reverses and fixes the oversight.

The other issue concerned $150,000 that Wife had and was about to inherit from her late brother’s estate.  The trial court found that this inheritance raised Wife’s ability to support herself, and it ordered the maintenance payments reduced in light of this money. 

Not so fast.  The SCOV notes that while it was proper for the trial court to find that Wife was likely to receive this inheritance (even though it was not fully probated at the time of the hearing), there was no evidence that this money would actually improve her financial situation.  While this may seem self-evident and a no-brainer, the SCOV’s point is that this money is not in Wife’s possession, and Wife’s situation is so far below her former status that even $150,000 might not bring her far enough back to her previous financial state to warrant a reduction in her spousal support. 

This means that the matter goes back to the trial court where Husband will likely seek evidence in support of the proposition that the inheritance will satisfy the bulk of his spousal support obligations.  Anyone want to guess what Wife’s position will be?

1 comment:

  1. $6,300 is the amount that gets her back to a middle class lifestyle? I'd say that's far, far beyond middle class.