As a practicing family law attorney, no one need tell you that in any divorce where children are involved and spousal support is a bone of contention, your client’s property settlement agreement, child support award and spousal support award all have to work together so as to make a single fair and equitable package. This is where your CFL Designation for Divorce Practitioners is particularly helpful since the advanced financial knowledge and skills it gives you prepares you to competently handle the most complex divorces.
In the recent Nebraska Supreme Court case of Jeanne E. Wiedel v. Mark E. Wiedel, all three components played a large part. The Wiedel couple were married from 2000 to 2017, during which time they became the parents of a set of triplets born in 2004. During the divorce proceedings, the court ordered Mark to pay temporary child support of $768 per month and temporary alimony of $2,500 per month. He kept the family home and she moved to an apartment in a nearby town. They shared parenting time with their children. Shortly before their ultimate divorce, they entered into a property settlement agreement which they both agreed divided their marital property fairly and equitably.
However, the PSA failed to value the various pieces of personal or real property. Instead, it merely stated that the parties were “familiar with the extent of all property owned by the parties. . .either separately or jointly, and accumulated since their marriage, and both are satisfied that they know the present value of that property.” They both asked the court to approve the PSA and incorporate it into the divorce decree, which the court did.
At trial, Jeanne testified that she had an annual income of about $30,000 and a small retirement account amounting to less than $6,000. She also testified that she had rheumatoid arthritis, her copays for her needed prescription medications costing her $120 per month. Mark testified that he always had an annual income of at least $72,000 per year from a farm he jointly owned with his brothers. He also testified that the value of the real estate alone he was receiving by virtue of the PSA amounted to $2.5 million. The court ordered him to pay $876 monthly child support and $2,500 monthly spousal support for 10 years. Mark appealed the alimony amount only.
Supreme Court Holding
When this case finally wound its way to the Nebraska Supreme Court, it noted that “[T]he purpose of alimony is to provide for the continued maintenance or support of one party by the other when relative economic circumstances make it appropriate.” The court also noted that when dividing property and considering alimony in a dissolution proceeding, it should consider the following six factors:
- The circumstances of the parties
- The duration of the marriage
- The history of contributions to the marriage
- The ability of the supported party to engage in gainful employment without interfering with the interests of any minor child in the custody of each party
- The income and earning capacity of each party
- The general equities of the situation
Despite the fact that Mark alleged that after paying his $876 monthly child support obligations the ordered $2,500 monthly support obligation would result in his being forced to live at or below the poverty level, the Supreme Court nevertheless found that “Mark has the financial ability to pay the child support, child-related expenses, and alimony ordered in the decree and still meet his other regular monthly expenses.” Nor did it find the 10-year support period to be unreasonable under the circumstances. It consequently affirmed the district court’s decree.
For more information on how gaining your CFL Designation for Divorce Practitioners gives you the financial knowledge and skills you need to attract additional high-asset clients, plus other benefits of AACFL membership, please visit this page of our website.