Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Third Division
JENNIFER L. JOYNER, Appellant,
CHRISTOPHER E. JOYNER, Respondent
As Modified March 31, 2015.
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cole County, Missouri. The Honorable Patricia S. Joyce, Judge.
Randall Barnes, Jefferson City, MO, Counsel for Appellant.
Mary Browning, Jefferson City, MO, Counsel for Respondent.
Before Division Three: Victor C. Howard, P.J., James Edward Welsh, and Gary D. Witt, JJ. All concur.
James Edward Welsh, Judge
Jennifer Joyner (Wife) appeals the circuit court's judgment dissolving her marriage to Christopher Joyner (Husband). Wife contends that the circuit court erred in its division of the marital property and in its award of maintenance. We reverse the circuit court's judgment.
Husband and Wife were married on May 16, 2006. No children were born during the marriage. In July 2013, after seven years of marriage, Wife filed a petition for dissolution. The circuit court held a hearing on the matter in January 2014, at which the parties presented the following evidence.
Husband is employed by the Jefferson City Police Department as a police officer. He began that employment in November 2005, about six months prior to the couple's marriage. During the marriage,
Wife first worked at a retail furniture business and later was employed as an independent insurance agent. In August 2010, Wife was diagnosed with anxiety disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia. Shortly thereafter, Wife quit selling insurance and began working part time at her brother's business. At the time of trial, Wife was no longer working for her brother and had not worked full time for two to three years. Wife claimed that she was unable to work due to her health problems. She stated that her application for disability benefits was pending with the Social Security Administration. Wife introduced the deposition testimony of George W. Carr, M.D., who testified that Wife's various health issues would limit her ability to hold full-time employment and that, absent substantial improvement, " she should be considered completely and totally disabled."
During the marriage, the couple acquired certain property including Husband's pension benefit from the Missouri Local Government Employees Retirement Benefits (" LAGERS" ), the marital residence, approximately $4,000 in bank accounts, three motor vehicles (valued at $17,000), and household items worth less than $6,000. The evidence at trial showed that ninety-four percent of Husband's LAGERS pension benefit was earned during the marriage. At the time of trial, the marital home had a mortgage of $100,000. The couple had refinanced the house in the summer of 2013, at which time the bank valued the home at $110,000. Husband testified, based on the opinions of two real estate agents, that the value of the property was $92,500.
The circuit court entered its judgment and decree of dissolution on March 6, 2014. The court adopted Husband's proposed distribution of the marital assets and liabilities as fair and equitable. That proposed distribution included a $5,400 " asset equalization" payment from Wife to Husband. The court also accepted Husband's valuation of the marital home as $92,500 and awarded the marital home (and its $100,000 mortgage debt) to Husband. The court found that Husband's proposal for Wife to be awarded all but $200 worth of the personal household items and for Husband to assume the debt on the marital residence resulted in a " disparate treatment of the assets." For that reason, the court awarded Wife a twenty-five percent share of the marital portion of Husband's LAGERS benefits. The court accepted Husband's valuation of the LAGERS pension as $573 a month and calculated Wife's percentage as $135 a month. The court also ordered Husband (1) to pay Wife $450 a month in non-modifiable maintenance for a period of thirty-six months, and (2) to contribute $220 per month toward Wife's health insurance premiums until she becomes eligible for other insurance, not to exceed thirty-six months.
Standard of Review
This Court must sustain the judgment in a court-tried case unless there is no substantial evidence to support it, it is against the weight of the evidence, or it erroneously declares or applies the law. Murphy v. Carron, 536 S.W.2d 30, 32 (Mo. banc 1976). " The burden of demonstrating error is on the party challenging the divorce decree." Hernandez v. Hernandez, 249 S.W.3d 885, 888 (Mo. App. 2008). We view the evidence and all permissible inferences in the light most favorable to the ...