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Layden v. Layden

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District

March 28, 2017

MICHAEL LAYDEN, Petitioner/Appellant,
NICOLE LAYDEN, Respondent.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Francois County Hon. Troy K. Hyde


          Lisa S. Van Amburg, Judge.

         Appellant Michael Layden (Husband) appeals the trial court's judgment of modification, as well as its judgment awarding Respondent Nicole Layden (Wife) attorney's fees on appeal. We affirm in part and reverse in part.


         On July 2, 2010, the marriage of Husband and Wife was dissolved. Pursuant to the terms of the parties' Stipulation Agreement, Husband was to pay to Wife the sum of $500 per month in maintenance. On or about September 13, 2012, Husband initiated the underlying action by filing a motion to modify requesting the reduction or termination of his maintenance obligation. He filed a first amended motion to modify on or about February 13, 2013. Wife filed a counter-motion to modify seeking an increase in maintenance.

         According to tax documentation filed by Wife, her social security income totaled $11, 724.00[1] in 2010 and $12, 749.00 in 2015. According to Husband's tax returns, he had a gross income of $46, 239.00 in 2010 and $41, 884.06 in 2015. According to the 2014 tax returns of Husband and his current wife, Husband's total household income is $104, 843.00.

         At trial, Wife testified in support of her request for increased maintenance. She testified that her sole sources of income were social security and the maintenance provided by Husband. Wife was declared disabled in 1996 after a diagnosis of manic bipolar with suicidal tendencies, and she had not worked since that time.[2] Wife testified that in addition to this diagnosis, she also suffered from degenerative disc disease, osteoporosis, psoriatic arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, low thyroid, and high blood pressure, among other ailments. She testified that she took 28 medications daily. Some of her cost of medication was covered by Medicare, Part B, and the premium was taken out of her social security disability payment. Wife testified that since 2009, she had trouble meeting her medical expenses and incurred debt. She testified that she had no pension, 401k account, or retirement accounts in her name.

         Wife testified that she rented a 1, 200 square foot home. At the time of the divorce, she and Husband lived in a 2, 800 square foot Victorian home. She testified that her monthly income, including the $500 maintenance payments, totaled $1, 458.00 and her monthly expenses totaled $1, 761.55, [3] which included rent, utility payments, automobile expenses, insurance premiums, payments on installment contracts, and miscellaneous living expenses. She testified that the year of her divorce, she was diagnosed with three extreme medical issues, which resulted in a debt of $2, 000. She testified that from January through April 2015, Husband stopped making maintenance payments, and she successfully obtained a court order garnishing Husband's wages. She testified that she experienced significant financial hardship during this period.

         Husband testified in support of his request to reduce or terminate his maintenance obligation to Wife. He testified that he starting have problems paying maintenance after his employer demoted him from deputy warden to case manager II and transferred him to a correctional center 60 miles from his home. Husband testified that he was demoted after a disciplinary action by his supervisor for being "unprofessional in my behavior." He testified that he offended his female supervisor, but did not intend to do so. As a result of the demotion, Husband testified that his income decreased by $600.00 per month.

         Husband testified that after his demotion, he applied for a housing manager position with the Department of Corrections. He received an interview, but was not selected. He testified that he was on a register for different positions within the Department of Corrections that would allow him to "move up the ladder again." He took a part-time job at Lowe's to try to make up for the difference in his income caused by the demotion. However, Husband admitted that he stopped making maintenance payments to Wife because he could not afford to pay them after his demotion. Before Husband's wages were garnished, Husband testified that his current wife had to help him pay maintenance, and he testified that he depleted his savings account. Husband testified that his average monthly expenses were $3, 044.50.[4] He testified that some of his monthly expenses were shared with his current wife, including his monthly mortgage payment and his household expenses. Husband admitted that their combined monthly household income totaled $6, 281.51.

         Husband provided testimony that if his maintenance obligation was terminated, Wife would be eligible for public assistance, including food stamps and energy assistance. Specifically, he testified that if his $500 maintenance payment was terminated, Wife would be eligible for $800 in public assistance from different agencies.

         The trial court entered a judgment denying Husband's motion to modify. It found Husband's testimony regarding his demotion not credible and declined to order a reduction or termination of maintenance based on Husband's misconduct. It further found that Husband did not have a house payment and that the house in which he resided was his current wife's premarital property. The trial court also found that he was not responsible for the association fees for the community in which the home was located. It found that Husband's unilateral termination of his maintenance payments during the pendency of the action was unreasonable. The court found this caused a significant hardship on Wife, who was unable to obtain her prescriptions and had to borrow money from friends and family to meet her basic needs. It also found that Husband admitted that during the period of time he had to pay $750 per month in maintenance to Wife (he was paying an additional $250 per month in maintenance under the garnishment), he and his current wife were able to pay all of their household bills. It further found that based on Wife's Statement of Income and Expenses, her expenditures exceeded her income by $800.00 per month. The court found that "Wife is in need of additional maintenance" and that "Husband has the ability to pay." The trial court found that Husband had a greater ability to pay attorney's fees than Wife and that Husband's conduct during the pendency of the suit was such that Husband should be assessed the attorney's fees of Wife. The trial court entered a judgment granting Wife's counter-motion to modify. Husband was ordered to pay $800.00 per month, as well as $2, 000.00 in Wife's attorney's fees. This appeal follows.

         Standard of Review

         In a court-tried action to modify a maintenance award, we conduct our review in accordance with the standards enunciated in Murphy v. Carron, 536 S.W.2d 30, 32 (Mo. banc 1976). We will uphold the court's judgment unless the judgment is not supported by the evidence, is against the weight of the evidence, or erroneously declares or applies the law. Id. "An appellate court will defer to the trial court on its decision to modify a maintenance award even if the evidence could support a different conclusion." Id.

         The evidence and reasonable inferences drawn therefrom are viewed in the light most favorable to the prevailing party. Id. The trial court is in a superior position to judge witness credibility and sincerity and, as such, may accept all, part, or none of any witness's testimony. Id. All fact issues upon which the trial court failed to make specific findings are considered as having been found in accordance with the judgment. Rustemeyer v. Rustemeyer, 148 S.W.3d 867, 870 (Mo. App. E.D. 2004); Rule 73.01. The ...

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