Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fourth Division
from the Circuit Court of St. Louis County Honorable Kristine
S. ODENWALD JUDGE.
Arndt ("Ed") appeals from the motion court's
judgment modifying his maintenance obligation to his ex-wife,
Paige Arndt ("Paige"). The motion court found a substantial
change in circumstances based upon Paige's employment and
reduced Ed's monthly maintenance obligation from $4, 444
per month to $2, 489. On appeal, Ed claims that the motion
court should have terminated (or further reduced) his
maintenance obligation because the motion court improperly
computed Paige's income and reasonable expenses. Ed also
contends that the motion court abused its discretion by
awarding Paige $10, 000 in attorney's fees. Finding
certain errors relating to Paige's expenses in the motion
court's judgment, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and
remand for further proceedings.
and Procedural History
2010, Ed and Paige Arndt dissolved their marriage. The
divorce decree incorporated the parties' separation
agreement and stipulated parenting plan. Under the separation
agreement, Ed was required to pay Paige $4, 444 per month in
the marriage, Paige was a stay-at-home mother while Ed
supported the household financially. After the dissolution,
Paige attended the Goldfarb School of Nursing. Upon
completion of her nursing studies, Paige passed her board
examination and Children's Hospital hired her as a
registered nurse in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit
sought to modify his maintenance obligation by alleging that
substantial and continuing changes had occurred, making
maintenance unreasonable. For changed circumstances, Ed
asserted that Paige was now fully employed, that she could
support herself financially, and that the children were
emancipated and no longer required Paige's financial
support. Thus, Ed requested that the motion court terminate
or significantly reduce his maintenance obligation.
parties submitted sworn statements of income and expenses
before trial. The motion court heard evidence on three
different hearing dates from August through November, 2015.
third day of trial, in November 2015, Paige testified that
she had been hired as an operating-room nurse at another BJC
hospital, Missouri Baptist. Paige had not yet started at
Missouri Baptist. Paige accepted the new position because she
did not like working the rotating night shifts at
Children's Hospital. The hours at her new position were
primarily during the days on Monday through Friday. Paige
testified that she would receive the same base hourly rate as
her prior position ($21.6275), but she did not know the
number of shift differentials she would receive nor the amount of
additional pay for those shift-differential hours.
February 29, 2016, the motion court issued a written judgment
granting Ed's motion in part. The judgment reduced
Ed's monthly maintenance payment from $4, 444 to $2, 489
per month. In modifying maintenance, the motion court found
that Paige's new job was a change in circumstances so
substantial and continuing as to make the terms of the
original maintenance award unreasonable. The motion court
declined to terminate maintenance altogether because it found
that Paige was still unable to meet her reasonable expenses.
motion court determined Ed's maintenance obligation by
calculating Paige's monthly net income and her reasonable
monthly expenses. In determining Paige's monthly net
income from her new nursing position at Missouri Baptist, the
motion court noted that Paige's base hourly rate was
$21.6275. Because Paige testified that she would work mostly
weekdays, for 40 hours per week, the motion court calculated
Paige's monthly gross income as $3, 749 (the motion court
rounded up to $3, 750). The motion court did not include any shift
differentials from Paige's new position, recognizing that
Paige "testified she would receive differential pay as
she had in [her old position] but would not be working nights
or weekends on a regular basis."
motion court then converted Paige's monthly gross income
to net income. The motion court relied on Paige's
testimony that, in her prior position, she had netted about
66% of her gross pay after payroll deductions. The motion
court applied that percentage to her new employment. Thus, on
a gross monthly salary of $3, 749 in her new position, the
motion court concluded that Paige's monthly net income
would be $2, 474 (66% of her gross salary).
aggressively challenged Paige's reasonable monthly
expenses at trial. Using discovery of Paige's bank
accounts and credit cards, Ed compiled a pedantic litany of
Paige's actual expenses from 2010 to 2014. At trial, Ed
submitted a series of exhibits purporting to show that many
of Paige's claimed expenses were either unreasonable,
unjustified by her actual expenses, or commingled with
expenditures for the children. Conversely, Paige testified
and was cross-examined extensively on her claimed expenses,
which she submitted to the motion court in a sworn statement
of income and expenses. Paige insisted that her claimed
expenses were reasonable. After hearing the evidence, the
motion court made a factual finding on each of the expenses
disputed by Ed, finding that Paige had $4, 398.83 in
reasonable monthly expenses, almost $2, 000 less than Paige
had claimed in her First Amended Statement of Income and
motion court also determined that the "interests of
justice" suggested that Ed pay Paige's estimated
income taxes on the maintenance. The motion court concluded
that Paige's total annual tax on the maintenance payments
was $6, 768, or $564 per month. The motion court relied on
Paige's testimony that she paid $564.83 per month in
federal and state taxes on maintenance in 2014, and this
amount was also included on Paige's statement of income
awarding maintenance, the motion court found a shortfall
between Paige's net income and her reasonable expenses.
The motion court then added the taxes on Paige's
maintenance award as an allowable expense as follows:
Actual Monthly Shortfall -
$ 1, 925
Taxes on Maintenance-
Maintenance Need -
motion court awarded Paige $2, 489 per month in modified
maintenance, which reduced Ed's original maintenance
obligation by $1, 955 per month. The motion court made the
modification retroactive three months to December 1, 2015.
The motion court further ordered Ed to pay $10, 000 toward
the attorney's fees incurred by Paige in defending the
motion to modify. This appeal follows.
raises five points on appeal. Points One and Two argue that
the motion court's judgment was against the weight of the
evidence. Specifically, Point One contends that the modified
maintenance award was improperly inflated because Paige's
reasonable monthly expenses were substantially less than the
motion court found. Point Two avers that the motion court
underestimated Paige's monthly income by not including
the shift differentials that Paige would receive in her new
job. Points Three and Four claim that the motion court erred
in calculating Paige's tax expenses. Ed asserts that the
motion court improperly imputed a 34% tax rate on Paige's
gross income when calculating her net income, and used an
improper tax rate to determine Paige's tax liability on
the maintenance payments. Ed posits that these calculations
incorrectly applied federal and state tax law (Point Three)
and were unsupported by substantial evidence (Point Four).
Finally, Point Five argues that the motion court abused its
discretion in awarding Paige $10, 000 toward the
attorney's fees she incurred during the modification
first four points all complain that the motion court erred in
modifying his maintenance obligation. Thus, we will address
those points together in the first section. In the second
section, we will address Ed's Point Five, which assigns
error to the award of attorney's fees.
section addresses Ed's first four points on appeal.
First, we outline our standard of review in assessing the
motion court's judgment, and then we provide the general
rules on awarding and modifying maintenance. We then consider
Ed's first two points in turn, both of which argue that
aspects of the motion court's findings were against the
weight of the evidence. Next, because Points Three and Four
advance nearly the same arguments relating to the motion
court's alleged miscalculation of Paige's tax
obligations, we address those points together. Finally, we
consider Paige's overarching argument that we should
overlook any motion-court errors and, instead, affirm the
judgment as reaching the correct result, even if for the
Standard of Review
reviewing a court-tried case, such as a modification
proceeding, our standard of review is set forth by Murphy
v. Carron. 536 S.W.2d 30, 32 (Mo. banc 1976). We will
affirm unless the motion court's judgment erroneously
declares or applies the law, is unsupported by competent and
substantial evidence, or is against the weight of the
evidence. Id.; Almuttar v. Almuttar. 479
S.W.3d 135, 138 (Mo. App. W.D. 2016).
argues that the motion court's judgment was against the
weight of the evidence (Points One and Two), was an incorrect
application of the law (Point Three), and was unsupported by
substantial evidence (Point Four). We review the motion
court's application of law to facts de novo. Rhea v.
Sapp, 463 S.W.3d 370, 375 (Mo. App. W.D. 2015).
review of factual issues, more deference is accorded to the
motion court's judgment. See Hughes v. Hughes,
505 S.W.3d 458, 467 (Mo. App. E.D. 2016). In deciding whether
the motion court's judgment was against the weight of the
evidence, we defer to the motion court's findings of fact
on contested factual issues, and we defer to the motion
court's credibility determinations, hi A judgment is
considered against the weight of the evidence only if the
motion court "could not have reasonably found, from the
evidence at trial, the existence of a fact that is necessary
to sustain the judgment." hi Further, in reviewing for
substantial evidence, we view the evidence in the light most
favorable to the judgment, disregarding all contrary evidence
and deferring to the motion court's credibility
determinations. IcL Substantial evidence is evidence that, if
believed, has some probative force on each fact that is
necessary to sustain the judgment. Id. We overturn
the motion court's judgment on these two fact-based
standards only if we firmly believe the judgment is wrong.
modification of maintenance specifically, we afford the
motion court considerable discretion, and the appellant must
prove an abuse of that discretion. Id. "The
[motion] court abuses its discretion when its order is
against the logic of the circumstances and is so arbitrary
and unreasonable as to shock the sense of justice and
indicate a lack of careful consideration; if reasonable
persons can differ about the propriety of the action taken by
the trial court, then it cannot be said that the trial court
abused its discretion." IcL
General Rules Governing Maintenance Modification
452.370.1 (Supp. 2014) authorizes a motion court to modify
maintenance "only upon a showing of changed
circumstances so substantial and continuing as to make the
terms [of the original dissolution decree]
unreasonable." This statutory standard is designed to be
strict so it discourages recurrent and insubstantial motions
to modify. Barden v. Barden. 463 S.W.3d 799, 804
(Mo. App. E.D. 2015). In deciding this threshold question of
whether a substantial change has occurred, the motion court
considers all financial resources of both parties. Section
452.370.1. The party seeking modification bears the burden of
establishing with "detailed evidence" that this
substantial and continuing change occurred and that the terms
of the original decree have become unreasonable.
Greenberg v. Greenberg. 454 S.W.3d 390, 394 (Mo.
App. E.D. 2015).
the motion court found that a substantial change in
circumstances occurred because, since the parties'
divorce, Paige obtained both her nursing diploma and
full-time employment as a nurse. Neither party questions the
motion court's finding on this threshold issue. On
appeal, Husband asserts that the motion court should have
further reduced or terminated maintenance given Paige's
income and reasonable needs. In modifying the amount of
maintenance, the motion court may (but is not
required to) consider the factors in Section
a trial court must consider in fashioning
maintenance at dissolution. Brooks v. Brooks. 957
S.W.2d 783, 786 (Mo. App. W.D. 1997).
is for the reasonable needs of the spouse receiving it.
McKown v. McKown, 280 S.W.3d 169, 175 (Mo. App. W.D.
2009). Maintenance, however, is not awarded to the receiving
spouse for the purpose of building an estate or accumulating
capital. Stauffer v. Stauffer, 267 S.W.3d 805, 808
(Mo. App. W.D. 2008). In other words, a maintenance award
bridges the gap between the reasonable needs of a spouse and
that spouse's income. Powell v. Powell, 203
S.W.3d 271, 285 (Mo. App. W.P. 2006). The trial court-or, in
a modification proceeding, the motion court-must award an
amount that it deems just after considering all relevant
factors. Id.; see Section 452.335.2 (standards for
determining an initial maintenance decree). Once the motion
court finds a substantial change resulting in an original
maintenance amount that is unreasonable, the motion court
should fashion a maintenance award (or terminate maintenance)
in a way that is reasonable. See Section 452.370.1
(the plain language of the maintenance-modification statute).
Trial and motion courts have broad discretion to award
maintenance in a reasonable and just way. See
Almuttar. 479 S.W.3d at 138.
accord with the broad rules of awarding and modifying
maintenance, we address Ed's first four points on appeal.
Point One-Paige's Reasonable Expenses
Point One, Ed asserts that the motion court's maintenance
award was against the weight of the evidence because the
motion court substantially overstated Paige's reasonable
expenses. The record shows that the motion court relied
largely on Paige's sworn statement of income and
expenses, as well as her trial testimony about those
expenses, to determine her reasonable expenses.
prove expenses, statements of income and expenses are
routinely admitted and relied upon without any further
testimony or documentary support for each individual item.
Brooks v. Brooks, 957 S.W.2d 783, 788 (Mo. App. W.D.
1997) (citing M.A.Z. v. F.J.Z.. 943 S.W.2d 781, 790
(Mo. App. E.D. 1997)). The weight accorded to these
statements of income and expenses is sufficient to sustain a
judgment unless the expense amounts are disputed, the party
seeking maintenance concedes a lack of knowledge about the
actual amounts of the claimed expenses, and the
party testifies inconsistently about the amounts claimed.
Brooks, 957 S.W.2d at 788 (crafting this test from
the holding in M.A.Z., 943 S.W.2d at 790). This
exception, first articulated in M.A.Z.. was a
case-specific holding that should not be applied to a case
that does not share the "unique" facts of
M.A.Z. Herschend v. Herschend. 486 S.W.3d 346, 353
(Mo. App. S.D. 2015).
motion court was ultimately required to decide what expenses,
in light of all relevant factors, were reasonable and
appropriate. Hammer v. Hammer. 139 S.W.3d 239, 245
(Mo. App. W.D. 2004). Reasonable needs are seldom a matter of
mathematical precision, and expense submissions need not be
based on strict necessity. Id. The purpose of
maintenance is to achieve a just result in light of all
relevant considerations. IcL We now address each of the
expenses challenged by Ed.
carries life insurance for the benefit of their
Paige testified that the proceeds of the policy would be
enough for her "children to take care of whatever needed
to be taken care of when I die and not have worries about
funeral costs or estate costs or whatever costs are involved
with death, " Ed argues that a life-insurance policy on
Paige's life cannot be counted among Paige's present,
reasonable needs. We are aware of no Missouri authority
directly addressing whether a spouse receiving maintenance
may include, as a reasonable need, the monthly premiums for a
life-insurance policy on his or her life for the benefit of
the parties' children.
support of his contention, Ed relies on In re Marriage of
Boston, 104 S.W.3d 825, 832 (Mo. App. S.D. 2003).
Boston held that a dissolution court was without
authority to require the ex-husband (the paying spouse) to
carry a life-insurance policy on his life that named the
ex-wife or the minor child as beneficiaries. Id.
Because the benefits of the life-insurance policy were not
payable prior to the ex-husband's death, a decree
requiring the ex-husband to maintain a life-insurance policy
on his life constituted posthumous child support.
Id. A motion court lacks authority to require
posthumous child support. Id. Notably, the
Boston court did not consider whether the
requirement to name the ex-wife as a beneficiary might have
been proper as express posthumous maintenance. Cf.
McAvinew v. McAvinew, 733 S.W.2d 816, 819 (Mo. App. W.D.
1987) (distinguishing the same line of cases regarding child
support on which Boston relied, and holding that an
order requiring maintenance in the form of life insurance
expressly provides posthumous maintenance, which is allowed
under Section 452.370); Section 452.370.3 ("Unless
otherwise agreed in writing or expressly provided in the
judgment, the obligation to pay future statutory maintenance
is terminated upon the death of either party or the
remarriage of the party receiving maintenance.").
event, Boston does not control this case. The
dissolution court in Boston required the ex-husband
to maintain a life-insurance policy on his life;
here, on the other hand, the motion court required Ed to pay
the premiums of a life-insurance policy on
Paige's life. The core rationale of
Boston was that the life-insurance policy could not,
by definition, pay out until after the ex-husband died-thus
the trial court's order forced the ex-husband to provide
posthumous support. Here, Paige's life-insurance policy
would pay out at Paige's death, which could happen while
Ed is still alive. Further, if Ed died before Paige, he would
be relieved of his duty to pay premiums. So Paige would need
to continue paying the premiums, which would mean that Paige
would be supporting the children. Accordingly, we do not see
Ed's obligation as requiring posthumous child support.
the life-insurance expense presents another problem: the
proceeds from the life-insurance policy do not benefit Paige.
Our caselaw is clear that the requirement to pay premiums on
a life-insurance policy is seen as a support obligation to
the beneficiaries of the policy. See
Boston, 104 S.W.3d at 832 (ex-wife and child were
beneficiaries of the policy, and ex-husband's requirement
to pay premiums was seen as a support obligation to them);
McAvinew, 733 S.W.2d at 819 (ex-wife was the
beneficiary of the policy, and ex-husband's obligation to
pay the premium was seen as maintenance); Niederkorn v.
Niederkorn, 616 S.W.2d 529, 538 (Mo. App. E.D. 1981)
(benefits of the life-insurance policy, not payable until
after the husband's death, amount to posthumous child
support). Paige testified that the purpose and benefit of the
policy was to allow the children to take care of her
post-death expenses and not to worry about "funeral
costs or estate costs or whatever costs are involved with
death." While we understand that Paige considers life
insurance to be a reasonable expense, it is undisputed that
her life-insurance policy, according to her testimony,
benefits the parties' children.
is clear that maintenance is limited to the needs of the
recipient-here, Paige. Courtney v. Courtney, 458
S.W.3d 462, 477 (Mo. App. E.D. 2015). Missouri law holds that
"awards of spousal maintenance and child support are two
distinctly separate concepts, and that maintenance does not
include child support." Id. (quoting
Schubert v. Schubert. 366 S.W.3d 55, 64 (Mo. App.
E.D. 2012)). The needs of the parties' children are not
to be included in any maintenance award. Id.
the motion court misapplied the law and erred in allowing
Paige's life-insurance premiums as her reasonable need.
While the policy insured Paige's life, the death benefit
would not inure to her benefit. As Paige testified, the
children will receive the benefit of the policy. Moral
obligations aside, the children may do as they please as
beneficiaries of the policy. The record is void of any
limitation placed on the children upon receipt of any death
benefits following Paige's death. The record does not
suggest that Paige discussed her thoughts with the children
or that the children accepted any limitation on their use of
any death benefits. Given the lack of evidence supporting an
obligation to use the insurance proceeds to address expenses
related to Paige or her death, we are compelled by law to
disallow this expense. In effect, by allowing this expense,
the motion court has required Ed to pay child support through
the guise of maintenance. Despite the reasonableness of the
Paige's intention, the life-insurance expense for this
policy is not related to Paige's reasonable needs. See
Courtney, 458 S.W.3d at 477. The motion court
misapplied the law by finding the life-insurance premium as a
argues that the motion court erred in allowing Paige $125 per
month as a reasonable expense for charitable giving. The
evidence at trial indicated that the parties gave $1, 600 per
month to charity during the marriage; that amount was split
between "weekly tithing" to their church and an
annual gift to their children's high school. Paige also
testified, "And sometimes if somebody was in need or
somebody was going on a missionary trip we would donate as
well." Ed accurately notes that Paige's current
charitable contributions (at the time of the modification
proceedings) were not to the parties' church and the high
school. Paige testified that she now donates money to an
orphan in Africa and to missionary groups based in the
Philippines, Orlando, and St. Louis. These targets of
Paige's generosity, Ed contends, represented a different
set of choices from those the family selected during the
marriage, choices to which he should not be bound. We find
Ed's argument unavailing.
general rule is well established: modest charitable
contributions may be included when figuring reasonable
expenses of the party seeking maintenance, but only if
substantial evidence exists that those contributions were
made throughout the course of the marriage. Batka v.
Batka, 171 S.W.3d 757, 762 (Mo. App. E.D. 2005). We have
approved charitable expenses "where they fit within the
parties' overall pattern of spending prior to the
dissolution." Hosack v. Hosack, 973 S.W.2d 863,
871 n.5 (Mo. App. W.D. 1998).
Ed has cited no authority limiting the spouse's
charitable contributions after the marriage to the
exact charitable entity that the parties supported
during the marriage. We have found no authority to support
the limitation asserted by Ed.
initially sought $550 per month in charitable contributions
to be included in her allowable expenses. Upon careful and
thorough review, the motion court substantially reduced
Paige's monthly charitable expense to $125. While it is
unclear why the motion court chose $125, our record indicates
that the motion court considered Paige's claimed expense
and Ed's argument, and exercised its discretion to
substantially reduce her claimed amount.
that substantial evidence exists of similar charitable
contributions made throughout the marriage, which justifies
the motion court's award of a modest charitable expense
in its maintenance calculation. Paige testified that the
couple sometimes donated to people "going on a
missionary trip" during the marriage. Paige stated that
she now donates to several missionary groups, and the word
"missionary" naturally contemplates "one sent
to propagate the faith, doctrine, and principles of a
religion or a religious group among nonbelievers."
See Webster's Third New International Dictionary
1445 (1981). The parties gave substantial amounts to their
church and donated, at least occasionally, to persons going
on missionary trips. Paige now gives to missionary groups. We
disagree with Ed's contention that Paige's new
charitable spending represents a "completely different
set of choices from those the family selected during the
marriage." Further, the $125 charitable expense awarded
to Paige was modest in comparison to the ...