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Sulkin v. Sulkin

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Third Division

July 3, 2018

LAURA SULKIN, Respondent/Cross-Appellant,
v.
DAVID SULKIN, Appellant/Cross-Respondent.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Louis County 15SL-DR02510 Honorable Mary B. Schroeder

          ROBERT M. CLAYTON III, JUDGE

         David Sulkin ("Husband") appeals from the trial court's judgment ordering him to pay Laura Sulkin ("Wife") $5, 000 per month in maintenance. We reverse and remand.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         Husband and Wife were married on June 22, 1994. Two children were born of the marriage and remained unemancipated at the time of trial.[2] Wife filed her petition for dissolution of marriage on April 23, 2015; Husband answered and filed a cross-petition for dissolution on June 8, 2015. Wife then filed her amended petition for dissolution of marriage on August 5, 2016. On November 2, 2016, following a three-day bench trial, the trial court issued a judgment of dissolution of marriage.

          Husband filed a post-trial motion to set aside, amend, or clarify the judgment, or alternatively, a motion for new trial asserting, inter alia, the trial court erred in ordering him to pay Wife $5, 000 per month in maintenance. The trial court heard arguments related to Husband's post-trial motion and took the matter under submission on January 9, 2017. On January 23, 2017, the trial court entered its Amended Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage ("Judgment"). In relevant part, the Judgment found Wife's reasonable expenses to be $5, 000 per month, imputed potential employment income to Wife in the amount of $2, 667 per month, and ordered Husband to pay Wife $5, 000 per month in maintenance. Husband appeals.[3]

         II. DISCUSSION

         In Husband's sole point on appeal, he argues the trial court erred in ordering him to pay Wife $5, 000 per month in maintenance. We agree.

         A. Standard of Review and General Law Related to Maintenance

         As with any court-tried case, our review of a dissolution of marriage action is guided by the standards set forth in Murphy v. Carron, 536 S.W.2d 30, 32 (Mo. banc 1976). Alabach v. Alabach, 478 S.W.3d 511, 513 (Mo. App. E.D. 2015). Accordingly, a dissolution judgment will be affirmed unless it is not supported by substantial evidence, it is against the weight of the evidence, it erroneously declares the law, or it erroneously applies the law. Id. The trial court resolves matters such as the weight of evidence, the resolution of conflicting evidence, and witness credibility, and its rulings on these issues will not be reviewed by this Court. L.R.S. v. C.A.S., 525 S.W.3d 172, 183 (Mo. App. E.D. 2017). Additionally, when the trial court has made no specific findings on a factual issue, such findings are interpreted as having been found in accordance with the trial court's judgment. Ivie v. Smith, 439 S.W.3d 189, 200 (Mo. banc 2014); Missouri Supreme Court Rule 73.01(c) (2016).[4]

         The trial court is vested with broad discretion in awarding maintenance. Coleman v. Coleman, 318 S.W.3d 715, 719 (Mo. App. E.D. 2010); Woodard v. Woodard, 201 S.W.3d 557, 561 (Mo. App. E.D. 2006). Thus, our Court will not reverse the court's decision absent an abuse of discretion, and we defer to the trial court even where the evidence could have supported a different conclusion. Woodard, 201 S.W.3d at 561. "The trial court abuses its discretion only when its ruling is clearly against the logic of the circumstances and is so arbitrary and unreasonable as to shock one's sense of justice and indicate a lack of careful consideration." Coleman, 318 S.W.3d at 720 (quotations omitted).

         The trial court may award maintenance only upon finding the spouse seeking maintenance, (1) lacks sufficient property, including marital property apportioned to her, to provide for her reasonable needs; and (2) is unable to support herself through appropriate employment. Section 452.335.1 RSMo 2000;[5] Valentine v. Valentine, 400 S.W.3d 14, 20-21 (Mo. App. E.D. 2013). In applying this two-part standard, the trial court is first required to determine the reasonable needs of the spouse seeking maintenance. Schubert v. Schubert, 366 S.W.3d 55, 63 (Mo. App. E.D. 2012). Then, the court must consider whether the party "lacks sufficient property, including marital property apportioned to her, to provide for these reasonable needs, or is unable to support herself through appropriate employment." Valentine, 400 S.W.3d at 21.

         Once a spouse has established the threshold requirements for maintenance, the trial court shall award maintenance in an amount it deems appropriate based on all relevant factors. L.R.S., 525 S.W.3d at 188; section 452.335.2. As an underlying principle, an award of maintenance is "aimed at closing the gap between the income of the spouse who seeks maintenance and that spouse's monthly expenses." Stirewalt v. Stirewalt, 307 S.W.3d 701, 707 (Mo. App. S.D. 2010) (quotations omitted); see In re Marriage of Neu, 167 S.W.3d 791, 795 (Mo. App. E.D. 2005). In determining the amount of maintenance, the trial court is not required to perform an exact mathematical calculation and may award a reasonable amount above the itemized expenses of the party seeking maintenance. Bryant v. Bryant, 351 S.W.3d 681, 690 (Mo. App. E.D. 2011). However, the court does not have unfettered discretion to award any amount of maintenance because maintenance awards must be "limited to the demonstrable needs of the party receiving [maintenance] and not to provide an accumulation of capital." Id. (quotations omitted). Accordingly, a maintenance award substantially exceeding the reasonable needs of the spouse seeking maintenance is not supported by substantial evidence and constitutes an abuse of the trial court's discretion. Herschend v. Herschend, 486 S.W.3d 346, 352 (Mo. App. S.D. 2015); Bryant, 351 S.W.3d at 690.

         B. Relevant Facts and Analysis of ...


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