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Dickerson v. Dickerson

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, First Division

June 28, 2019

CECELIA CARLIS DICKERSON, Respondent,
v.
CHARLES DANIEL DICKERSON, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cape Girardeau County Honorable Benjamin F. Lewis

          OPINION

          Angela T. Quigless, J.

         Charles Daniel Dickerson ("Husband") appeals from the judgment of the trial court dissolving his marriage to Cecelia Carlis Dickerson, n/k/a Cecelia Carlis Edwards ("Wife"). Husband asserts three points on appeal, arguing the trial court abused its discretion in awarding Wife $800 in monthly maintenance, ordering Husband to pay Wife a property equalization payment of $7, 350, and ordering Husband to pay Wife's attorney $3, 000 for attorney's fees. Finding no error, we affirm the judgment.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Husband and Wife were married in 1992 and separated in September of 2014. Wife filed a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage on July 15, 2015. Husband filed a Counter-Petition for Dissolution. The parties are familiar with the facts, therefore, we will not recite them here. We will discuss the relevant facts in the Discussion section below as necessary to resolve the issues raised on appeal.

         The case was tried before the court on February 23, 2018. Both parties testified and presented evidence regarding Wife's disability, their respective incomes and reasonable expenses, marital assets and debts, and the disposition of marital property. Wife sought an equitable division of the marital assets and debts, monthly maintenance, and attorney's fees. Husband opposed Wife's request for attorney's fees, and requested the court award Wife $300 in monthly maintenance.

         After hearing all the evidence, the trial court entered a judgment dividing the marital assets and debts, ordering Husband to pay Wife an equalization payment of $7, 350, awarding Wife $800 in permanent, modifiable monthly maintenance, and ordering Husband to pay $3, 000 to Wife's attorney for outstanding legal fees. Husband filed a Motion for Reconsideration and Amendment and/or for New Trial, which was denied. This appeal follows.

         Points on Appeal

         Husband asserts three points on appeal. In Point I, Husband argues the trial court erred in awarding maintenance to Wife in the amount of $800 per month because there was no evidence to support the amount of the award, and the trial court's order is against the weight of the evidence regarding Wife's reasonable expenses, as well as Husband's income, reasonable expenses, and ability to pay. In Point II, Husband argues the trial court erred in ordering him to pay Wife a property equalization payment in the amount of $7, 350 because there was no evidence to support the amount of the award, the court prohibited counsel from adducing evidence regarding Wife's financial misconduct, and the court's order is against the weight of the evidence. In Point III, Husband argues the trial court erred in ordering Husband to pay $3, 000 towards Wife's attorney's fees and court costs because the order was against the weight of the evidence and an abuse of discretion in that there was no foundation laid as to the amount or reasonableness of the fees awarded, Wife's actions resulted in excess attorney's fees, and the court declined to hear evidence as to Wife's financial misconduct.

         Standard of Review

         In a dissolution of marriage case, as with any court-tried case, our standard of review is governed by Murphy v. Carron, 536 S.W.2d 30, 32 (Mo. banc 1976). Cureau v. Cureau, 514 S.W.3d 685, 689 (Mo. App. E.D. 2017). The 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. We view the evidence and all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the trial court's judgment, and disregard all contrary evidence and inferences. Id. Where the trial court did not make a specific finding regarding a disputed factual issue, we consider that fact found in accordance with the result reached. Id.; see also Rule 73.01(c).[1]

         Discussion

         I. The Trial Court did not Err in Awarding Wife $800 in Maintenance (Point I)

         In Point I, Husband argues the trial court erred in awarding maintenance to Wife in the amount of $800 per month because there was no evidence to support the amount of the award, and the trial court's order is against the weight of the evidence regarding Wife's reasonable expenses, as well as Husband's income, reasonable expenses, and ability to pay. We disagree.

         The rules governing maintenance awards in dissolution cases are found in Section 452.335. In determining whether to award maintenance, the court must conduct a two-step analysis. Kratzer v. Kratzer, 520 S.W.3d 809 (Mo. App. E.D. 2017). First, the court must find the spouse seeking maintenance: "(1) Lacks sufficient property, including marital property apportioned to him, to provide for his reasonable needs; and (2) Is unable to support himself through appropriate employment or is the custodian of a child whose condition or circumstances make it appropriate that the custodian not be required to seek employment outside the home." Section 452.335.1.[2] If this threshold test is satisfied, the court must determine the amount and duration of maintenance after considering the following statutorily-prescribed factors:

(1) The financial resources of the party seeking maintenance, including marital property apportioned to him, and his ability to meet his needs independently, including the extent to which a provision for support of a child living with the party includes a sum for that party as custodian;
(2) The time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking maintenance to find appropriate employment;
(3) The comparative earning capacity of each spouse;
(4) The standard of living established during the marriage;
(5) The obligations and assets, including the marital property apportioned to him and the separate property of each party;
(6) The duration of the marriage;
(7) The age, and the physical and emotional condition of the spouse seeking maintenance;
(8) The ability of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought to meet his needs while meeting those of the spouse seeking maintenance;
(9) The conduct of the parties during the marriage; and
(10) Any other relevant factors. Section 452.335.2.

         "A trial court's maintenance award shall be limited to the reasonable needs of the spouse seeking maintenance; however, the spouse's reasonable needs need not be limited to the spouse's actual expenses at the time of dissolution." L.R.S. v. C.A.S., 525 S.W.3d 172, 189 (Mo. App. E.D. 2017). The court may consider evidence of prospective expenses where a party's actual pre-dissolution expenses do not reflect their expected post-dissolution expenses. S ...


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