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Chesley v. Chesley

Court of Appeals of Utah

July 28, 2017

Moriah Lee Chesley, Appellee,
Benjamin Wade Chesley, Appellant.

         Third District Court, Tooele Department The Honorable Robert W. Adkins No. 144300327

          David Pedrazas, Attorney for Appellant

          Mary C. Corporon, Attorney for Appellee

          Judge Michele M. Christiansen authored this Opinion, in which Judges Stephen L. Roth and Jill M. Pohlman concurred.


          CHRISTIANSEN, Judge

         ¶1 Benjamin Wade Chesley appeals from a divorce decree, challenging the trial court's alimony award in favor of Moriah Lee Chesley.[1] Because we cannot discern from the record before us whether the trial court properly calculated alimony, we vacate the alimony award and remand for the entry of more complete findings.

         ¶2 Benjamin and Moriah married in August 2007.[2] They had two children together. Moriah filed for divorce in July 2014.

         ¶3 In October 2014, Moriah filed a motion for temporary alimony, accompanied by an affidavit in support of her motion. In her affidavit, Moriah claimed monthly expenses of $3, 179.34 and a monthly income of $2, 249.67, resulting in a shortfall of $929.67. In November 2014, after a hearing on the matter, a commissioner entered an order requiring Benjamin to pay Moriah $900 per month in temporary alimony. Benjamin failed to pay the temporary alimony.

         ¶4 Subsequently, during a day-long bench trial, the trial court considered, among other things, whether Benjamin should be required to pay permanent alimony to Moriah and in what amount. The court heard evidence that Moriah was not employed during the parties' marriage "[b]ecause [she] spent all [of her] time at home with the kids." Moriah testified that she was currently a full-time student and that she was getting a degree so that she could "double [her] pay." She also explained that she was currently working part time instead of full time because she "wasn't hired to work full time, and [did] not have the time going to school and taking care of the kids." Moriah's updated financial declaration indicated that she had a gross monthly income of $2, 800 and monthly expenses of $3, 933, which included $1, 200 per month in child care expenses. In addition, Moriah testified that she had been receiving roughly $1, 700 in government subsidies per month and around $400 per month from her father to help with bills.

         ¶5 Benjamin testified that he earned $31.64 per hour and that his monthly income varied depending on how much overtime he worked. He testified that his total income in 2014 was around $94, 000. He further testified that his monthly expenses were approximately $5, 400, which included his $1, 019 monthly child-support obligation.

         ¶6 For purposes of its alimony determination, the court imputed to Moriah income of $13 per hour for 40 hours per week, or $2, 253 per month. In addition, the court found that Moriah's income included $318 per month from her first husband for child support, and $1, 019 per month from Benjamin for child support, bringing her total monthly income to $3, 590. The court determined that Benjamin's income "has been going up over the years" and that if it projected Benjamin's income for 2015, "based on what [he'd] earned thus far, it would be above $100, 000 a year." Nevertheless, the court set Benjamin's monthly income at $6, 500 ($78, 000 annually), observing that "that is very conservative based on his history that his income has gone up."

         ¶7 The court concluded that, "under all of the circumstances in this case, " Moriah was entitled to an award of alimony and awarded her alimony in the amount of $900 per month for 97 months, the length of the parties' marriage.[3] The court observed that Moriah had qualified for the level of government subsidies that she had been receiving only because she "basically had no income, " and that the benefits she had been receiving were "going to change substantially, and as to the child care, . . . it may be unfortunate for the parties that the State won't be paying all of that that they've paid." In addition, the court noted that Moriah "needs a better job" and that she "needs to go back to school to get a better job." The court further observed that Moriah had supported Benjamin "throughout the marriage and his employment, in improving his employment, and that [Moriah] needs to be able to have greater earning capacity than she presently has." The court clarified that, although it had imputed income to Moriah as though she were working full time, it was unsure that she would actually be able to work full time while going to school. The court also noted that $900 per month would not equalize the parties' incomes and that Benjamin was "going to have considerably more income" than Moriah.

         ¶8 In response to the trial court's ruling, Benjamin filed a motion to amend the trial court's findings of fact and for a new trial pursuant to rules 52(b) and 59(a)(6) of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure, arguing that "the Court made no finding as to the needs of [Moriah] in this matter." Benjamin observed that Moriah's updated financial declaration indicated that she had monthly expenses of $3, 933 and that the court had found Moriah's monthly income to be $3, 590. Benjamin contended that Moriah's monthly expenses included $1, 200 per month in child care expenses "of which [he] was ordered to pay one-half." Thus, according to Benjamin, Moriah's monthly expenses should have been reduced to $3, 333 per month. Benjamin also argued that "the Court failed to make any actual Findings of the need of [Moriah]" and that Moriah "failed to demonstrate to the Court her need of $900 per month in alimony." Benjamin requested that alimony be terminated "as [Moriah's] income exceed[s] her month[ly] expenses" or, alternatively, that "the Court make additional findings as to the need of [Moriah] in this matter based upon the evidence submitted before [the] Court." The trial court denied the motion, stating that "[t]he Court believes that the evidence at trial clearly supported [Moriah's] need for alimony, and that the amount awarded was correct."

         ¶9 On appeal, Benjamin challenges the trial court's alimony award. More specifically, he contends that the trial court failed to properly consider and determine Moriah's needs in awarding her alimony. "Trial courts have considerable discretion in determining alimony and determinations of alimony will be upheld on appeal unless a clear and prejudicial abuse of discretion is demonstrated." Boyer v. Boyer, 2011 UT App 141, ΒΆ 9, 259 P.3d 1063 (brackets, ellipsis, citation, and internal quotation marks omitted). "[W]here a trial court fails to enter specific findings on the needs and condition of the recipient spouse, making ...

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