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Nicholson v. Nicholson

Court of Appeals of Utah

August 24, 2017

Ronald J. Nicholson, Appellant,
v.
Paula Ann Nicholson, Appellee.

         Second District Court, Ogden Department The Honorable Joseph M. Bean No. 034900408

          Samuel M. Barker and Jeffrey A. Callister, Attorneys for Appellant.

          Jennifer Neeley, Attorney for Appellee.

          Judge Michele M. Christiansen authored this Opinion, in which Judges Gregory K. Orme and David N. Mortensen concurred.

          OPINION

          CHRISTIANSEN, JUDGE.

         ¶1 Ronald J. Nicholson appeals the district court's termination of alimony he had been receiving from his ex-wife Paula Ann Thomas, formerly known as Paula Ann Nicholson. The district court determined that modification of alimony was warranted by Thomas's retirement and that termination of alimony was proper because Nicholson's monthly income exceeded his reasonable monthly needs. We conclude that the court adequately considered the factors required by statute and therefore affirm.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶2 Nicholson and Thomas married in 1975, separated in 1999, and filed for divorce in 2003. After Nicholson and Thomas stipulated to a settlement, a decree of divorce was entered in 2008, with retroactive effect to 2007. Under that settlement, Nicholson received one parcel of real property, the proceeds from the sale of a second parcel of real property, and three vehicles; Thomas in turn received one parcel of real property subject to a mortgage and three other vehicles. Thomas also agreed to pay $850 per month in alimony to Nicholson for a period equal to the length of the marriage-32 years. The parties agreed that "alimony will be terminated upon [Nicholson's] remarriage or cohabitation, or otherwise terminated or modified upon a material change of circumstances, including without limitation the parties' retirement[.]" The stipulation was incorporated into the decree of divorce.

         ¶3 Upon her retirement in 2014, Thomas sought modification or termination of her alimony obligation. After a two-day hearing, the district court ruled that modification of the divorce decree was appropriate, found that Nicholson's expenses did not exceed his income, and modified the divorce decree to eliminate the alimony obligation. Nicholson timely appealed.

         ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         ¶4 Nicholson first contends that the district court erred by failing to make or enter adequate findings regarding Thomas's ability to pay alimony. Where an appellant asserts that the district court's findings are legally inadequate to support its ruling, we review for correctness. See Fish v. Fish, 2016 UT App 125, ¶ 5, 379 P.3d 882; Robinson v. Robinson, 2010 UT App 96, ¶ 7, 232 P.3d 1081.

         ¶5 Nicholson further contends that the district court erred "in terminating alimony based on [his] current needs and ability to provide for those current needs when [his] needs and ability to provide have not changed since the time of the divorce." Insofar as this is a challenge to the district court's findings of fact, we review for clear error; where the district court's ruling relies on its interpretation of the law, we review for correctness. See Olsen v. Olsen, 2007 UT App 296, ¶ 7, 169 P.3d 765.

         ANALYSIS

         ¶6 The primary purpose of an alimony award, at least an initial one, is to "enable the receiving spouse to maintain as nearly as possible the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage and to prevent the spouse from becoming a public charge." Paffel v. Paffel, 732 P.2d 96, 100 (Utah 1986); accord Connell v. Connell, 2010 UT App 139, ¶ 9, 233 P.3d 836. To achieve this end, the Utah Code requires a court to consider several factors when calculating the appropriate amount of alimony to award:

         The court shall consider at least the following factors in determining alimony:

(i) the financial condition and needs of the recipient spouse;
(ii) the recipient's earning capacity or ability to ...

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