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Dole v. Dole

Court of Appeals of Utah

October 12, 2018

Julie Ann Dole, Appellee,
v.
Christopher Patton Dole, Appellant.

          Third District Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Richard D. McKelvie No. 124905567

          Jay L. Kessler, Attorney for Appellant

          Michelle L. Christensen and Dillon P. Olson, Attorneys for Appellee

          Judge Jill M. Pohlman authored this Opinion, in which Judges Michele M. Christiansen Forster and Ryan M. Harris concurred.

          POHLMAN, JUDGE

         ¶1 Christopher Patton Dole and Julie Ann Dole divorced through a bifurcated decree and reserved several disputed issues for trial, including property division and child support. Following trial, the district court orally ruled on the outstanding issues, and entered its written findings and conclusions with the final decree. Christopher appeals the court's rulings with respect to income imputation, tax exemptions, and personal and real property divisions.[1] He also appeals the court's denial of his post-trial motion seeking rulings on issues he claims were left unresolved. We affirm in part and dismiss the remainder of the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

         ANALYSIS

         I. Findings and Conclusions

         ¶2 Christopher first argues that the district court erred in a variety of ways in rendering its final findings and conclusions of law. In particular, he challenges the court's decisions to (A) impute income to him, (B) award Julie the annual tax exemptions for their two children until they reach the age of majority, and (C) divide the personal and real property as it did.

         ¶3 We review challenges to factual findings for clear error, reversing only if the findings "are in conflict with the clear weight of the evidence, or if this court has a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made." Kidd v. Kidd, 2014 UT App 26, ¶ 13, 321 P.3d 200 (quotation simplified). We review the court's interpretation of relevant statutes for correctness. Dahl v. Dahl, 2015 UT 79, ¶ 155. Finally, to the extent Christopher challenges the adequacy of the court's findings and whether they support its ultimate conclusions, we review that issue for correctness. Shuman v. Shuman, 2017 UT App 192, ¶ 2, 406 P.3d 258. The court must support its decisions "with adequate findings and conclusions," which include enough detail and subsidiary facts "to disclose the steps by which the ultimate conclusion on each factual issue was reached." Kidd, 2014 UT App 26, ¶ 13 (quotations simplified); see also Fish v. Fish, 2016 UT App 125, ¶ 22, 379 P.3d 882 ("Findings are adequate when they contain sufficient detail to permit appellate review to ensure that the district court's discretionary determination was rationally based."). In this regard, "unstated findings can be implied if it is reasonable to assume that the trial court actually considered the controverted evidence and necessarily made a finding to resolve the controversy, but simply failed to record the factual determination it made." Fish, 2016 UT App 125, ¶ 22 (quotation simplified).

         ¶4 We address each of Christopher's contentions below and affirm. A. Income Imputation

         ¶5 Christopher argues that the district court erred in imputing $55, 000 annual income to him for purposes of calculating child support. In particular, he contends that the court failed to perform the income imputation test outlined in Utah Code section 78B-12-203(7)(b). Christopher claims that the court's findings do not reflect consideration of his historical income or his employment capacity and earning potential, and that the court's decision is therefore insufficiently supported.[2]He also contends that the court improperly disregarded evidence of his disabilities. We disagree.

         ¶6 "Because trial courts have broad discretion to award child support, we will not disturb such decisions absent an abuse of discretion." Reller v. Argenziano, 2015 UT App 241, ¶ 15, 360 P.3d 768 (quotation simplified). "That means that as long as the court exercised its discretion within the bounds and under the standards we have set and has supported its decision with adequate findings and conclusions, we will not substitute our judgment for the trial court's." Id. (quotation simplified).

         ¶7 At the time of trial, section 78B-12-203(7)(b) provided,

If income is imputed to a parent, the income shall be based upon employment potential and probable earnings as derived from employment opportunities, work history, occupation qualifications, and prevailing earnings for persons of similar backgrounds in the community, or the median earning for persons in the same occupation in the same geographical area as found in the statistics maintained by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

         Utah Code Ann. § 78B-12-203(7)(b) (LexisNexis 2012). For purposes of calculating child support, the district court imputed $55, 000 of annual income to Christopher. It arrived at this figure by relying on a vocational expert's opinion and the domestic relations commissioner's findings regarding income. In doing so, the court stated that "[t]he actual income of [Christopher] is impossible to determine" due to Christopher's "dishonesty to this Court, to his unaccountable income, [and to] his failure and refusal to obtain traditional employment." Indeed, the court noted that "much of the income that [Christopher] derives through his purchase and sale of [equipment] is unaccountable."

         ¶8 Contrary to Christopher's assertions, the court clearly stated in its oral and written findings that it based its imputation in part on the vocational expert's opinion, which addressed the section 78B-12-203(7)(b) factors. This is sufficient to support the court's imputation decision. See Vanderzon v. Vanderzon, 2017 UT App 150, ¶¶ 65-71, 402 P.3d 219 (explaining that we may affirm a district court's imputation determination if "we can infer the necessary findings from the vocational expert's report and testimony," and affirming the court's imputation finding where "the expert's report addresse[d] all of the factors required by section 78B-12-203(7)(b)"). The vocational expert's trial testimony and report included information regarding Christopher's nearly twenty-year work history, his employment capacity, and his earning potential in light of his education and experience. Thus, the expert's report and testimony make clear that the district court considered the relevant statutory factors. See id.

         ¶9 Christopher also faults the court for disregarding his disabilities in rendering its imputation decision. But a court is not required to "render a global accounting of all evidence presented or to discuss all aspects of a case that might support a contrary ruling." Shuman v. Shuman, 2017 UT App 192, ¶ 6, 406 P.3d 258. Even if a court "fails to make findings" about what an appellant considers to be "a material issue, we assume the court found them in accord with its decision, and we affirm the decision if from the evidence it would be reasonable to find facts to support it." See Widdison v. Widdison, 2014 UT App 233, ¶ 6, 336 P.3d 1106 (quotation simplified).

         ¶10 Here, to the extent that information about Christopher's disabilities was relevant to the court's imputation analysis, see generally Utah Code Ann. § 78B-12-203(7)(d) (providing that income may not be imputed if "a parent is physically or mentally unable to earn minimum wage" and that condition "is not of a temporary nature"), that evidence was presented during trial and specifically discussed during the vocational expert's testimony, see Vanderzon, 2017 UT App 150, ¶¶ 65-71. And other than flatly asserting that the court disregarded that evidence, Christopher provides no legal or factual basis from which we may presume that the court did not consider the evidence about his disabilities in imputing income to him. See Utah R. App. P. 24(a)(8) (setting out the appellant's briefing requirements, which includes providing "reasoned analysis supported by citations to legal authority and the record" to explain why the appellant "should prevail on appeal"). See generally Gerwe v. Gerwe, 2018 UT App 75, ¶ 13, 424 P.3d 1113 ("A reviewing court will not presume from a silent record that the court applied an incorrect legal standard but must presume the regularity and validity of the district court's proceedings, and that it applied the correct legal standard, in the absence of evidence to the contrary." (quotation simplified)); Widdison, 2014 UT App 233, ¶ 6. Because Christopher has not provided a basis from which we could conclude that the court failed to consider his disabilities, we presume that the court properly considered Christopher's disabilities in imputing income to him.

         ¶11 Accordingly, Christopher has failed to demonstrate error in the court's imputation decision.

         B. Tax Exemptions

         ¶12 Christopher next argues that the court erred in awarding Julie the annual tax exemptions for both of their children through the age of majority. We generally review a district court's decision to award tax exemptions for abuse of ...


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