In re Marriage of Goldstone.
2023 COA 116. Nos. 22CA0313 & 22CA0727. Dissolution of Marriage—Permanent Orders—Statutory Interest—Prejudgment Interest.
December 7, 2023
The district court dissolved the parties’ marriage, and it entered permanent orders that allocated parenting time, divided the marital property, ordered father to pay maintenance and child support, and directed father to pay a portion of mother’s attorney fees and costs. The district court also ordered entry of a money judgment related to funds allocated to mother in the court’s property division and the accrual of interest on those funds.
On appeal, father contended that the district court abused its discretion by allocating mother primary parenting time with Q.N. in its written order, because the court’s oral ruling granted him equal parenting time and the written ruling gave no explanation for changing that decision. District courts have broad discretion over allocating parenting time, and a district court may modify an oral opinion before issuing a final written ruling. Here, the court’s oral remarks were not inconsistent with its allocation of parenting time. Further, the district court’s written ruling made sufficient findings to explain its parenting time allocation and its determination that allowing mother to exercise primary parenting time with Q.N. was in the children’s best interests. The district court therefore acted within its discretion and allocated parenting time based on the children’s best interests.
Father also argued that the court erred in dividing the marital estate because it (1) did not consider his contributions toward the marital estate and (2) failed to enter orders that addressed the decreased value of an asset after permanent orders. To achieve an equitable division, the court must consider all relevant factors, including each party’s contribution to the acquisition of marital property, and any change in the value of a party’s separate property during the marriage or the depletion of the party’s separate property used for marital purposes. Here, the record supports the district court’s use of discretion (1) when weighing the relevant factors, including father’s contributions; and (2) in declining to allocate post-decree losses in father’s retirement account, because father bore the risk of the loss.
Father further contended that the district court erred by not imputing potential income to mother for purposes of determining child support and maintenance. The district court has broad discretion in determining income, and whether to impute income to a party is typically a question of fact that depends on the circumstances of the case. Here, the record supports the district court’s determination that mother was not voluntarily underemployed.
Father also asserted that the district court erred by ordering the parties to yearly alternate claiming the children as dependents for income tax purposes because an equal allocation of the exemption was not in proportion to each party’s contributions to raising the children. The court must allocate the parties’ right to claim dependent children for income tax purposes between the parties in proportion to their contributions to the costs of raising the children. Here, the district court acknowledged that it attributed to father about 61% of the parties’ combined gross incomes, but it determined that alternating the dependency tax exemption annually was equitable based on the respective incomes attributed to the parties. The court’s ruling was consistent with the law and was not an abuse of discretion.
Additionally, father argued that the district court erred by not applying a lodestar analysis when it awarded mother attorney fees and costs. Although the district court did not calculate a lodestar amount, its ruling shows that it considered the lodestar adjustment factors. The parties did not dispute the reasonableness of mother’s attorney’s hourly rate, and the court made findings, supported by the record, sufficient to support its implied conclusion that the number of hours mother’s attorney reported expending to litigate the dissolution case was reasonable. Therefore, there was no error.
Father also contended that the court erred by awarding mother interest on a money judgment entered for father’s failure to transfer marital property to her pursuant to permanent orders. However, the court had authority to enforce its permanent orders and direct father to pay interest before it had issued its final judgment. But the court erred in determining when interest began to accrue on the wrongfully withheld funds.
Father also asserted that, in the district court’s money judgment order, the court amended its allocation of his retirement account without jurisdiction by requiring him to pay mother retirement funds rather than transferring the funds through a qualified domestic relations order. Even assuming that the court modified some aspect of its permanent orders, it was not deprived of jurisdiction to modify its allocation of these funds.
Father also argued that the district court erroneously found that he did not comply with the property division ruling when he wrongfully withheld funds from certain accounts, equating the court’s determination to a contempt finding and arguing that, without an evidentiary hearing, the court’s finding violated his due process rights. However, the court neither found father in contempt nor imposed a contempt sanction, so there was no error.
The portion of the district court’s judgment that awarded mother prejudgment interest was reversed and the case was remanded for further proceedings. The judgment was otherwise affirmed. Those portions of the judgment not challenged on appeal remain undisturbed.