Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Spousal support

In a recent case released by the Michigan Court of Appeals several Issues were reviewed: Divorce; Jurisdiction; MCR 7.202(6)(a)(I); Valuation of businesses, and spousal support. Here we will only talk about the spousal support.
Court: Michigan Court of Appeals (Unpublished),Case Name: Bussa v. Bussa,UNPUBLISHED, May 20, 2008, No. 272805,Kent Circuit Court,LC No. 02-003685-DO
e-Journal Number: 39414
Please not that the case has been modified for the purpose of media presentation. Please consult the original and talk to an attorney before you rely on it.
In this case the court also affirmed the trial court's award of spousal support to the plaintiff. Affirmed.
I. Facts and Procedural History
Husband and wife married in 1972. They had two children during their marriage. Although
their marriage had difficulties from an early period, wife did not file for divorce until 2002.
Because their children were adults by the time of the divorce, the primary issues at trial were the
proper valuation of husbands business interests and whether wife should be awarded
spousal support. The parties presented their proofs over 31 trial days from November 2003 to
January 2005.
The proofs established that, during the early years of the marriage, husband worked as a
driver for an oil distribution company. While working for the oil distribution company, he
partnered ...and purchased several gas stations. The business evaluation portion of the case used competing experts to establish the value of the business holding. This valuation was hotly contested but established that the husband had understated his income.
In its opinion, the trial court determined that both... appraisals had
significant flaws.... From this, the trial court found the total value of husbands interest in the four businesses to be $1,991,473. The trial court awarded the interests in
the businesses to husband. Because the total assets awarded to husband exceeded the assets
awarded to wife by $500,000, the court also awarded wife a note from husband in
the amount of $500,000. The trial court secured the note on husbands assets including his
business interests. The note was payable in 120 equal installments without interest to begin one
year after the entry of the judgment.
The trial court also concluded that husband had the ability to pay alimony. It noted that
he claimed to only make somewhat more than $70,000 per year, but determined that the evidence
revealed a substantially higher income. Indeed, the court cited his accountant’s testimony that
husband reported earnings in excess of $150,000 in both 2002 and 2003. In contrast, the trial
court found that wife’s actual income will be just over $1,000 per month. From this, the
trial court determined that wife would not have sufficient income—even when considering
potential income from her award of assets—to meet her needs. For that reason, the trial court
ordered husband to pay spousal support in the amount of $3,000 per month for the next three
years and $2,000 per month thereafter until wife turns 65.
Although the trial court set the spousal support for a specified period of time, it noted that the support order could be modified based on changed circumstances. Finally, the trial court also ordered husband to pay $70,200 of Ms. Bussa’s attorney fees based on Mr. Bussa’s unreasonable conduct during the course of the divorce proceedings.
The trial court entered its judgment of divorce on July 28, 2006.
This appeal followed.
IV. Spousal Support
Husband next argues that the trial court erred when it awarded wife spousal
support until age 65. Specifically, he contends that the trial court should have found that wifes were capable of producing income sufficient to meet her financial needs. We do
not agree that the trial court clearly erred when it determined that wife’s assets would not
be capable of producing income sufficient to meet her needs.
Trial courts have the discretion to make an award of spousal support. MCL 552.23;
Gates v Gates, 256 Mich App 420, 432; 664 NW2d 231 (2003). The primary objective of
spousal support "is to balance the incomes and needs of the parties in a way that will not
impoverish either party." Moore v Moore, 242 Mich App 652, 654; 619 NW2d 723 (2000).
This Court reviews a trial court’s findings of fact with regard to an award of spousal support for
clear error. Gates, supra at 432. "If the trial court’s findings are not clearly erroneous, this
Court must then decide whether the dispositional ruling was fair and equitable in light of the
facts." Moore, supra at 655.
And she should not be required to deplete her
assets in order to meet her immediate support needs. Hanaway v Hanaway, 208 Mich App 278,
296; 527 NW2d 792 (1995).

The trial court did not clearly err when it found that the assets awarded to Husband
would be insufficient to meet her financial needs. Beason, supra at 805. Further, we do not
agree with Mr. Bussa’s additional contentions that the trial court erred in failing to analyze Ms.
Bussa’s stipulated income, social security benefits, and "excess" temporary marital support. On
review of the record evidence, we conclude that the trial court properly awarded spousal support
and that the amount of the award was fair and equitable. Moore, supra at 655. Therefore, Mr.
Bussa has not established an error warranting relief from the trial court’s award of support.

V. Conclusion
And, because an award of spousal support was proper and the amount was