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Wiedel v. Wiedel

Supreme Court of Nebraska

May 18, 2018

Jeanne E. Wiedel, appellee,
Mark E. Wiedel, appellant.

          1. Divorce: Child Custody: Child Support: Property Division: Alimony: Attorney Fees: Appeal and Error. In a marital dissolution action, an appellate court reviews the case de novo on the record to determine whether there has been an abuse of discretion by the trial judge. This standard of review applies to the trial court's determinations regarding custody, child support, division of property, alimony, and attorney fees.

         2. Divorce: Property Division: Alimony. In dividing property and considering alimony upon a dissolution of marriage, a court should consider four factors: (1) the circumstances of the parties, (2) the duration of the marriage, (3) the history of contributions to the marriage, and (4) the ability of the supported party to engage in gainful employment without interfering with the interests of any minor children in the custody of each party. In addition, a court should consider the income and earning capacity of each party and the general equities of the situation.

         3. Alimony. The purpose of alimony is to provide for the continued maintenance or support of one party by the other when the relative economic circumstances make it appropriate.

         4. Alimony: Appeal and Error. In reviewing an alimony award, an appellate court does not determine whether it would have awarded the same amount of alimony as did the trial court, but whether the trial court's award is untenable such as to deprive a party of a substantial right or just result. The ultimate criterion is one of reasonableness.

         5. __:__. An appellate court is not inclined to disturb the trial court's award of alimony unless it is patently unfair on the record. 6. Alimony: Child Support. A party's alimony obligation is to be set according to the income he or she has available after his or her child support obligations, if any, have been accounted for.

         [300 Neb. 14] 7. Alimony: Rules of the Supreme Court: Presumptions. An alimony award which drives the obligor's net monthly income below the basic subsistence limitation set forth in the Nebraska Child Support Guidelines is presumptively an abuse of discretion unless the court specifically finds that conformity with the basic subsistence limitation would work an unjust or inappropriate result in that case.

         8. Child Support. When determining whether the payment of certain childcare expenses will reduce the obligor's net income below the basic subsistence limitation, a court is not to consider costs that are entirely speculative.

         9. Alimony. Alimony is not a tool to equalize the parties' income, but a disparity of income or potential income might partially justify an alimony award.

         10. __ . The primary purpose of alimony is to assist an ex-spouse for a period of time necessary for that individual to secure his or her own means of support. Above all else, the duration of an alimony award must be reasonable.

          Appeal from the District Court for Thayer County: Vicky L. Johnson, Judge. Affirmed.

          Joseph H. Murray, P.C., L.L.O., of Germer, Murray & Johnson, for appellant.

          Sheri Burkholder, of McHenry, Haszard, Roth, Hupp, Burkholder & Blomenberg, PC, L.L.O., for appellee.

          Heavican, C.J., Miller-Lerman, Cassel, and Stacy, JJ., and Moore, Chief Judge, and Arterburn, Judge, and Doyle, District Judge.

          Stacy, J.

         Mark E. Wiedel appeals from a decree of dissolution, assigning error to the amount and duration of the alimony award. Finding no abuse of discretion, we affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Mark and Jeanne E. Wiedel were married in April 2000 and divorced in March 2017. They have three children, triplets, [300 Neb. 15] born in 2004. When the parties separated in October 2014. Mark, who farms land in Nebraska and Kansas, remained in the marital home in Hubbell, Nebraska. Jeanne, who works at a health clinic in nearby Hebron, Nebraska, moved to an apartment in Hebron. Throughout their separation, the parties voluntarily followed a shared parenting time schedule.

         In August 2015, Jeanne filed a complaint for dissolution of marriage in the Thayer County District Court. Pursuant to temporary orders, Mark and Jeanne shared temporary joint legal and physical custody of their children, and followed a "week-on-week-off" parenting schedule. Mark was ordered to pay temporary child support of $768 per month and temporary alimony of $2, 500 per month.

         Shortly before trial, the parties executed a property settlement agreement (PSA) that addressed the division of their assets and debts. They also executed a custody agreement and parenting plan providing for joint legal and physical custody of the children, with a week-on-week-off parenting time schedule.

         The parties could not reach agreement on the issues of child support, allocation of child tax credits, or alimony. In January 2017, trial was held on these contested issues. Mark and Jeanne were the only witnesses.

         1. Trial At the outset of trial, the parties offered into evidence the PSA and the parenting plan. Both parties testified the parenting plan was in the best interests of the children and asked the court to approve it. Similarly, both parties testified the PSA was fair and reasonable, and they asked the court to approve it and incorporate it into the decree. Summarized, the PSA provided that each party should be awarded all bank accounts, stocks, bonds, and retirement accounts in his or her name. Additionally, Mark was to be awarded:

• The marital residence;
•All farmland owned by the parties in Nebraska and Kansas;
[300 Neb. 16] •All rights, title, and interest in the farming operations of Wiedel Brothers, LLC, and another limited liability company;
• All grain, growing crops, machinery, equipment, and property related to the farming operation; and
• Three vehicles-a 2015 GMC Sierra pickup, a 2001 Grand Prix, and a 1988 Kawasaki motorcycle.

         In addition, Mark agreed to pay all debts in his name and all debts incurred by the parties during the course of the marriage, except Jeanne's student loan and her Discover credit card debt.

         Under the PSA, Jeanne ...

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