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Meehan v. Meehan

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

May 12, 2017

Ronald Meehan
Felicia Meehan Felicia Meehan
Ronald Meehan

         Appeals from Baldwin Circuit Court (DR-15-900131)

         On Application for Rehearing

          DONALDSON, Judge.

          This court's no-opinion order of affirmance issued on March 17, 2017, is withdrawn, and the following is substituted therefor. Ronald Meehan ("the husband") appeals from a judgment of the Baldwin Circuit Court ("the trial court") divorcing him from Felicia Meehan ("the wife"), awarding alimony, and dividing the parties' property. The wife cross-appeals, challenging the amount of the child-support award and the division of property. We affirm the judgment.

         Facts and Procedural History

         The husband and the wife met in Georgia in 1994 through their employment with a home-building company. In 1997, they became involved in a romantic relationship while the husband was still married to his second wife. On February 1, 2000, the parties' child, S.L.M. ("the child"), was born. In 2002, the husband divorced his second wife, and, in 2004, the parties began living together.

         In 2006, the wife and the child moved from Georgia to Baldwin County in anticipation of the child's starting school. The husband remained in Georgia with the intent to relocate to Baldwin County within the next year. The wife and the child lived in a house on lot 7, one of two lots ("lot 7 and lot 8") that the husband owned on Fort Morgan Road. On August 5, 2006, the parties were ceremonially married. According to the husband's testimony, he was forced to continue his employment in Georgia because of the recent economic crisis, and the husband believed that he would be unable to find new employment at 60 years old in the home-building industry. As a result, the husband continued to live in Georgia and traveled to Baldwin County to visit the wife and the child on the weekends.

         The child did not attend public school in Baldwin County, as the parties had planned, but attended different private schools in the area. From 2006 to 2011, the wife drove over 200 miles each day transporting the child from Fort Morgan to the child's school in Mobile. In 2011, the wife and the child moved to a house that the parties purchased in Daphne that was located closer to the child's school. The husband retired in May 2014 and began living full-time with the wife and the child in the house in Daphne.

         On February 3, 2015, the husband filed a complaint for a divorce in the trial court. The wife filed an answer and a counterclaim for a divorce in which she asserted, among other things, that the parties had been common-law married since 2004. Throughout the course of the proceedings, each party filed numerous motions that were addressed by the trial court before the trial.

         On March 17 and 18, 2016, the trial court held a trial. The husband was 67 years old and the wife was 50 years old at the time of the trial. At the beginning of the trial, the husband and the wife stipulated to a custodial and visitation arrangement wherein the wife would have sole physical custody of the child. The parties also agreed that two specified financial accounts would be used for the purpose of funding the child's private-high-school tuition and college tuition.

         The husband testified that, when the wife and the child moved to Baldwin County, the parties planned on the husband's retiring and the wife's finding employment. The husband testified that the wife never sought employment and refused to work outside the home. The husband testified that his income dropped significantly when he retired. The husband had earned $231, 328 in 2013, but, in 2014, his income was $65, 487. The husband testified that, about six months after he retired, he and the wife had a discussion about her spending habits and the need for her to obtain employment but that the wife refused to seek employment and instead told the husband to find employment. The husband testified that, although she transported the child to and from school, the wife would not perform housework, including laundry and cleaning the house. The husband also testified that the parties had not shared a bed since 2007 or 2008.

         The husband testified that, in July 2014, as part of his retirement planning, he created the Ronald Meehan Revocable Trust ("the trust") for the purpose of ensuring that all five of his children were taken care of after his death. The husband has four children from his previous marriages in addition to his child with the wife. The husband placed into the trust lot 7 and lot 8 and a financial account for his anticipated long-term-care expenses that the husband had accumulated before the parties' marriage. The long-term-care account had approximately $255, 000 in it at the time of the trial. The husband testified that he had used approximately $50, 000 from that account over the past year to pay taxes, insurance, and expenses for lot 7 and lot 8.

          The husband testified that his monthly income was approximately $4, 800, which consisted of a pension benefit, his Social Security benefit, and a Social Security benefit that he receives for the child until she reaches the age of 18.[1] The husband testified that he had not drawn any money from his retirement accounts since his retirement in May 2014 and that he wanted to wait as long as possible before drawing from his retirement accounts. The husband testified that he had a retirement account with an approximate balance of $337, 000 and another retirement account with an approximate balance of $538, 000. The husband testified that, when he begins to draw income from his retirement accounts, his monthly income will be between $5, 000 and $10, 000 per month. The husband testified that his monthly expenses ranged from $1, 500 to $1, 800. The husband testified that he could afford to pay alimony to the wife for a short period.

         The wife described her relationship with the husband as "being in prison." The wife testified that, on average since 2004, the husband had deposited $10, 000 per month in an account for the use of the wife and the child. The wife testified that the husband had always paid off credit-card account balances in full every month until June 2015. The wife testified that she and the husband had never had discussions about her obtaining employment and that he never restricted her spending.

         The wife testified that she had earned her general equivalency diploma or GED. She testified that her last employment was from 1994 to 2004 when she worked for a home-building company and earned $65, 000 annually. The wife testified that she had $43, 000 in a retirement account from that employment. The wife testified that, over the past few months before trial, she had sought employment at four or five different places without success.

         The wife testified that she would need at least $7, 000 each month in alimony. She testified that her basic monthly expenses were $4, 221 per month and that she needed an additional $2, 321 for other expenses, which included gas, prescriptions, cell-phone expenses, vehicle maintenance, insurance, clothing, shoes, etc. When asked how much she would be willing to contribute to her monthly expenses, the wife replied: "Depends on when I get a job and how much I make."

         On March 18, 2016, the trial court entered the following order: "MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT PURSUANT TO RULE 56 filed by MEEHAN FELICIA ANN was set this date. Testimony concluded. Following testimony, order issued with Attorney R. Powell to prepare order." On March 31, 2016, the husband filed what he described as a motion to alter, amend, or vacate the trial court's March 18, 2016, order in which he challenged the sufficiency of the evidence.

         On April 7, 2016, the trial court entered a final judgment. In the judgment, the trial court ordered, among other things:

"6. The husband shall pay to the wife $574/month in ongoing monthly child support until the child reaches the age of majority. ... A copy of the completed Child Support Guidelines has been submitted herewith for the Court's record. Under no circumstances shall the payment of this child support be dischargeable in bankruptcy.
"7. The husband shall be responsible for payment of the child's health insurance premiums until she reaches the age of majority, or until she is no longer insurable pursuant to the policy provisions, whichever is longer.
"8. The husband shall be responsible for 100% of the child's non-covered medical expenses, including any deductibles therefor, until the child reaches majority. The wife shall provide the husband with written documentation for any non-covered medical expenses within thirty (30) days after the date of said medical service. The husband shall reimburse the wife 100% of said non-covered medical expense within thirty (30) days thereafter.
"9. The parties shall make every reasonable effort to communicate about medical expenses for the child, and whenever possible, a joint decision shall be reached by the parties regarding [the child's] medical treatment(s) ahead of time. In the event the parties cannot agree, the non-covered medical expense for that treatment shall be split 50/50 and reimbursement shall follow the same procedure set forth above.
"10. Based on the evidence provided at trial, the Court finds that the effective date of the parties' marriage is the same date as their ceremonial marriage, to-wit: August 6, 2006. The court does not find any credible evidence that a Common Law marriage existed prior to the date of the ceremonial marriage.
"11. The Court will accept the parties' stipulation that the T. Rowe Price College tuition account created and intended for [the child's] college tuition shall be maintained and utilized solely for any and all tuition, room, board, fees, books, or other college expenses until it is exhausted. In the event that [the child] receives scholarships, or that the funds in the said college tuition account are not exhausted ...

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