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Lafontaine v. Lafontaine

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

June 21, 2019

Christopher J. LaFontaine
v.
Yvonne D. LaFontaine

          Appeal from Lee Circuit Court (DR-16-900104)

          ON APPLICATION FOR REHEARING

          MOORE, JUDGE.

         This court's opinion of February 15, 2019, is withdrawn, and the following is substituted therefor. Christopher J. LaFontaine ("the former husband") appeals from a judgment entered by the Lee Circuit Court ("the trial court"), asserting that the judgment improperly modified an earlier judgment divorcing him from Yvonne D. LaFontaine ("the former wife"). We affirm the trial court's judgment.

         Procedural History

         The parties married on February 14, 2009, and separated on or about October 23, 2014. On March 29, 2016, the former wife filed a complaint in the trial court, seeking a divorce from the former husband; that case was assigned case number DR-16-900104. The former wife asserted, among other things, that she was entitled to reimbursement for certain expenditures made by her on behalf of the former husband during their marriage. Following ore tenus proceedings, the trial court entered a judgment on May 11, 2017 ("the divorce judgment"), divorcing the parties and providing, in pertinent part:

"The Court finds from the evidence that the parties entered into an agreement that during the marriage [the former wife] would remain employed by the U.S. Army and support the parties while the [former husband] went to school to finish his education, and thereafter the [former husband] would become and remain employed and support the parties while the [former wife] then separated from the U.S. Army and completed her education. The Court finds that the [former wife] upheld her end of the bargain and the [former husband] did not reciprocate. The evidence at trial established that the [former husband] only reported approximately $ 10, 000 in total income during two of the four and a half years

while the parties were married and living together. The Court finds that while employed full time and continuously, the [former wife], in addition to providing the overwhelming portion of monetary support for the parties, spent approximately $15, 000 during this time on [the former husband's] child-support obligations ($5, 400) and related child-visitation-travel expenses ($9, 500) for and on behalf of the [the former husband's] child by a prior relationship. The Court acknowledges that the [the former wife] benefitted from a portion of the money spent on travel, as she traveled on some of the trips. In addition, the Court finds that during the marriage, the [former wife] borrowed sums of money, approximately $54, 000, solely in her name, the loan proceeds for which were used to fund the parties' expenses while married. The Court finds that [the former husband] should reimburse the [former wife] half of those loan proceeds, the obligation for which remains outstanding. The Court finds that the [former husband] abandoned the marital home and over $10, 000 was paid by [the former wife] for the remainder of the lease payments on the marital home. The Court finds that the [former husband] should reimburse [the former wife] for half of those lease payments. There was evidence that [the former wife] expended approximately $1, 837 for private-investigator expenses in dealing with [the former husband's] custody battle with the mother of his child. The evidence revealed that after the separation, [the former husband] reneged on an agreement to pay half of an attorney fee ($275) for an attempt to resolve these divorce proceedings in an uncontested manner. Due to the foregoing, the Court finds that the [former wife] is due to be awarded a monetary property settlement from the [former husband]. As such, and taking the entirety of the evidence into consideration, the Court hereby Orders the [former husband] to pay to the [former wife] the sum of $45, 000, as a property settlement, and the Court hereby enters judgment for the [former wife] and against the [former husband] for the sum of $45, 000. This judgment shall be paid by [the former husband] at the rate of no less than $625 per month until paid in full."

         The former husband appealed the divorce judgment, but this court dismissed the appeal for lack of prosecution on August 10, 2017. See LaFontaine v. Triplett (No. 2160755, Aug. 10, 2017), 266 So.3d 36 (Ala. Civ. App. 2017) (table).[1]The former husband thereafter filed in the trial court a "Suggestion of the Pendency of Bankruptcy Proceedings Under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code," notifying the trial court that he had, in fact, filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection on February 9, 2018. None of the proceedings before the bankruptcy court appear in the record in this appeal.

         The former wife filed a motion for relief from the divorce judgment in a separate civil action that was assigned case number DR-16-900104.01.[2] The trial court held a hearing on the former wife's motion on July 25, 2018. At the outset of that hearing, the trial court informed the former husband:

          "[The former wife] has filed a motion asking that the judgment be amended to make the award of money to her that was issued in the divorce spousal support, or in Alabama we call it alimony in gross as opposed to property settlement. And so we're here to take testimony on that issue and then the court will rule one way or the other."

         The former wife testified that she had appeared in the bankruptcy proceedings as a creditor based on the divorce judgment. According to the former wife, during those proceedings, the bankruptcy judge told her that the former husband could discharge his debt to her because it was labeled as a "property settlement" instead of as "spousal support." The former wife testified that she had filed the motion for relief from the divorce judgment in order to prevent the $45, 000 award to her in the divorce judgment from being discharged in the bankruptcy proceedings.

         After receiving the testimony of the former wife, the trial court explained that it had jurisdiction to correct a clerical mistake in the divorce judgment if it determined that it had erroneously described the former husband's obligation to the former wife as a "property settlement." The trial court stated, in pertinent part:

"In looking at the -- looking back over the divorce [judgment], the court went into a long

discussion about the monetary support, your then wife provided to the two of you, and then it was with the understanding that at some point the tables would be turned and you would return some of that support and let her then pursue a college degree and the things that were brought up in the testimony. There is ample support in the order that the award -- that the sums discussed were support and as a matter of fact the word support was used several times. So -- so it does seem to be justified and ...


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