In the Matter of the Marriage of Shondalae BENSON, Petitioner-Respondent, and Phillip BENSON, Respondent-Appellant.
and submitted August 18, 2016
County Circuit Court 151309273; Mustafa T. Kasubhai, Judge.
W. Kelly argued the cause and fled the brief for appellant.
Ortega, Presiding Judge, and Egan, Judge, and Lagesen, Judge.
Summary: Husband again appeals the decision of the trial
court distributing the value of the home shared by the
parties during their marriage, following a remand from the
Court of Appeals in Benson and Benson, 263 Or.App.
554, 328 P.3d 819 (2014) (Benson I). Held:
The trial court erred by not differentiating between the
portion of the home's value that was attributable to
husband's premarital assets and that which was
attributable to appreciation or improvements, as the Court of
Appeals had directed in Benson I. The Court of
Appeals reviewed the case de novo, determining it
qualified as an "exceptional" case under ORAP
5.40(8)(c), due to concerns of judicial economy and the need
to provide a final resolution to the parties uniquely present
in the case.
Or. 620] LAGESEN, J.
dissolution case is before us for a second time following our
remand in Benson and Benson, 263 Or.App. 554, 328
P.3d 819 (2014). As it was in the first appeal, the issue is
the proper distribution of the value of the house in which
the parties lived during their four-year marriage. Husband
purchased the house with his own separate funds and held
title in his name alone. The parties agreed that the value of
the house at the time of dissolution was $220, 000.
Initially, the trial court awarded wife a quarter of that
value in the form of an equalizing judgment for $55, 000.
Id. at 556. Husband appealed, contending that the
trial court, in awarding that amount, erroneously "did
not evaluate the proper disposition of the house under the
framework that applies where, as here, a party seeks to rebut
the statutory presumption that both parties contributed
equally to the acquisition of an asset acquired during the
course of a marriage." Id. We agreed, and
remanded for the trial court to apply the correct legal
framework. We explained the trial court's task on remand
"Assessing whether husband has rebutted the presumption
of equal contribution will require the trial court to
differentiate between that portion of the home's value at
the time of dissolution that is traceable to husband's
premarital assets, and that portion that is attributable to
appreciation or improvements to the property made after the
acquisition of the property. That will require the court to
make findings regarding what husband paid for the disputed
property and the extent to which the value of the property
increased during the parties' marriage as a result of
appreciation or improvements that are properly attributable
to either party."
Id. at 558-59 (internal citations omitted).
remand, the trial court held a hearing at which the parties
developed additional evidence regarding their respective
contributions to the house. Husband maintained that the house
should be treated as a separate asset and the entirety of its
value awarded to him. In support of his position, husband
pointed to the facts that the house had been purchased using
funds from the sale of a home that husband owned separately
before the marriage without [288 Or. 621] contribution from
wife; that the property was titled in husband's name only
and husband paid all of the property taxes and the
homeowner's insurance on it from his own funds; that the
marriage was short (four years) and the parties had no
children together; and that the parties largely kept their
finances separate. Wife's position was that the trial
court's initial award of a quarter of the value of the
house was the proper one. Wife did not dispute that husband
had paid for the house, property taxes, and insurance, or
that the parties largely maintained separate finances.
However, she presented evidence of work that she had done on
the house and the yard to improve it, as well as evidence of
things she had done to make the lives of husband and his son
better during the course of the marriage. Based on that
evidence, wife contended that the trial court's initial
award to her of a quarter of the house's value remained
the just and proper allocation.
trial court, after taking the matter under advisement,
determined that wife should be awarded half the value of the
house or $110, 000, twice the court's initial award. In
reaching that conclusion, the court determined that husband
had rebutted the presumption of equal contribution. However,
the court concluded that wife's "sweat equity"
warranted an award of half of the value of the house,
although, as the court acknowledged, "not all of
[wife's] efforts were met with apparent success, "
in terms of adding value to the house. The court then entered
a supplemental judgment vacating the prior $55, 000
equalizing judgment and entering a $110, 000 equalizing
reaching its conclusion, the court did not, as we had
directed, differentiate between the portion of the home's
value that was attributable to husband's premarital
assets, and that which was attributable to appreciation or
improvements. The court, thus, did not assess how to allocate
those separate portions of the house's value as required
under Timm and Timm, 200 Or.App. 621, 629, 117 P.3d
301 (2005). Benson, 263 Or.App. at 559.
has appealed again. He argues that the trial court did not
conduct the inquiry on remand that we directed and urges us
to decide the case de novo to avert [288 Or. 622]
another remand. He further argues that the trial court's
decision should be set aside for a number of reasons,
including that neither party had ever suggested that half the
value of the house would be a just and proper ...