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In re Marriage of Patterson

Court of Appeals of Oregon

July 25, 2018

In the Matter of the Marriage of Robert Earl PATTERSON, Petitioner-Appellant Cross-Respondent, and Holly Melissa PATTERSON, Respondent-Respondent Cross-Appellant.

          Submitted April 16, 2018

          Washington County Circuit Court C081264DRD Donald R. Letourneau, Judge.

          Philip F. Schuster, II, fled the briefs for appellant-cross-respondent.

          Laura Graser fled the brief for respondent-cross-appellant.

          Before Ortega, Presiding Judge, and Garrett, Judge, and Powers, Judge.

         Case Summary: Husband appeals supplemental judgments granting his motion to modify spousal support and awarding attorney fees and costs to wife. The trial court concluded that, because wife received an economic benefit from staying in her partner's house in Yachats, her use of that property constituted "a substantial change in economic circumstances," ORS 107.135(3)(a), justifying a $225 monthly reduction in wife's spousal support. The court nevertheless awarded attorney fees and costs to wife due to deficiencies in husband's case that had unnecessarily prolonged the modification proceedings. On appeal, husband contends that the court erred because the spousal support award should have been terminated or substantially reduced, while on cross-appeal, wife argues that the court erred in reducing the award at all. Held: The trial court erred in concluding that the benefit wife received from using the Yachats property constituted "a substantial change in economic circumstances" under ORS 107.135(3). However, the trial court did not err in awarding attorney fees and costs to wife.

         On cross-appeal, supplemental judgment modifying spousal support award reversed; on appeal, affirmed.

          [293 Or. 9] ORTEGA, P. J.

         Husband appeals supplemental judgments granting his motion to modify spousal support and awarding attorney fees and costs to wife. The trial court concluded that, because wife received an economic benefit from staying in partner's house in Yachats, her use of that property constituted "a substantial change in economic circumstance," ORS 107.135(3)(a), [1] justifying a $225 monthly reduction in wife's spousal support. However, the court awarded attorney fees and costs to wife due to deficiencies in husband's case that had unnecessarily prolonged the modification proceedings. On appeal, husband contends that the spousal award should have been terminated or substantially reduced, while on cross-appeal, wife argues that the court erred in reducing the award at all. Although we disagree with the trial court's conclusion that the benefit wife received from staying at the Yachats property constituted a "substantial change in economic circumstances," we agree, without further discussion, that the award of attorney fees to wife was appropriate. Accordingly, we reverse the supplemental judgment granting husband's motion to modify the spousal support award and affirm the award of attorney fees to wife.

         We decline to exercise our discretion to review the judgment de novo as husband requests, because he has not demonstrated that this is an "exceptional case" warranting such review. See ORS 19.415(3); ORAP 5.40(8)(c). Accordingly, we recount the facts "consistently with the trial court's express and implied findings, supplemented with uncontroverted information from the record." Tilson and Tilson, 260 Or.App. 427, 428, 317 P.3d 391 (2013) (internal quotation marks omitted).

          [293 Or. 10] The parties were married for 30 years. They divorced in 2008 and, as part of the dissolution judgment, the court awarded wife $3, 500 per month in indefinite maintenance spousal support. Wife's monthly income was $1, 400 per month while, in contrast, husband's monthly income was $13, 000. The parties stipulated that wife was "not being supported by any other person."

         Since dissolution, wife has been in a relationship with Stone. They were not married, but were committed to each other and were active in each other's lives. Stone owned two properties-one in Eugene and one in Yachats- and wife owned a town house in Arizona. At one point, wife moved in with Stone in Eugene and paid rent of $700 per month, but after she purchased the home in Arizona, she moved out, and they would travel back and forth to visit each other.

         During the year, wife and Stone spent at least five months at his property in Yachats. Stone maintained the property in Yachats with his own finances, and the only contributions by wife were for her personal day-to-day expenses while staying at the property. Stone and wife had no joint-ownership interests in any of their respective assets and intend to pass those interests to their respective children through inheritance.

         At the hearing on husband's motion to show cause, husband argued, among other things, that wife received an economic benefit of at least $2, 100 per month from staying at the Yachats property and that that benefit was a substantial change in economic circumstances requiring termination or modification of the spousal support award. He further argued that wife's living arrangement with Stone had substantially reduced her expenses. Wife conceded that she received a benefit from staying at the Yachats property, but when asked by the court if she could put a dollar value on that benefit, wife responded, "No, ...


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