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In re Domestic Partnership of Joling

Court of Appeals of Oregon

May 15, 2019

In the Matter of the Domestic Partnership of Ronald Dean JOLING, Jr., Petitioner-Appellant, and Jackie Diane JOLING, Respondent-Respondent.

          Argued and submitted November 16, 2018

          Josephine County Circuit Court 15DR14381; Pat Wolke, Judge.

          George W. Kelly argued the cause and fled the briefs for appellant.

          Margaret H. Leek Leiberan argued the cause for respondent. Also on the brief was Jensen & Leiberan.

          Before Armstrong, Presiding Judge, and Tookey, Judge, and Shorr, Judge.

         Case Summary:

         Petitioner appeals from a judgment that dissolved petitioner's domestic relationship with respondent. The trial court ruled in favor of respondent on her breach of contract counterclaim, finding that, when petitioner stopped providing respondent with financial support, he breached a contract that was formed by the parties' wedding vows and their conduct over the course of the relationship. As damages for that breach, the trial court awarded the parties' primary asset, their previously shared home, almost entirely to respondent. Petitioner assigns error to the trial court's ultimate division of the parties' real property, arguing among other things, that the division of property should have been governed by the principles set forth in Beal and Beal, 282 Or. 115, 577 P.2d 507 (1978). Respondent concedes that Beal controls the division of property and argues that, applying those principles, the trial court's ultimate division of assets was proper. Held: The division of the parties' assets in this dissolution of a non-marital domestic relationship should have been determined based on the express or implied intent of the parties, as set forth in Beal. Because the evidence does not support a reasonable inference that the parties intended that respondent would [297 Or.App. 569] receive nearly the entirety of the home in a property division, the trial court abused its discretion by awarding the parties' home to respondent.

         Portion of general judgment relating to real property division reversed and remanded; otherwise affrmed.

         [297 Or.App. 570] SHORR, J.

         Petitioner appeals from a judgment that dissolved petitioner's domestic relationship with respondent. Among other things, the judgment divided the parties' property and awarded their primary asset, their previously shared home, entirely to respondent (less some set offs that are not in dispute before us). Because the evidence does not support a reasonable inference that the parties intended that respondent would receive the entirety of the home in a property division, we conclude that the trial court abused its discretion and reverse and remand for the trial court to reconsider the division of the parties' real property.

         We first address our standard of review. Because an action to dissolve a domestic partnership is an equitable proceeding, Branam and Beaver, 225 Or.App. 630, 634, 202 P.3d 886 (2009), we have discretion to review the facts and record de novo. ORS 19.415(3)(b). However, petitioner has not sought de novo review, and this is not the type of exceptional case where we would exercise our discretion to engage in such a review. Staveland and Fisher, 295 Or.App. 210, 212, 433 P.3d 749 (2018), rev allowed, 364 Or. 723 (2019); see also ORAP 5.40(8)(c) (stating that we will exercise our discretion to review de novo "only in exceptional cases"). "Consequently, we are bound by the trial court's express and implicit factual findings if they are supported by any evidence in the record." Staveland, 295 Or.App. at 212 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). We review a trial court's division of property in the dissolution of a nonmarital domestic relationship for an abuse of discretion. Id. at 218.

         Petitioner and respondent participated in a religious wedding ceremony in California in 1993. The parties, however, decided not to obtain a California wedding license. Petitioner's father, a self-ordained minister who performed the marriage ceremony, told respondent that a marriage license was unnecessary because "marriage is between God and the couple" and incorrectly informed her that she and petitioner would be legally married in any event because Oregon had common-law marriage.

         During the ceremony, the couple exchanged vows and signed a covenant. Petitioner vowed that he would "love, [297 Or.App. 571] honor, and care for" respondent. In return, respondent vowed that she would "love, honor, and obey" petitioner. The parties also exchanged traditional vows that they would "take" each other as "wedded husband" and "wedded wife," "to have and hold from this day forward. For better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish 'til death do us part." The written marriage covenant stated that "Groom [petitioner], and Bride [respondent] before God and witnesses were united in Holy Matrimony." The covenant was signed by petitioner, respondent, the minister, and 10 witnesses.

         For 21 years following that ceremony, petitioner and respondent presented themselves to their community as a married couple. They cohabitated, had three children (only one of whom was still a minor at the time of dissolution), and listed their tax status as married when preparing their tax forms, which were sometimes filed jointly and sometimes separately.

         For the duration of their partnership, the parties divided duties of work and family life. Petitioner worked outside the home as a general contractor. Respondent maintained the parties' home, raised the children, and, for a time, homeschooled them. Respondent testified that her work at home included cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, gardening, and helping to build the family home. She did "everything" when it came to household chores. In doing so, she sacrificed opportunities for further education or to obtain other job skills. Respondent also held various jobs outside the home to supplement the family income, including working at an auto parts store, as a secretary and data entry clerk, and as a teacher's assistant. The parties maintained that general arrangement for 21 years.

         With regard to the parties' family home, petitioner had saved approximately $50, 000 prior to the marriage ceremony, and, of that amount, he used $24, 000 as a down payment for the property on which they would later build the home. Petitioner also invested approximately $25, 000 for supplies to build a barn on the property. Petitioner built the family home on the property, and respondent worked alongside petitioner in that effort. The couple also titled the deed [297 Or.App. 572] to their home ...


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