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In re Marriage of Randle

Court of Appeals of Oregon

May 30, 2019

In the Matter of the Marriage of Donna J. RANDLE, Petitioner-Respondent, and James K. RANDLE, Respondent-Appellant.

          Submitted December 1, 2017

          Linn County Circuit Court 15DR10225; Carol R. Bispham, Judge.

          George W. Kelly fled the briefs for appellant.

          Donna J. Randle fled the brief pro se.

          Before Ortega, Presiding Judge, and Egan, Chief Judge, and Powers, Judge.

         Case Summary: Husband appeals from a general judgment of dissolution of marriage and contends, among other arguments, that the trial court erred in concluding that the separation judgment had expired because the parties did not convert that separation judgment into a dissolution judgment within two years as described in ORS 107.465. Husband argues that the separation judgment, which explicitly provided that it was for an unlimited duration, was intended to be a complete and final distribution of the parties' property. Wife defends the trial court's understanding of ORS 107.465 and its congruent conclusion that the separation judgment expired. Held: The trial court erred in determining that the separation judgment had expired. Because the trial court found that it had expired, the court did not address what the parties intended the effect of the separation judgment to be on a later dissolution proceeding. The Court of Appeals vacated the property division and award of spousal support portions of the dissolution judgment and remanded the case to the trial court so that it may determine in the first instance what the parties intended.

         [297 Or.App. 792] POWERS, J.

         In this dissolution case, husband appeals from a general judgment of dissolution of marriage, challenging the trial court's division of property and award of spousal support. The issue in this case centers on whether a stipulated settlement that was reduced to a separation judgment automatically expires or ceases to have any legal effect if the parties do not trigger a dissolution proceeding within 24 months or two years of entry of the separation judgment.

         In a prior case, husband and wife negotiated a stipulated settlement that was later incorporated into a stipulated judgment of separation. Approximately four years later, wife filed a petition for dissolution and argued that, because the parties did not convert that separation judgment into a dissolution judgment within two years as described in ORS 107.465, the separation settlement had no effect on the court's dissolution determinations. Husband argued that the separation judgment, which explicitly provided that it was for an unlimited duration, was intended to be a complete and final distribution of the parties' property, that it never expired, and that no further spousal support was warranted. The trial court agreed with wife's argument and concluded that the stipulated separation judgment expired after 24 months. For the reasons explained below, we conclude that the trial court erred in concluding that the separation judgment had expired. Accordingly, we vacate and remand the property division and award of spousal support and otherwise affirm the dissolution judgment.

         Neither party has requested de novo review, and we decline to exercise our discretion to conduct such review in this case. See ORS 19.415(3)(b) (describing discretionary de novo review); ORAP 5.40(8)(c) (explaining that we exercise de novo review "only in exceptional cases"). Accordingly, we are bound by the trial court's factual findings if they are supported by any evidence in the record, and we review the court's legal conclusions for errors of law. Kirkpatrick and Kirkpatrick, 248 Or.App. 539, 541 n 1, 273 P.3d 361 (2012). We set out the facts below in a manner consistent with that standard.

         [297 Or.App. 793] In 2012, after seven years of marriage, husband filed a petition for dissolution of marriage. The parties, who were both represented by counsel, proceeded to a judicial settlement conference to negotiate a settlement. During the negotiations, the parties believed that wife had a terminal medical condition, that she would be unable to work or support herself, and that she would have to rely on social security benefits after the marriage was dissolved. The parties also believed that wife would have been eligible to draw on husband's social security benefits, which were far more significant than wife's benefits, if their marriage lasted for a minimum of ten years. As a result, instead of dissolving the marriage, the parties agreed to a separation settlement that, in addition to dividing their property, assets, and debts, provided for three years of spousal support payments to wife and further provided that the parties would wait three years before filing for dissolution as a way of ensuring wife's eligibility to draw on husband's benefits.

         At the conclusion of the settlement conference, the parties placed the stipulated settlement on the record. The trial court accepted and approved of the settlement and thereafter entered a stipulated general judgment of separation that incorporated the parties' settlement agreement. Notably, the separation judgment was unlimited in duration. The separation judgment, however, did not explicitly address what effect it should have at any future dissolution proceeding.

         In 2016, after the requisite three-year period had elapsed, wife filed a petition for dissolution. Wife acknowledged the prior separation judgment in her petition and sought to keep the property that she had been awarded. She also sought a redistribution of personal property and other marital assets as well as indefinite maintenance spousal support. Wife had learned that the parties were mistaken in their belief that wife would be eligible to draw on husband's social security benefits at the end of the three-year period. Although their marriage needed to last for a minimum of ten years, wife learned that she would not be eligible to draw on husband's benefits until he himself became eligible to draw on them, which was not until 2023.

         [297 Or.App. 794] At the time of the dissolution trial, wife was living in a mobile home, claimed $1, 278 in monthly expenses, and testified that she was receiving $661 a month from her own social security benefits and that she received some financial assistance from family and friends. Husband, who was working for a nuclear medicine company where he had been employed since 1997, had a gross monthly income of approximately $9, 600. His monthly expenses, including payment of martial debt, were $5, 588. During the ...


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