In the Matter of the Domestic Partnership of Kirsten Kari STAVELAND, Respondent on Review, and Michael Jon FISHER, Petitioner on Review.
and Submitted September 17, 2019
review from the Court of Appeals, (CC 16DR00887) (CA
W. Kelly, Eugene, argued the cause and fled the brief for
petitioner on review.
T. Scherzer, Portland, argued the cause and fled the brief
for respondent on review.
Walters, Chief Justice, and Balmer, Nakamoto, Flynn, Duncan,
and Nelson, Justices, and Landau, Senior Justice pro tempore.
action for dissolution of a nonmarital domestic partnership,
the parties dispute whether Staveland was entitled to 50
percent of the appreciated value of the house that the
parties resided in together during their partnership. The
trial court awarded Staveland 50 percent of the appreciated
value of the house, and the Court of Appeals affirmed on that
issue. Held: (1) A trial court's determination
of nonmarital property depends on the court's
determination of the express or implicit intent of the
parties; (2) appellate courts should review the trial
court's determination of such intent as a question of
decision of the Court of Appeals is affirmed on other
grounds. The general judgment of the circuit court is
reversed and remanded for recalculation of the division of
property; the supplemental judgment is vacated and remanded.
Or. 50]LANDAU, S.J.
case involves the dissolution of a domestic partnership. More
specifically, it involves how to distribute the appreciation
in the value of a home in which the parties to a domestic
partnership lived during their time together. The trial court
found that the parties intended to live as a married couple
and share in the appreciation of the home. The Court of
Appeals concluded that the trial court did not abuse its
discretion in coming to that conclusion. Staveland and
Fisher, 295 Or.App. 210, 433 P.3d 749 (2018). On review,
the parties dispute whether the Court of Appeals applied the
correct standard of review and whether that court correctly
concluded that the parties should share in the appreciation
in the home. We conclude that the Court of Appeals applied an
incorrect standard of review, but that it ultimately reached
the correct decision. We therefore affirm the decision of the
Court of Appeals.
following facts do not appear to be in dispute. Staveland and
Fisher met in April 2011. In June of that year, Fisher
purchased a house located on Dickinson Street, which the
parties refer to as the "Dickinson house." He
purchased the house for $467, 500. Staveland did not
contribute to the purchase, and Fisher held title to the
house in his name only.
weeks later, the parties moved into the Dickinson house. They
discussed sharing expenses. Fisher agreed to pay the
mortgage, property taxes, and homeowners' insurance,
while Staveland agreed to pay for "everything
else," including electric, gas, and water expenses, as
well as food. The parties also worked to improve the
Dickinson house, including painting rooms, tiling and
carpeting floors, and removing a wall between rooms. Both
parties performed labor. Staveland, for example, painted
walls and tiled floors. She also made most of the decisions
regarding the selection of furniture, color schemes, and the
arrangement of art. But Fisher paid for all of the materials.
parties otherwise kept their financial affairs separate.
Fisher, for instance, owned a number of investment accounts
when they moved in together. Staveland owned a home on
Ainsworth Street-known as the "Ainsworth [366 Or. 51]
house"-which she had purchased some five years earlier.
While she lived with Fisher, she rented out the Ainsworth
house and was solely responsible for the mortgage, taxes,
insurance, and collection of rent. She likewise was
responsible for the upkeep of that property, although, on a
few occasions, Fisher helped with some minor repairs.
exception was a joint Vanguard investment account. Even then,
though, the parties carefully tracked their respective
contributions to that account.
December 2011, Fisher proposed that the couple get married.
Staveland hesitated, because of what she understood from a
tax advisor would be negative financial consequences of a
marriage. Instead, the parties decided to hold a ceremony
that resembled a wedding but did not involve getting legally
married. They bought rings. They sent invitations to friends
and family for a ceremony that would occur at the Dickinson
house, which they referred to as "our house." They
exchanged vows before an officiant. They hired a professional
photographer and a band. And, after the ceremony, they told
at least some of their friends and acquaintances that they
March 2014, the parties had a son. Staveland assumed most of
the childcare duties. She also paid for direct childcare
expenses, such as clothes, diapers, food, and medical care.
Fisher sometimes provided childcare and occasionally
contributed to childcare expenses, writing a check to
fall of 2015, the parties began to discuss separating. Fisher
said that, if Staveland was not going to be his partner
anymore, she should start paying him rent. Instead, she and
their son moved out of the Dickinson house in December 2015.
then initiated this action for dissolution of a nonmarital
domestic partnership. Among other things, [366 Or. 52] she
asserted an interest in one half of the appreciation in value
of the Dickinson house during the period that the parties
beginning of trial, the parties advised the court that they
had entered into a stipulation as to the distribution of
their assets. Counsel for Staveland explained that,
"with the exception of appreciation in the home that the
parties lived in for four-and-a-half years [the Dickinson
home], * * * each party will receive free and clear of the
other party, indemnif[ied] * * * from any liabilities
thereon, all property that's presently in their own names
respectively." Counsel for Fisher agreed. The trial
court then questioned both parties to confirm that they
agreed with that stipulation.
remaining issues for trial were child custody and parenting
time, distribution of a few items of personal property, and
the distribution of the appreciation in the value of the
latter issue, Staveland offered the testimony of an appraiser
who testified that the Dickinson house was worth $635, 000 as
of October 19, 2016, which was near the date of trial. The
appraiser also testified that the house had appreciated 10.3
percent in the preceding year and that, when Staveland had
moved out some ten months earlier, the house might have been
worth between $584, 000 and $585, 000.
trial court awarded custody of the parties' son to
Staveland and provided parenting time for Fisher. It also
distributed the few items of personal property that the
parties had disputed. As to the Dickinson house, the trial
court began by noting that the relevant legal analysis was
set out in Beat v. Beat,282 Or. 115, 577 P.2d 507
(1978), in which this court had explained that the