Oct. 3, 2018
- The Court analyzed RSA 458:19 to determine the difference between temporary and permanent alimony. The Court also explained the correct standard of review of a request for renewal or extension of an alimony award. Finally, the Court considered whether the costs of extracurricular activities could justify a deviation from the child support guidelines.
The petitioner appealed the Circuit Court’s order reinstating an expired alimony obligation and granting the respondent’s request for an increase in child support payments. At the time of the parties’ divorce, the Circuit Court awarded the respondent child support and eighteen months of alimony. About six years later, the petitioner filed a motion seeking a reduction in child support. The respondent, in turn, requested for alimony to be reinstated and an increase in the amount of child support.
After a hearing, the trial court made a number of factual findings. Two of the parties’ three children were over the age of 18, but the oldest withdrew from college and moved in with the respondent due to a severe medical condition. The respondent was paying for the middle child to attend college, and that child resided with the respondent when not in school. The youngest child was in high school and primarily resided with the respondent. The respondent was solely paying for the youngest child’s extracurricular activities, for which there were significant costs.
The petitioner appealed the trial court’s findings, including: (1) that it was possible to reinstate alimony because the original award was permanent alimony for a set period of time rather than temporary; (2) awarding the respondent an additional 12 months of alimony due to a lack of sufficient income and the cost of caring for three children, including adults; and (3) awarding an increase of the petitioner’s child support obligation to the youngest child due to the cost of extracurricular activities.
Pursuant to RSA 458:19, if the alimony award was temporary, the request to resume payments would be untimely because more than five years had passed from the divorce decree. If the alimony was permanent, the statute permitted a request for additional support to be made within five years of the expiration of the original award, and the request would be timely in this case. The original divorce decree referred to the alimony as temporary. At the time of the divorce decree, there was no definition of temporary or permanent in the statute. The trial court determined that because the alimony was awarded as part of the final divorce decree, rather than temporary orders, it was permanent alimony for a limited term. The Supreme Court agreed.
The petitioner also argued that there was insufficient evidence that the respondent experienced a significant change circumstances to justify the award of additional alimony, and he argued that it was inappropriate to consider the cost of caring for adult children. The Supreme Court explained that while it was necessary to show a significant change of circumstances when seeking to modify an alimony award, when seeking to renew or extend an expired award, the correct standard is whether the party to be favored has established that justice requires the renewal or extension in light of all of the circumstances then existing. The factors to be considered were not limited to those set forth in the statute, so the trial court properly considered the financial impact of caring for the adult children. It was not an unreasonable exercise of discretion to renew the alimony award.
Finally, the Court found that although extracurricular activity expenses are included in the child support guidelines, extraordinary expenses, such as the ones in this case, could be considered as a special circumstance to justify a deviation. The petitioner also took issue with a financial affidavit submitted by the respondent, but because he failed to provide a copy on appeal, the Court did not consider those arguments.
Steven Hoyt, self-represented, by brief. Lesley Hoyt, self-represented, by brief.