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Danielle K. Huffaker v. Jeffrey W. Huffaker

November 28, 2012

DANIELLE K. HUFFAKER, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
JEFFREY W. HUFFAKER, DEFENDANT AND APPELLEE.



APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SEVENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT PENNINGTON COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA THE HONORABLE THOMAS L. TRIMBLE Judge

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gilbertson, Chief Justice

in pt, rev in pt & rem-DG

CONSIDERED ON BRIEFS ON AUGUST 27, 2012

[¶1.] On November 17, 2011, Danielle Huffaker and Jeffrey Huffaker were granted a divorce on grounds of irreconcilable differences. The trial court awarded Danielle primary physical custody of the parties' three minor children and ordered Jeffrey to pay Danielle $1,310 per month as child support. The trial court also distributed the marital property and ordered the parties to pay their own attorney fees. Danielle appeals, arguing the trial court abused its discretion in failing to: (1) value the marital property before distributing it; (2) distribute the marital property equitably; (3) order child support arrearages from January 2010 to October 2011; and (4) award Danielle attorney fees.

FACTS

[¶2.] Danielle Huffaker and Jeffrey Huffaker were married in 1998. During their marriage, the parties had three children. Danielle was 33 years old and Jeffrey was 36 years old at the time of trial. When Danielle and Jeffrey were married, they were both employed by the Air Force. However, Danielle was eventually medically discharged from the military and was put on disability. At the time of trial, Danielle was retraining through the United States Department of Veterans Affairs to become an auto mechanic. Jeffrey remained employed by the Air Force.

[¶3.] In 2007, the parties separated and Danielle moved out of the marital home, which was located on the Air Force base. From 2007 to the time Danielle filed for divorce in July 2010, Danielle and the kids lived at the parties' home on the Air Force base intermittently. In August 2008, Jeffrey voluntarily began paying Danielle $1000 per month as child support. He continued making the voluntary $1000 payments until the trial court entered a child support order in November 2011.

[¶4.] Jeffrey was entitled to receive a 50 percent Air Force retirement pension. However, in 2008, he had the option to receive a $30,000 Career Status Bonus in exchange for his pension benefits being reduced from 50 percent to 40 percent. Without informing Danielle, Jeffrey elected to take the $30,000 Career Status Bonus. Jeffrey spent the entire $30,000 without Danielle's knowledge.

[¶5.] On November 17, 2011, the trial court granted the parties a divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. Danielle was awarded the 2005 BMW Mini Cooper, the 2009 Road Clipper trailer, the 1994 Pontiac Firebird, the 1982 Aljo Camper, the parties' Black Hills Federal Credit Union Joint Account, and the household goods and furnishings in her possession. She was also awarded the portion of Jeffrey's retirement which represented one-half of the fraction of their 165 months of marriage divided by Jeffrey's total months of qualifying service. In addition, the trial court ordered Danielle to pay the $8,000 loan on the 2005 BMW Mini Cooper and her $2,000 HSBC credit card debt.

[¶6.] The trial court awarded Jeffrey the 2006 Dodge Ram truck, the 2003 BMW Mini Cooper, his Wells Fargo bank account, the Certificate of Deposit, the Transamerica annuity, and the household goods, furnishings, tools, and equipment in his possession. Jeffrey was ordered to pay the $8,000 Chrysler Financial Dodge Ram truck loan, the Pioneer Lending 2003 Mini Cooper loan, and his HSBC/Best Buy credit card debt. The trial court acknowledged that the Pioneer Lending 2003 Mini Cooper loan and the HSBC/Best Buy credit card were already paid off, but it made no adjustment to the property distribution.

[¶7.] At trial, the parties disputed the value of the marital property.

However, in distributing the marital property and debts, the trial court did not place values on any of the property before distributing it. Based on Danielle's proposed property values, she received property valued at $14,510, less the $8,000 debt, resulting in a net equity of $6,510 (not including her HSBC credit card debt). In contrast, Jeffrey received property valued at $61,947, less the $8,000 debt, resulting in a net equity of $53,947.

[¶8.] Under Jeffrey's proposed property values, Danielle received $12,900 in total property, less debt of $8,000, leaving her with a net equity of $4,900. On the other hand, Jeffrey received property valued at $50,537, less debt of $8,000, resulting in him receiving a net equity of $42,537. Using either party's proposed property values, the trial court's division of the property resulted in approximately a 90/10 split, with Jeffrey receiving 90 percent of the property, and Danielle receiving 10 percent. The trial court did not award Danielle an equalization payment to address the disparity in property values, nor did it explain its rationale for making the disproportionate distribution.

[¶9.] With regard to the parties' assets subject to distribution by the trial court, Danielle argued she was entitled to receive property or money equal to a portion of Jeffrey's $30,000 Career Status Bonus. Danielle asserted Jeffrey spent $14,999 of the $30,000 Career Status Bonus to pay off a loan on the parties' van. She agreed that amount was marital debt. However, Danielle argued the remaining $15,001 was spent by Jeffrey to pay personal debts, not joint debts.

Therefore, Danielle argued the remaining amount was marital property that should have been equitably distributed by the trial court. The trial court found Jeffrey spent the money to pay off a loan on the van owned by the parties, to pay for orthodontia for the parties' daughter, and to pay for other marital debts. As a result, the trial court did not award either party money or property to account for the amount Danielle alleged should have been treated as marital property.

[ΒΆ10.] In its judgment and decree of divorce, the trial court awarded Danielle primary physical custody of the parties' three children. The parties stipulated that Jeffrey's child support payment would be $1,310 per month. Based on this figure, Danielle requested that the trial court order Jeffrey to pay arrearages of $310 per month from January 1, 2010, through October 2011, because Jeffrey previously had been paying only $1000 per month as child support. The trial court ordered Jeffrey to pay $1,310 per month as child support commencing on November 1, 2011. It did not order Jeffrey to pay Danielle's requested arrearages. Finally, the trial court denied Danielle's request for attorney fees of $7,208 and ordered each party ...


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