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Ahrendt v. Chamberlain

Supreme Court of South Dakota

April 11, 2018

PERCY ALLAN AHRENDT, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
DIANE MUREE CHAMBERLAIN, Defendant and Appellant.

          CONSIDERED ON BRIEFS MARCH 19, 2018

          APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE FOURTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT LAWRENCE COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA THE HONORABLE MICHELLE K. COMER Judge

          TIMOTHY R. JOHNS of Johns & Kosel, Prof. LLC Lead, South Dakota Attorneys for appellant.

          DYLAN A. WILDE Spearfish, South Dakota Attorney for appellee.

          ZINTER, JUSTICE

         [¶1.] Husband and wife held most of their assets separately throughout an eighteen-year marriage. In granting the parties a divorce, the circuit court classified most of their assets as marital property and divided them equally. Wife appeals. We affirm on all but one clerical issue, which we remand for clarification.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2.] Percy Ahrendt and Diane Chamberlain were married in 1999. Diane and her son from a prior marriage moved into Percy's residence. During their first eight years, Diane worked various part-time jobs and made about $7, 885 a year in reported income. At that time, she was studying to obtain her securities licenses, and she paid approximately $250-$350 of the monthly marital expenses. Percy made about $37, 900 per year. He paid the remaining marital expenses, including the mortgage on the home and health insurance for Diane and her son. He also paid child and medical support for his two children from a prior marriage. The couple decided early on that they would maintain separate financial accounts and individually manage their money and assets.

         [¶3.] Diane eventually obtained her securities licenses, and in 2007, she founded a financial consulting business that allowed her to begin making significant monetary contributions to the marriage. Percy also obtained new employment at Peabody Energy Group, earning a good income. As a result of their respective employments, they began accumulating significant assets, consisting primarily of real estate, business interests, and retirement accounts.

         [¶4.] Although Diane and Percy were earning similar incomes, Percy continued to pay the entire mortgage on the home, and he continued to provide health insurance for Diane and her son. Diane paid other marital expenses. In 2012, the couple sold Percy's house and jointly purchased a new home. Of the $93, 644.18 in net proceeds, $81, 431.85 was used as a down payment on the new, jointly owned home. Thereafter, Percy paid approximately 70% of the new $2, 584.99 mortgage payment, and Diane paid approximately 30%.

         [¶5.] Percy and Diane separated in September 2014. Diane remained in the marital home and began paying the entire monthly mortgage payment. Percy paid his own expenses associated with his new apartment. Percy also continued to provide health insurance for Diane and her son (until he turned twenty-six in early 2016).

         [¶6.] Percy commenced this divorce action in June 2015. A two-day trial was held in June 2017 to divide property and debts.[1] The circuit court found that both parties made significant contributions to the acquisition of property, and the court classified most of their separately held assets as marital property. The court awarded Diane the marital home, her business, her five vehicles, her retirement account, and her financial accounts. Percy was awarded his new pickup, his large collection of sports cards and memorabilia, various pieces of personal property, his retirement accounts, and his financial accounts. The court required each party to be solely responsible for the debts associated with the respective assets awarded to them. Percy received net assets valued at $285, 804 ($332, 624 in assets less $46, 820 in liabilities). Diane received net assets valued at $719, 982.40 ($1, 020, 578.40 in assets less $300, 596 in liabilities). The court ruled that the $434, 178.40 difference in net assets was not equitable, and it ordered Diane to make a $217, 089.20 equalization payment.

         [¶7.] Diane appeals, raising the following issues:

1. Whether the circuit court abused its discretion in classifying separately held assets ...

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