Alimony & Spousal Support

Husband Is Entitled To Modification Of Alimony Due To A Reduction Of Income Through No Fault Of His Own

In the family law, alimony case of Gunter v. Koons, PICS No. 15-0239 (Pa. Super. Feb. 9, 2015) the Honorable Victor P. Stabile, writing on behalf of the Pennsylvania Superior Court, ruled that the trial court did not err in affirming modification of alimony on the basis of the master’s report where there was support in the record to find that appellee suffered a reduction in income through no fault of his own, which triggered modification under the parties’ agreement. The Order of the trial court affirmed.

Karen Koons a/k/a Karen Gunter, appealed from an order of the trial court denying her exceptions to a master’s report and Recommendation granting modification of alimony payments from her ex-husband, appellee F. Leslie Gunter.

After the parties’ separation, they entered into a counseled agreement that resolved their outstanding economic issues, providing that appellee would make monthly alimony payments of $2,084 to appellant until she reached 65, which payments could be modified in the event appellee, through no fault of his own suffered a reduction in earnings.

Appellee was terminated from his position as a senior technology engineer for deficient performance.  Appellee was earning an annual salary of $90,000. Appellee then successfully filed an unemployment compensation claim with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, which found that appellee was discharged without just cause. A month later, appellee secured another senior technology engineer position at an annual salary of $68,000 with possible bonuses.

After a hearing, the master found that appellee did not voluntarily lose employment to avoid support obligations, and suffered a decrease in income through no fault of his own. Per the parties’ agreement, the master used the applicable alimony formula, adding an additional $200 per month, to recommend a modification of alimony to $1,547.67; appellee would also pay 40 percent of any received bonuses, less 28 percent for taxes.

Appellant filed exceptions to the master’s report, arguing that modification of alimony was not permissible under the agreement because appellee was terminated for deficient performance, or through his own fault, whereas the agreement only permitted modification of alimony in the event appellee was fired through no fault of his own.

The trial court noted that the master considered the parties’ evidence, including the award of unemployment compensation, the witnesses’ testimony and credibility, documentary submission, and applicable law. The trial court noted that the master credited appellee’s testimony that his termination was due to economic circumstances at his company, and found that appellant provided no credible evidence to the contrary, except for a letter from appellee’s former employer and appellant’s speculation that appellee’s excessive golfing contributed to his termination.

The court ruled that the trial court committed no error in relying on the master’s report and recommendations, where there was sufficient evidence in the record to support the masters conclusions that appellee suffered a reduction in income through no fault of his own, and where the master properly applied the alimony calculation formula called for in the parties’ agreement to modify the alimony payments.

Reference: Digest of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly. 38 P.L.W. 182 (February 24, 2015).

Filed Under: Family Law; Alimony; Modification of Alimony; Reduction in Income; Termination of Employment for Deficient Performance

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