Alimony & Spousal Support

Wife Is Entitled To Collect APL/Spousal Support Arrearages From Husband’s Estate

In the estate litigation, spousal support, family law case of Moser v. Renninger, PICS Case No. 15-0744 (Pa. Super. May 1, 2105) the Honorable Cheryl Lynn Allen, writing on behalf of the Pennsylvania Superior Court, ruled that despite husband’s death, wife was entitled to collect from  his estate arrearages resulting from an interim support order entered prior to his death, running from the date of wife’s petition to the date of husband’s death.  The Order of the trial court was affirmed.

The estate of Ronald Renninger, deceased husband to wife Betty Moser, appealed from an order of the trial court denying its exceptions to a master’s report that ordered the estate to pay spousal support to wife. Wife filed a complaint in support against husband; following an evidentiary hearing, the trial court determined that the parties were common law husband and wife and had been since June 1985, and entered an interim support order requiring husband to pay wife monthly support in the amount of $394.10 per month.

The court scheduled an evidentiary hearing for a final order. However, husband passed away prior to the hearing. The trial court terminated the interim support order immediately following husband’s death, and held a hearing to resolve the issue of spousal support. Defendant filed a petition to terminate/dismiss spousal support APL, contending that the parties’ divorce abated due to husband’s death and neither the divorce code nor the rules governing support order allowed for the establishment of a support order following a party’s death. Wife conceded that the obligation of support terminated upon husband’s death, but argued that she was entitled to arrearages for support from the date of her petition up to the date of husband’s death.

The trial court entered an order that wife could proceed for support as an arrearage-only case, but that the claim for APL abated on the date of husband’s death. A hearing was held to resolve the issues of: (1) whether husband had any additional income not previously considered; and, (2) whether there was an entitlement defense to spousal support. The master’s report concluded that defendant did not sufficiently establish a defense to spousal support by failing to demonstrate alleged indignities or desertion and that wife was entitled to support from the filing of her petition to the date of husband’s death.

On appeal, defendant argued that the failure to dismiss the support petition was an error of law. Defendant further argued that the evidence did not support wife’s entitlement to support, and that the master erred in calculating husband’s income. The court ruled that wife was entitled to continue her support, action to recover payments under the interim support order.

The court further rejected defendant’s claim that the trial court failed to consider testimony regarding the circumstances of the separation of the parties and allegations that wife attacked husband, including a PFA obtained by husband against wife, as defenses against husband’s obligation to pay support. The court found that the trial court did consider evidence presented by defendant to support its allegations, but concluded that defendant failed to prove wife’s indignities by clear and convincing evidence, concluding that defendant’s evidence, at best, established a troubled relationship between the parties.

Finally, the court rejected the estate’s argument that the master committed evidentiary errors in calculating husband’s income, specifically with respect to the inclusion of unemployment compensation payments received by husband. Although the court noted that the trial court concluded that a printout of an “OINC” screen was improperly admitted by the master since it was not an authenticated business record, the court found that other evidence existed to establish that husband did receive unemployment compensation, and it was therefore not error to accept the printout as “evidence” that husband received unemployment compensation. The court also rejected defendant’s allegation that the master improperly considered husband’s tax return, noting that husband did not include any unemployment compensation, although defendant conceded that husband did receive some compensation.

Reference: Digest of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly, 38 PLW 469 (May 26, 2015)

Reference: Spousal Support; Arrearages Accumulated Prior to death

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