Alimony & Spousal Support


Denial of permanent alimony properly denied where wife filed incredible monthly budget that exceeded her monthly income and husband credibly testified as to the parties’ standard of living during the marriage.

Wife Debora Cook appealed from the order establishing the equitable distribution of marital assets in the divorce action filed by husband Ronald Cook. Husband cross-moved to dismiss issues raised by wife in her statement of issues that she failed to address in her appellate brief. Husband filed a divorce complaint in February 2013, with wife filing an answer and counterclaim. The parties entered a consent order, in which husband agreed to pay wife alimony pendente lite.

Following the master’s report, the trial court valued the marital estate at $638,567, and awarded wife 55 percent and husband 45 percent. The trial court also distributed the relatively small amount of the parties’ marital debt and denied husband’s motions to terminate alimony pendente lite. On appeal, wife argued that the trial court erred by denying alimony or modification of alimony pendente lite, awarding her only 50 percent of the proceeds of the sale of the marital home and 55 percent of the marital estate, and denying her claim for counsel fees while awarding husband counsel fees.

The court first affirmed the denial of permanent alimony to wife. The court noted that the master and the trial court did not find wife’s budget credible as it exceeded her salary and alimony pendente lite. The court further noted that the master and the trial court credited husband’s testimony concerning the parties’ standard of living. However, the court reversed the denial of wife’s motion to modify the alimony pendente lite, finding that the master and trial court erred in relying upon only five months of pay stubs for husband’s income and four months of paystubs for wife’s income, as opposed to the minimum of six months of income statements. The court remanded for a proper calculation of the parties’ incomes. The court rejected wife’s arguments concerning the trial court’s failure to consider mortgage deviation and unreimbursed medical expenses, as wife failed to present the issue to the trial court or address it in her appellate brief.

The court rejected wife’s challenge to the equitable distribution. Although wife argued that she was entitled to a greater share of the marital estate as she had taken off work to care for the parties’ child and consequently had fewer retirement savings than husband, the court ruled that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in accounting for the financial difference between the parties by awarding wife 55 percent of the marital estate rather than the 60 percent sought by wife.

Lastly, the court rejected wife’s challenge to the trial court’s rulings on counsel fee awards. The court first ruled that wife had failed to preserve her argument concerning the denial of her request for counsel fees, as her challenge solely concerned the award of counsel fees to husband. The court affirmed the award of counsel fees to husband, finding that he properly requested an award, and that the master exercised its discretion to award fees for wife’s dilatory conduct during the sale of the marital residence.

Reference: Digest of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly, 41 PLW 485, (Tuesday, May 22, 2018), Cook v. Cook, PICS Case No. 18-0608 (Pa. Super. May 4, 2018)

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