Appeal from the District Court of Burleigh County, South Central Judicial District, the Honorable Bruce A. Romanick, Judge.
Carey A. Goetz, Bismarck, N.D., for plaintiff and appellant; submitted on brief.
Sherry Mills Moore, Bismarck, N.D., for defendant and appellee.
Lisa Fair McEvers, Daniel J. Crothers, Carol Ronning Kapsner, Gerald W. VandeWalle, C.J., Dale V. Sandstrom. Opinion of the Court by McEvers, Justice. Sandstrom, Justice, dissenting.
Lisa Fair McEvers, Justice.
[¶1] Mary Ann Klein appeals from a divorce judgment entered after trial awarding spousal support and child support. We conclude the district court did not clearly err in its award of spousal support to Mary Ann Klein, but conclude the court erred in calculating Wesley Klein's income for child support purposes. We therefore affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings.
[¶2] In 2012, Mary Ann Klein commenced this action for divorce. Wesley Klein and Mary Ann Klein were married for 31 years and have nine children together, three of whom were still minors. Mary Ann Klein was 52 and Wesley Klein was 53 years of age at the time of the divorce proceedings.
[¶3] Although Mary Ann Klein has a nursing degree, she had primarily stayed at home to care for the children and had recently begun working as a teaching assistant. Wesley Klein has a business degree and is employed with Basin Electric Power at one of its power plants. Wesley Klein also receives income estimated at $24,000 for 2013 from serving on the Farm Bureau board, the Nodak Mutual board, and the Mercer County zoning board. The parties have been ranching since about 2000 or 2001 and before that always had horses on the homestead. The district court found the cattle operation has shown a loss for four of the last five years.
[¶4] Before trial, the parties settled all property and parenting issues, reserving issues of spousal support and child support for trial. In July 2014, the district court held a trial on the remaining issues. In October 2014, the court issued its findings of fact, conclusions of law, and an order for judgment, and a divorce judgment was subsequently entered. The court ordered Wesley Klein to pay Mary Ann Klein spousal support of $500 a month for 24 months or until she dies or remarries, and ordered Wesley Klein to pay child support of $682 per month.
[¶5] Mary Ann Klein argues the district court erred in calculating Wesley Klein's income for purposes of establishing both spousal support and child support. Mary Ann Klein appears to combine the income calculations for both spousal support and child support. We have, however, specifically addressed whether child support and spousal support income determinations must be equal:
To determine a child support obligation the court must apply the child support guidelines to calculate the obligor's net income. Halberg [v. Halberg], 2010 ND 20, ¶ 10, 777 N.W.2d 872.
In deciding whether to award spousal support, the court considers the Ruff-Fischer factors, which include the parties' earning ability and the needs of the spouse seeking support and the ability of the other spouse to pay. Duff [v. Kearns-Duff], 2010 ND 247, ¶ 14, 792 N.W.2d 916. Under those authorities, a party's earning ability will not necessarily be the same as the party's net income under the child support guidelines.
Conzemius v. Conzemius, 2014 ND 5, ¶ 41, 841 N.W.2d 716 (quoting Becker v. Becker, 2011 ND 107, ¶ 15, 799 N.W.2d 53). Because income determinations for child support and spousal support require separate analyses, we will address Mary Ann Klein's arguments regarding spousal support and child support separately.
[¶6] Mary Ann Klein argues the district court erred in its award of spousal support to her.
[¶7] Under N.D.C.C. § 14-05-24.1, the district court " may require one party to pay spousal support to the other party for any period of time." This Court has disposed of the disadvantaged spouse doctrine in determining spousal support and reemphasized " the importance of a comprehensive analysis under the Ruff-Fischer guidelines." Mertz v. Mertz,2015 ND 13, ¶ 9, 858 N.W.2d 292 (quoting Sack v. Sack,2006 ND 57, ¶ 12, 711 N.W.2d 157); see Ruff v. Ruff,78 N.D. 775, 52 N.W.2d 107 (1952); Fischer v. Fischer,139 N.W.2d 845 (N.D. 1966). In deciding whether to ...