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Stock v. Stock

Supreme Court of North Dakota

January 6, 2016

Tiffany Kay Stock, Plaintiff and Appellee
Robert Brandon Stock, Defendant and Appellant

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Appeal from the District Court of Cass County, East Central Judicial District, the Honorable Douglas L. Mattson, Judge.

Michael L. Gjesdahl, Fargo, ND, for plaintiff and appellee.

Monte L. Rogneby (argued), Bismarck, ND, for defendant and appellant.

Robert B. Stock (on brief), Fargo, ND, defendant and appellant.

Gerald W. VandeWalle, C.J., Daniel J. Crothers, Benny A. Graff, S.J., Daniel D. Narum, D.J. The Honorable Daniel D. Narum, D.J., and the Honorable Benny A. Graff, S.J., sitting in place of Kapsner, J., and McEvers, J., disqualified.


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Gerald W. VandeWalle, Chief Justice.

[¶1] Robert Stock appealed a judgment awarding Tiffany Stock permanent spousal support and attorney's fees. We affirm and remand to determine whether attorney's fees are warranted for this appeal.


[¶2] Robert and Tiffany Stock married in 2000. The parties were romantically involved six years prior to the marriage, resulting in the birth of a child, who has reached the age of majority. The parties have since had another child, who remains a minor. Throughout their relationship, Tiffany Stock moved multiple times so Robert Stock could complete his undergraduate and legal studies. After he finished law school, the parties moved to Fargo, where Robert Stock began and developed a thriving legal career.

[¶3] While Robert Stock started his legal career, Tiffany Stock received an associate's degree in administrative assistance. During the marriage, she worked a number of jobs in addition to caring for the parties' children. At the time of the divorce, Tiffany Stock was employed at two jobs in retail and sales. On this record, Tiffany Stock is bright, young, healthy, and capable of training for any career she may desire.

[¶4] The parties separated in October 2011, reconciled shortly thereafter, and permanently separated in January 2012, with Tiffany Stock filing for divorce in January 2013. After trial, the court awarded Tiffany Stock residential responsibility for the minor child. The court ordered Robert Stock to pay $2,102 per

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month in child support, which is not in dispute.

[¶5] Despite having significant income, the parties have lived outside their means for most, if not all, of their marriage. This state of living caused the parties to incur a great deal of debt. The district court used the Ruff-Fischer guidelines to divide the parties' assets and debts, which is not at issue on appeal. The court determined the gross value of the marital estate to be $233,543, with debts totaling $194,443. After deducting $10,000 because of economic waste caused by Robert Stock's conduct, the parties had an adjusted gross marital debt of $184,443, resulting in a net marital estate of $49,110. After the court divided the parties' assets and debts, and ordered Robert Stock to make a one-time payment, Robert and Tiffany Stock left the marriage with $22,817 and $26,293 in net assets, respectively.

[¶6] In addition, Tiffany Stock requested spousal support. Under the Ruff-Fischer guidelines, the court found Tiffany Stock should be awarded permanent spousal support. The court noted Tiffany Stock's income is significantly less than that of Robert Stock and no realistic possibility exists for her earnings to approach his, even after additional training. The court also recognized Tiffany Stock supported Robert Stock's legal career by moving multiple times and caring for the parties' children while he worked long law firm hours. By foregoing employment opportunities to do so, the court concluded Tiffany Stock was disadvantaged in the job market. With her limited current earning capacity, the court concluded Tiffany Stock demonstrated need for support. The court also concluded Robert Stock had the ability to pay support because he is in the early stages of a successful legal career with an income dwarfing that of Tiffany Stock. The court awarded Tiffany Stock spousal support of $3,000 per month until Robert Stock's child support obligation ended. At that time, the support award would increase to $5,500 per month, and the award would continue at that level until either party died or when Tiffany Stock remarried, whichever occurred first. The court justified this increase in the support amount by observing Robert Stock would have the ability to pay increased spousal support once his child support obligation terminated. The court concluded this amount of support balanced the divorce's burdens by having the parties equitably share in the decreased standards of living associated with maintaining two households after the divorce.

[¶7] Tiffany Stock also requested attorney's fees. During the divorce, she incurred approximately $55,726 in attorney's fees, and after Robert Stock made payments totaling $23,822, she had a $31,904 outstanding balance. Robert Stock also incurred approximately $29,000 of attorney's fees, with an approximate balance of $19,000. The court determined Tiffany Stock's limited earning capacity left her in need and Robert Stock had the ability to pay the fees along with his other obligations under the judgment. Accordingly, the court ordered him to pay Tiffany Stock's $31,904 outstanding balance.


[¶8] On appeal, Robert Stock argues the district court's award of permanent support and the amount of support awarded were clearly erroneous. " An award of spousal support is a 'finding of fact which will not be set aside on appeal unless clearly erroneous.'" Pearson v. Pearson, 2009 ND 154, ¶ 5, 771 N.W.2d 288 (quoting Solem v. Solem, 2008 ND 211, ¶ 5, 757 N.W.2d 748). " A finding of fact is clearly erroneous if it is induced by an erroneous view of the law, if there is no

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evidence to support it, or if, after a review of the entire record, we are left with a definite and firm conviction a mistake has been made." Krueger v. Krueger, 2008 ND 90, ¶ 7, 748 N.W.2d 671.

[¶9] If circumstances so warrant, a " court may require one party to pay spousal support to the other party for any period of time." N.D.C.C. § 14-05-24.1. In determining whether spousal support is appropriate, courts must consider the factors delineated in the Ruff-Fischer guidelines. These factors include:

[T]he respective ages of the parties, their earning ability, the duration of the marriage and conduct of the parties during the marriage, their station in life, the circumstances and necessities of each, their health and physical condition, their financial circumstances as shown by the property owned at the time, its value at the time, its income-producing capacity, if any, whether accumulated before or after the marriage, and such other matters as may be material.

Riehl v. Riehl, 1999 ND 107, ¶ 8, 595 N.W.2d 10 (quoting Van Klootwyk v. Van Klootwyk,1997 ND 88, ¶ 13, 563 N.W.2d 377). The court need not make a finding as to each of these factors. Id. The court must consider the needs of the party seeking support and the financial ability of the ...

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