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Degnan v. Degnan

Supreme Court of North Dakota

March 15, 2016

Lowell Degnan, Plaintiff and Appellee
v.
Barbara Degnan, 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 Thomas R. Olson, Judge.

         Kristin A. Overboe, Fargo, ND, for plaintiff and appellee.

         Timothy J. McLarnan, MN, for defendant and appellant.

         Daniel J. Crothers, Dale V. Sandstrom, Gerald W. VandeWalle, C.J. Opinion of the Court by Crothers, Justice. Kapsner, Justice, concurring in the result. Carol Ronning Kapsner. McEvers, Justice, concurring specially.

          OPINION

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          Daniel J. Crothers, Justice.

          [¶1] Barbara Degnan appeals from a district court order denying her motion for amended findings of fact and new trial following her divorce. Barbara Degnan argues the district court erred when it divided the marital property, awarded inadequate spousal support, allowed testimony about comments made prior to marriage and refused to amend its findings or grant her a new trial. Lowell Degnan argues Barbara Degnan's appeal is frivolous and he should be awarded attorneys fees.

         I

          [¶2] Barbara Degnan married Lowell Degnan in 2009. The parties were divorced by judgment in 2015. At the time of trial Barbara Degnan was 55 years old and Lowell Degnan was 65 years old. Lowell Degnan testified his monthly living expenses were approximately $2,265 and his net monthly income was approximately $3,471 from railroad retirement benefits. Barbara Degnan's monthly living expenses were approximately $2,200 and her monthly income, after taxes, Medicare and debt garnishments, was a Social Security Disability payment of approximately $750. Witness Tammy Shiek testified, over objection, that her opinion was Barbara Degnan married Lowell Degnan for his money.

          [¶3] In determining the property distribution the district court considered the length of the marriage, the health and age of the parties, their earning abilities and when their property was accumulated. The district court awarded Barbara Degnan temporary spousal support of $180 per month for 60 months, two motor vehicles, a camper, her checking account and $3,000 in attorneys fees. Following trial Barbara Degnan moved for a new trial and amended findings. The district court denied Barbara Degnan's motions and she appeals.

         II

          [¶4] Barbara Degnan argues the district court erred permitting Shiek to testify about why Barbara Degnan married Lowell Degnan. Shiek testified that prior to the marriage she and Barbara Degnan discussed how marrying Lowell Degnan would benefit Barbara Degnan because Barbara Degnan was in need of health insurance. Shiek also testified to her belief that Barbara Degnan married Lowell Degnan for his money. Barbara Degnan objected to Shiek's testimony as irrelevant and the district court overruled the objection. " The test whether proper evidence is irrelevant is whether it would

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reasonably and actually tend to prove or disprove any matter of fact in issue." Beck v. Lind, 235 N.W.2d 239, 246 (N.D.1975). Shiek's testimony tended to prove Barbara Degnan's financial circumstances, health concerns and her motive for marrying Lowell Degnan. The district court, as the trier of fact, reasonably considered Shiek's ...


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