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Tschider v. Tschider

Supreme Court of North Dakota

April 18, 2019

Melanie J. Tschider, a/k/a Su Lin Tschider, Plaintiff, Appellee, and Cross-Appellant
v.
Stacy L. Tschider, Defendant, Appellant, and Cross-Appellee and State of North Dakota, Statutory Real Party in Interest

          Appeal from the District Court of Burleigh County, South Central Judicial District, the Honorable Sonna M. Anderson, Judge.

          Douglas W. Murch (argued) and Robert J. Schultz (on brief), Fargo, ND, for plaintiff, appellee, and cross-appellant.

          Steven T. Ottmar (argued) and Joanne H. Ottmar (appeared), Jamestown, ND, for defendant, appellant, and cross-appellee.

          OPINION

          McEvers, Justice.

         [¶1] Stacy Tschider appeals and Melanie Tschider, also known as Su Lin Tschider, cross-appeals from a judgment that granted joint parenting responsibility of their minor child and awarded child support, distributed the parties' property and debts, and awarded spousal support to Melanie Tschider. We conclude the district court erred in holding a provision of the parties' prenuptial agreement was unconscionable and unenforceable and erred in awarding spousal support. We, however, conclude the court's property distribution was not clearly erroneous and the court did not abuse its discretion in denying her request for attorney fees. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings.

         I

         [¶2] Stacy Tschider and Melanie Tschider were married in December 2002 and have one minor child born in 2004. Shortly before their marriage, both parties signed a prenuptial agreement in December 2002. The parties began dating in 1995 and began living together in 1996. At the time of their marriage, Melanie Tschider had a net worth of less than $50, 000 and annual income of $55, 548. Stacy Tschider had a net worth of $1, 783, 500 and an annual income of about $245, 000. He had ownership interests in six businesses with a book value of about $2.9 million and five parcels of investment real estate, resulting in substantial annual income. In August 2015, Melanie Tschider commenced this divorce action.

         [¶3] The district court bifurcated the issues in this case for trial. In November 2016 the court held a trial on residential responsibility for the child and on the validity of the parties' prenuptial agreement. After the first trial, the court awarded joint residential responsibility and determined an amount for child support. The court also held the prenuptial agreement was valid, except for a provision addressing spousal support. Specifically, the court held that the agreement's paragraph 16 was unconscionable and unenforceable. This paragraph states:

SUPPLEMENTATION OF INCOME IN EVENT OF CHILDREN 16. In the event children are born of the marriage, and in the event Su-Lin and Stacy decide or determine it is in the best interests that Su-Lin reduce or terminate her employment so as to allow Su-Lin to spend more time with the children, and in the event the parties divorce, then, and in that event, it is mutually agreed that Stacy shall supplement Su-Lin's income as provided herein. The supplementation of income as described above shall be in a sum equal to the difference between Su-Lin's monthly income at the time of marriage or at the time Su-Lin reduces or terminates her employment for purposes of spending more time with the children, whichever is greater, and the monthly income earned by Su-Lin following the divorce. It is acknowledged and agreed that the supplementation amount may vary from month-to-month depending upon Su-Lin's actual income. It is mutually agreed that Stacy's obligation to supplement Su-Lin's income shall terminate two (2) years from the date Stacy makes his first supplemental income payment to Su-Lin pursuant to this agreement; it being the intention of the parties that Stacy's obligation to supplement Su-Lin's income shall be limited to a total of twenty-four (24) monthly payments.
It is acknowledged and agreed that the foregoing income supplementation payments shall be deemed temporary alimony and not child support payments.

         [¶4] In June 2017, the district court held a second trial on the remaining issues. At the second trial, the parties presented further evidence regarding child support, division of assets and liabilities, enforcement of the prenuptial agreement, spousal support, and attorney fees.

         [¶5] In January 2018, the district court issued its further findings of fact and order for judgment that divided the parties' remaining joint property, ordered Stacy Tschider to pay child support of $2, 878 a month beginning June 2017, and ordered him to pay spousal support of $6, 500 per month for five years beginning on September 1, 2015, through August 1, 2020, and then $4, 000 per month for two additional years until August 1, 2022. Final judgment was entered in February 2018.

         II

         [¶6] Stacy Tschider argues the district court erred in deciding the parties' prenuptial agreement's paragraph 16 is unconscionable and unenforceable. He further argues that, if the provision is invalid, the court erred when it set the retroactive commencement date, the amount, and the duration of the spousal support award. In her cross-appeal, Melanie Tschider argues the parties' entire premarital agreement is invalid and the court's spousal support award is clearly erroneous.

         [¶7] The Uniform Premarital Agreement Act, N.D.C.C. ch. 14-03.1, allows parties to contract to the disposition of their property on divorce. At the time of the parties' 2002 prenuptial agreement, N.D.C.C. § 14-03.1-03(1)(a) and (c) provided that parties may agree to "[t]he rights and obligations of each of the parties in any of the property of either or both of them whenever and wherever acquired or located" and to "[t]he disposition of property upon separation, marital dissolution, death, or the occurrence or nonoccurrence of any other event." Under N.D.C.C. § ...


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