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In re Marriage of Steyh

Supreme Court of Montana

July 2, 2013

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF: JULIE A. STEYH, Petitioner and Appellee,
v.
WILLIAM T. STEYH, Respondent and Appellant.

Submitted on Briefs: March 6, 2013

District Court of the Second Judicial District, In and For the County of Silver Bow, Cause No. DR-12-6-KK Honorable Kurt Krueger, Presiding Judge

For Appellant: Christopher J. Gillette, Attorney at Law, Bozeman, MT

For Appellee: Bernard J. Everett; Knight, Dahood, Everett & Sievers, Anaconda, MT

OPINION

Mike McGrath Chief Justice

¶1 Julie Steyh (Julie) petitioned for dissolution of her marriage to William Steyh (William) in the Second Judicial District Court, Silver Bow County. After the District Court granted Julie's petition and issued its Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Final Decree of Dissolution, William filed a M. R. Civ. P. 60(b) motion to set aside the judgment, which the District Court denied. William appeals from the District Court's denial of his Rule 60(b) Motion. We reverse.

¶2 The only issue presented for our review is whether the District Court properly denied William's Rule 60(b) motion.

PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

¶3 Julie and William were married on March 20, 2010. On January 6, 2012, after less than two years of marriage, Julie filed a pro se dissolution petition with the District Court. Julie asserted that the marriage was irretrievably broken and that there was no reasonable prospect of reconciliation.

¶4 As part of her petition for dissolution, Julie submitted to the court a detailed proposed distribution of the marital assets. According to Julie's equitable distribution, in addition to other assets and liabilities, William would be awarded ownership of a house and real property that the couple owned on Hobson Street in Butte. William accepted service of the petition by signing a Notice and Acknowledgment of Service on January 16, 2012. The Notice and Acknowledgment specifically advised William that the court would enter judgment against him consistent with the relief requested in the petition if he failed to respond. T he Summons also warned him that his failure to appear or answer would result in judgment being entered against him by default for the relief requested in the petition. Because he did not object to the dissolution of their marriage or Julie's proposed distribution of assets, William elected to default, which the clerk entered on February 8, 2012.

¶5 After the Clerk of Court entered William's default, Julie requested that a final hearing be set so that the court could be satisfied that the grounds for dissolution were met and that the proposed division of the marital assets was equitable as required by § 40-4-202, MCA. William and Julie both appeared pro se for the final hearing on March 16, 2012. Before holding the hearing, the District Court judge announced that he had several questions and ordered the parties to meet with a special master and court-appointed mediator before the hearing. After the parties met with the special master and mediator, the court held the final hearing. During the hearing the court focused its questions to the parties on the Hobson Street property. W hen the judge asked William what his basis was for asking for the Hobson Street property, William responded, "I didn't ask for anything in the house. I was served papers." William also told the court that he had consulted with an attorney after he had received Julie's petition and proposed distribution of assets.

¶6 At the end of the Final Hearing, the District Court announced that it was going to dissolve the marriage and adopt Julie's proposed distribution of assets with one amendment. The court agreed to award William ownership of the Hobson Street property but indicated that it was unfair that Julie would not be compensated for any of the equity in the home even though she had owned the property for thirteen years before the couple's two-year marriage. Accordingly, the court adopted Julie's proposed distribution of assets in its entirety but also ordered William to pay Julie $30, 000 over three years. On April 3, 2012, the court issued written Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Final Decree of Dissolution.

ΒΆ7 Through newly enlisted counsel, William filed a Motion for Relief from Judgment on July 3, 2012. The court failed to rule on the motion within sixty days, so it was deemed denied pursuant to M. R. Civ. P. 60(c)(1). On September 12, 2012, after the motion had already been deemed denied, the court issued ...


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