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In re Marriage of Estes

Supreme Court of Montana

March 28, 2017

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF: MICHAEL ANDREW ESTES, Petitioner and Appellant,
v.
BEVERLY SUE ESTES, Respondent and Appellee.

          Submitted on Briefs: January 18, 2017

         District Court of the First Judicial District, In and For the County of Lewis And Clark, Cause No. BDR-2015-529 Honorable DeeAnn Cooney, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: David B. Gallik, Gallik Law Office, PLLC, Helena, Montana

          For Appellee: Barbra Burleigh, Burleigh Law Firm, PLLC, Helena, Montana

          OPINION

          LAURIE McKINNON Justice

         ¶1 Michael Andrews Estes (Michael) appeals from the Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Decree of Dissolution entered June 17, 2016, by the First Judicial District Court, Lewis and Clark County. We affirm.

         ¶2 Michael presents the following issues for review:

1. Whether the District Court abused its discretion by excluding premarital property from the marital estate.
2. Whether the District Court abused its discretion in apportioning the marital estate.
3. Whether the District Court abused its discretion by denying Michael maintenance.
4. Whether the District Court abused its discretion by denying Michael attorney fees.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 Michael and Beverly Sue Estes (Beverly) were married on September 14, 2002. Both had been married previously. Relevant here, upon Beverly's dissolution in 1999 to her previous husband, Beverly was awarded multiple financial accounts and Dana's Point, a waterfront residence on Hauser Lake that she and her previous husband had built and in which she currently resides. Dana's Point, along with 127.5 acres, was awarded to Beverly in lieu of her share in the business Beverly and her former husband had built. The property was owned by Beverly at the time of her marriage to Michael and had no debt attached to it prior to or during the parties' marriage. Beverly, who is 60 and retired, is dependent upon the income from the financial accounts she acquired as a result of her prior dissolution, which are in excess of $400, 000. Beverly's income from these accounts varies; however, in 2015 it was $36, 674.

         ¶4 When Michael and Beverly first met, Beverly was residing at Dana's Point and Michael was residing in a trailer. Michael's past employment history was that of a laborer in the building trades. He did not work year round and would collect unemployment during the time he was off. Between the time the parties were married in 2002 and until 2007, Michael estimates he earned between $20, 000 and $22, 000 annually. The District Court found that Michael's testimony regarding employment after 2007 could not be given much weight since "[he] testified he either could not recall or would 'guess' in response to questioning." Beverly alleges Michael stopped working full time at 55 years of age, which would have been in 2008. Michael currently continues to work sporadically for Myron Laib, on a cash basis, doing handyman work. Michael receives $1, 175 per month in Social Security.

         ¶5 Upon their marriage, Beverly paid off the remaining $15, 000 owed on the trailer Michael was living in. Michael and Beverly decided to sell the trailer and that Michael would move in with Beverly at Dana's Point. Their combined income was approximately $50, 000 a year. While married to Beverly, Michael gave Beverly his paychecks to help pay monthly bills. Beverly separately maintained her investments in her existing premarital accounts, except that she used income from a premarital D.A. Davidson account to start a D.A. Davidson IRA and a Roth IRA in Michael's name. At the time of Michael and Beverly's dissolution, these two IRAs were valued at $83, 000. The District Court found that "Michael did not take any discernable steps to insure for his future ...


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