IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF: ROBERT A. VANUKA, Petitioner and Appellee, and KATHLEEN VANUKA, Respondent and Appellant.
Submitted on Briefs: October 24, 2018
FROM: District Court of the Eighteenth Judicial District, In
and For the County of Gallatin, Cause No. DR-11-495C
Honorable John Brown, Presiding Judge
Appellant: Kathleen Vanuka, Self-Represented, Littleton,
Appellee: Christopher J. Gillette, The Law Office of
Christopher J. Gillette, PC, Bozeman, Montana
McGrath, Chief Justice
Pursuant to Section I, Paragraph 3(c), Montana Supreme Court
Internal Operating Rules, this case is decided by memorandum
opinion and shall not be cited and does not serve as
precedent. Its case title, cause number, and disposition
shall be included in this Court's quarterly list of
noncitable cases published in the Pacific Reporter and
Kathleen Vanuka (Kathleen) appeals from an Eighteenth
Judicial District order adopting and affirming the decree of
dissolution and division of assets and liabilities from her
marriage to Robert A. Vanuka (Robert). We affirm.
On December 28, 2011, Robert petitioned for the dissolution
of his marriage to Kathleen. On May 30, 2017, the Standing
Master issued her final decree dissolving the marriage and
dividing the marital property. Kathleen objected to the
division of property. On April 9, 2018, after holding a
hearing, the District Court adopted and affirmed the Standing
Master's findings of fact, conclusions of law, and final
decree of dissolution in full, including her determination
that Robert and Kathleen equally divide the equity in the
marital home. Kathleen appeals, arguing that the District
Court should have awarded her the entire marital home.
This Court reviews a district court's decision in
dissolution and division of martial property proceedings for
an abuse of discretion. In re marriage of Rudolf,
2007 MT 178, ¶ 15, 338 Mont. 226, 164 P.3d 907 (citing
In re Marriage of Crilly, 2005 MT 311, ¶ 10,
329 Mont. 479, 124 P.3d 1151). A district court abuses its
discretion when it acts arbitrarily without employment of
conscientious judgment or exceeds the bounds of reason,
resulting in substantial injustice. In re marriage of
Rudolf, ¶ 15 (citing In re Marriage of
Crilly, ¶ 10). This Court reviews a district
court's findings of fact for clear error and conclusions
of law for correctness. Bock v. Smith, 2005 MT 40,
¶ 14, 326 Mont. 123, 107 P.3d 488; Seubert v.
Seubert, 2000 MT 241, ¶ 12, 301 Mont. 382, 13 P.3d
Section 40-4-202, MCA, vests a district court with broad
discretion to distribute marital property "equitably,
considering all of the circumstances of a particular
marriage. The theory of equitable distribution recognizes,
and attempts to compensate for, each party's contribution
to the marriage." In re Marriage of Bartsch,
2007 MT 136, ¶ 20, 337 Mont. 386, 162 P.3d 72.
"Equity, not equality, guides a court's discretion
in dividing the marital estate." In re Marriage of
Garner, 239 Mont. 485, 488, 781 P.2d 1125, 1127 (1989).
Section 40-4-202, MCA, requires that a district court
equitably apportion all assets and property regardless of
which party acquired the property and when it was acquired.
In re Funk, 2012 MT 14, ¶ 19, 363 Mont. 352,
270 P.3d 39.
Kathleen argues that the Standing Master and District Court
erred in requiring Robert and Kathleen to equally share in
the equity of the marital home. Kathleen specifically argues
that equal division was inequitable because she contributed
more income to the marital estate during the marriage, she
could no longer work due to disability, and Robert had
separate inheritance assets, including retirement and
investment accounts, while she did not. The Standing
Master's detailed findings of fact acknowledged
Kathleen's contentions. However, the Standing Master also
found that Robert contributed significant amounts of his
inheritance to the marital estate during the marriage,
Kathleen continued to live in the debt-free home after Robert
petitioned for dissolution, Kathleen retained the majority of
the items in the home, and Kathleen exclusively collected
rent from tenants in the home's lower-level.
The Standing Master considered the circumstances of Robert
and Kathleen's particular marriage, as well as each
party's unique contributions. Based on her findings of
fact, the Standing Master concluded it was equitable to split
the equity in the marital home evenly between Robert and
Kathleen. Kathleen failed to establish clear error in the
Standing Master's findings of fact. The District Court
did not abuse its discretion in affirming and adopting the
Standing Master's findings.
We have determined to decide this case pursuant to Section I,
Paragraph 3(c) of our Internal Operating Rules, which
provides for memorandum opinions. In the opinion of the
Court, the case presents a question controlled by settled ...