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In re Marriage of Stone

Supreme Court of Montana

October 1, 2019

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF: CHAD STONE, Petitioner and Appellant, and LINDSEY STONE, Respondent and Appellee.

          Submitted on Briefs: August 21, 2019

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Sixth Judicial District, In and For the County of Park, Cause No. DR 15-117 Honorable Brenda R. Gilbert, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Chad Stone, Self-represented, Emigrant, Montana

          For Appellee: Karl Knuchel, Eric T. Oden, Attorneys at Law, Livingston, Montana

          OPINION

          Dirk M. Sandefur Justice

         Â¶1 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 Montana Reports.

         ¶2 Chad Stone (Chad) appeals the November 2018 judgments of the Montana Sixth Judicial District Court, Park County, finding him in contempt of court for failure to make a $20, 000 marital property distribution installment payment and failing to pay off an outstanding 2013 marital estate income tax liability apportioned to him. Chad further appeals the Court's denial of his counter-motion for relief from the underlying June 2017 judgment that imposed those obligations. We affirm.

         ¶3 Chad and Lindsey Stone (Lindsey) were married in December of 2012. A child (F.S.) was born to them in December 2014. Chad suffers from significant physical disability and psychological trauma resulting from various causes including an accidental gunshot wound as a child, child abuse, a military service-related traumatic brain injury (TBI), a leg amputation incident to a violent car crash, and related post-traumatic stress syndrome. In 2015, the parties separated and Chad filed a district court petition for dissolution of the marriage, division of the marital estate, and a parenting plan for F.S. Though both parties were initially represented by counsel, Chad stipulated to the withdrawal of his counsel in January 2017 and thereafter proceeded to bench trial pro se.[1]

         ¶4 At the time of the bench trial on April 10, 2017, Lindsey was thirty-one years old, employed as a food and beverage server at the Chico Hot Springs Resort, and had been similarly employed in the service industry throughout the marriage. Chad was forty years old and partially disabled. He was receiving a Veteran's disability benefit of $920 per month. After initially living together in Chad's home in Colorado, the parties sold the home in 2013 and moved to Emigrant, Montana. Chad purchased a new home in Emigrant in both parties' names and retained $71, 032.41 from the proceeds of the Colorado sale. At trial, Lindsey valued the unencumbered marital home at $274, 500. Chad did not dispute her valuation. The balance of the marital property included four motor vehicles, two trailers, and miscellaneous items of household and personal property.

         ¶5 Lindsey testified that the parties had no marital debt other than Chad's preexisting student loan debt and a related $1, 994.26 federal tax liability for tax year 2013. Chad contrarily testified that the parties' outstanding tax debt was approximately $2, 300, that it was a joint obligation, and that two other marital estate debts remained outstanding. ¶6 Chad and Lindsey sharply disputed the appropriate parenting plan for F.S. given his circumstances, needs, and the ongoing discord and hostility between them. Though the parties had earlier stipulated to an independent parenting evaluation and evaluator, Chad disputed the evaluator's findings and neutrality at trial. The parties further disputed the extent to which Chad remained capable of working and earning income in regard to child support.

         ¶7 On June 1, 2017, based on the trial evidence, the District Court entered detailed findings of fact, conclusions of law, judgment, and a final parenting plan: (1) valuing and apportioning the marital estate pursuant to § 40-4-202, MCA, and In re Marriage of Funk, 2012 MT 14, ¶ 17, 363 Mont. 352, 270 P.3d 39; (2) determining a parenting plan for F.S. pursuant to §§ 40-4-212, -234, MCA; (3) determining child support pursuant to § 40-4-204, MCA; and (4) denying Lindsey's request for attorney fees under § 40-4-110, MCA. Chad timely appealed, but the parties later entered into a mediated settlement agreement on appeal. We subsequently dismissed the appeal on Chad's motion on October 2, 2017.

         ¶8 On December 15, 2017, Lindsey filed a motion for contempt asserting that Chad had failed to make the first of three $20, 000 marital estate distribution installment payments, the first of which was due on December 1, and that he failed to pay-off his apportioned 2013 tax liability.[2] In January 2018, Chad filed a counter-motion for relief from the original June 2017 marital estate distribution on the asserted grounds that he had limited income, was experiencing financial difficulty, was unable to work more than 50 hours a month due to his disability, and was unable to borrow on the unencumbered former marital home due to his limited income.

         ¶9 Following a November 2018 hearing, [3] the District Court denied Chad's motion for relief from the original marital property distribution. As grounds for the denial, the Court noted that: (1) he had yet to make any marital distribution payment to Lindsey; (2) he failed to "raise any [previously unknown] factors regarding his financial situation or earning capability"; (3) he presented "no evidence of a significant change in [his] mental and physical conditions since" trial in 2017; and (4) the court had previously considered "all of the factors of [Chad's] partial disability" when it originally apportioned the marital estate and determined child support. The Court thus concluded that Chad failed to show a sufficient basis for relief from the original judgment under M. R. Civ. P. 60(b) or § 40-4-208, MCA.

         ¶10 The District Court similarly found Chad in contempt of his obligation to make the first of his three $20, 000 marital distribution installment payments and pay-off his apportioned 2013 tax liability. The Court found that his failure to pay off the tax liability caused Lindsey to suffer a $2, 388.17 offset against her 2016 federal tax refund. While noting Chad's testimony that he had received medical advice to discontinue cutting firewood as a source of supplemental income due to resulting micro-abrasions affecting ...


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