APPEAL FROM THE CRAIGHEAD COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, WESTERN DISTRICT. NO. DR-2000-853. HONORABLE RANDY F. PHILHOURS, JUDGE.
Scott Emerson, P.A., by: Scott Emerson, for appellant.
Owens, Mixon & Gramling, P.A., by: H. Clarke Mixon and James F. Gramling, Jr., for appellee.
GLADWIN, C.J., and
GLOVER, J., agree.
CLIFF HOOFMAN, Judge.
Appellant Robert Sparks Hix appeals from the circuit court's order denying his petition to eliminate alimony payments to his ex-wife, appellee Michelle Lassonde Hix. On appeal, appellant argues that the circuit court erred by not eliminating alimony (1) because the court improperly received and considered evidence that the parties had planned during their marriage that appellee would be a stay-at-home mother and (2) because appellee's request for continued alimony was not based on need. We affirm.
The parties were married on June 12, 1993, and they separated on January 11, 2000. Two children were born of the marriage, J.H. (D.O.B. 9/14/97) and A.H. (D.O.B. 12/29/98). On May 21, 2001, a divorce decree was entered, granting primary custody of the children to appellee. Appellant, who is an OB-GYN physician, was ordered to pay monthly child support of $2,750, and in the letter opinion that was attached to the decree, the circuit court explained that it was deviating upward from the child-support chart based on the fact that appellee's monthly expenses, due to her having custody of the children, were considerably higher than appellant's expenses, while her available resources were much lower. The court found that it was " the desire and consensus between the parties during the course of their marriage that plaintiff would stay home with the children, perhaps even until both of the children got out of high school." The court noted that the children were very young and that even if appellee, who had a Master's degree in social work, returned to the workforce, there would be childcare expenses for which she alone would be responsible. The circuit court also awarded alimony to appellee, explaining that
[i]n order to rectify economic imbalance in earning power and standard of living according to the facts of this particular case, the Court determines that an award of alimony/spousal support is appropriate. Plaintiff has demonstrated a need for such funds and defendant has demonstrated the ability to pay reasonable alimony. Considering the financial circumstances of both the parties, the financial needs and obligations of both of the parties, the couples' past standard of living, the income of the parties, the resources and assets of each of the parties that are expendable, the amounts which will be available (after entry of the Decree) to each of the parties for the payment of living expenses, the earning ability and capacity of both the parties, the division of property between the parties, the duration of the marriage and the amount of child support ordered paid by defendant, the Court concludes that alimony in the amount of $1,500.00 per month is reasonable in this case, said sum to be payable in advance on the first of each month through the clerk of the Court. Such alimony will terminate upon the death of either of the parties or the remarriage of the plaintiff.
In October 2013, appellee filed a petition to modify child support, claiming that there had been a material change in circumstances based on appellant's increased income. Appellant then filed a counterpetition to eliminate his alimony obligation.
He alleged that there had been a material change in circumstances based on the passage of time, in that appellee had been receiving alimony for a significantly longer time than the parties were married; based on the fact that the children were now much older, which allowed appellee to obtain employment; and based on the fact that appellee " has had more than ample time in which to enter the job market and become employed."
A hearing was held on the petitions on June 18, 2014. Evidence was introduced showing that appellant's annual net income had increased from $98,000 at the time of the divorce to approximately $280,000 at the time of the hearing. Appellant admitted that an increase in child support was warranted based on his current monthly net income of $23,000, although he requested a reduction from the chart amount based on the transportation expenses involved in exercising his visitation with the children. Appellant stated that he currently lives in Fayetteville, while appellee and the children live in Jonesboro, and that he bought an airplane to transport the children to and from visits. Appellant testified that he had remarried, that his current wife was also an OB-GYN physician, and that they have two children together, in addition to J.H. and A.H. Their 2013 tax return showed a combined adjusted gross income of $1,001,059, and appellant stated that he and his wife owned a house, a cabin, three vehicles, a 4-wheeler, an ...