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Becker v. Becker

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

April 17, 2019



          Hall, Estill, Hardwick, Gable, Golden & Nelson, P.C., by: Curtis E. Hogue and M. Scott Hall, for appellant.

          Taylor Law Partners, LLP, by: Scott E. Smith, for appellee.

          KENNETH S. HIXSON, Judge.

         Appellant Roger D. Becker and appellee Patricia Becker (now McCoy)[1] were married in 1982 and divorced in 2003. There are no minor children of the marriage. The divorce decree, entered on May 20, 2003, divided the parties' property, including Roger's retirement accounts by means of a Qualified Domestic Relations Order. The divorce decree contained the following provisions with respect to alimony:

The Court further considered [Patricia's] request for alimony and after considering all relevant factors, including those recited from the bench in open court, the Court finds that [Patricia] has proven by a preponderance of the evidence that she needs alimony and the evidence has further established that [Roger] is earning sufficient income to demonstrate his ability to pay alimony. The Court further considered whether rehabilitative alimony was appropriate and finds that it is not. . . . [Roger] should be, and hereby is, ordered and directed to pay alimony in the sum of $1059.00 per month beginning May 5, 2003 and continuing on the same day of each month thereafter throughout the life of [Patricia] or upon her subsequent remarriage or upon a sufficient showing of a material and substantial change in circumstances to warrant modification of this award.

         On July 6, 2017, Roger filed a petition to modify alimony. In his petition, Roger alleged that he had recently been terminated from his employment. Roger alleged that his unemployment left him without the ability to pay the court-ordered alimony and constituted a material change in circumstances that warranted a modification.

         After a hearing, the trial court entered an order on April 2, 2018, denying Roger's request to modify alimony. In its order, the trial court made these pertinent findings:

4. That [Roger] has not challenged [Patricia's] continuing need for alimony and the Court finds that [Patricia] still has an ongoing need for alimony in the sum of $1059.00 per month.
5. The Court finds that, while [Roger] is not presently employed, he has the financial resources to continue to pay alimony to [Patricia] as ordered. Accordingly, [Roger's] Petition to Modify Alimony is hereby denied.

         Roger now appeals from the order denying his petition to modify alimony. Roger asserts that he no longer has a job and is living off his retirement assets, which were divided upon divorce and subsequently increased in value. Roger argues that the trial court should not have considered his retirement savings in determining his ability to pay, and he contends that by continuing to receive alimony Patricia is getting a windfall by receiving the increased value of marital assets previously divided by the court. We find no error and affirm.

         An award of alimony is always subject to modification upon application of either party. Ark. Code Ann. § 9-12-314 (Repl. 2015). Such modification must be based, however, on a change in the circumstances of the parties. Bracken v. Bracken, 302 Ark. 103, 787 S.W.2d 678 (1990). The primary factors to be considered in making or changing alimony are the need of one spouse and the ability of the other spouse to pay. Id. A decision regarding alimony is a matter that lies within the trial court's sound discretion and will not be reversed on appeal absent an abuse of that discretion. Rawls v. Yarberry, 2018 Ark.App. 536, 564 S.W.3d 537.

         Roger testified that he was employed as an instructor of ammonia refrigeration at Northwest Technical Institute (NTI) for twenty years before being terminated in June 2017. Roger stated that he was terminated for teaching classes outside of NTI, but he claimed that these classes did not take business away from NTI and that he had periodically taught outside classes the entire time that he worked for NTI. After his termination, Roger filed for unemployment benefits but was denied. He stated that since his termination he has looked for employment in his field but has not been successful.

         Roger testified that before being employed at NTI, he worked at Tyson Foods for seventeen years. Roger had a retirement plan with Tyson, which he rolled over into a retirement plan with NTI. At the time of the hearing, Roger had retirement savings of about $336, 000. In his affidavit of financial means, Roger reported $35, 000 in a bank account. Roger testified that he recently became eligible for early retirement at age 59 1/2 and that he receives $1500 in net monthly retirement income. Roger indicated that his monthly expenses of ...

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