A husband with $3.5 million in assets still could afford the $2,100 in monthly spousal support he agreed to pay his former wife in their 2000 property settlement agreement, according to a Court of Appeals decision released today. It did not matter that the wife had left a law firm job after only a few months, because she was unhappy with the stress, compensation and commute.
The husband’s appeal challenged how a Staunton trial court decided to keep support at the 2000 level.
The parties’ original property settlement agreement showed they intended to eliminate the need to show a “material change in circumstances” for a change in support. By the time the PSA became a part of the final divorce decree, however, that intention was gone and the husband was stuck with the need to show his reduced income was a material change.
Health problems prompted the husband to retire from his oral surgery practice in 2002, and to seek a support reduction based on a corresponding decline in his monthly income.
Recognizing the husband’s work-related income had gone down, the Court of Appeals said the crucial question was his ability to pay. The fact that he had to draw down investments did not relieve him of his support obligation.
The husband said his wife, who quit a law firm job after a few months, was voluntarily unemployed. Given that the change in the husband’s circumstances did not affect his ability to pay support, the trial court did not have to consider the wife’s voluntary unemployment, the Court of Appeals panel said in its published opinion in Driscoll v. Hunter.
By Deborah Elkins