SJOBLOM v. SJOBLOM
JULY 29, 1997
Record No. 0204-97-4
FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF FAIRFAX COUNTY
M. Langhorne Keith, Judge
Present: Judges Baker, Elder and Fitzpatrick
(Ilona Ely (Freedman) Grenadier; Benton S. Duffett, III;
Grenadier, Davis & Simpson, on brief), for appellant.
(James Ray Cottrell; Christopher W. Schinstock; Gannon,
Cottrell & Ward, on brief), for appellee.
Caroline Sjoblom (wife) appeals the decision of the circuit
court ordering Thomas Sjoblom (husband) to pay $50,000 in a lump
sum spousal support and $3,000 in attorney’s fees. Wife contends
that the trial court erred by (1) failing to award permanent
periodic spousal support; (2) awarding only $50,000 in lump sum
support; (3) requiring wife to show a change in circumstances at
the expiration of the lump sum award to receive periodic spousal
support; and (4) awarding insufficient attorney’s fees in light
of the parties’ circumstances and conduct during litigation. By
way of cross-error, husband contends the trial court erred by
denying him the right to discover evidence of wife’s prior
marriages and, possibly, prior deceptive practices. Upon
reviewing the record and briefs of the parties, we conclude that
this appeal is without merit. Accordingly, we summarily affirm
the decision of the trial court. Rule 5A:27.
Based upon the evidence presented by the parties, including
the parties’ large accumulation of debt in the course of a
four?year marriage, the trial court ruled that the circumstances
warranted the award to wife of $50,000 in lump sum spousal
support, paid at the rate of $1,250 two times a month. The court
reviewed the statutory factors set out in Code ? 20-107.1, including
the parties’ financial needs, earning capacities, health, and the
inflated standard of living established during the marriage.
In awarding spousal support, the chancellor must consider the
relative needs and abilities of the parties. He is guided by the
nine factors that are set forth in Code ? 20-107.1. When the
chancellor has given due consideration to these factors, his
determination will not be disturbed on appeal except for a clear
abuse of discretion.
Collier v. Collier, 2 Va. App. 125, 129, 341 S.E.2d
827, 829 (1986).
Based in part on wife’s health problems and her expressed
desire to enter the design field despite her current lack of
training, the court determined that wife needed "an assured
source of financial support, not subject to modification."
The court adequately considered the statutory factors prior to
reaching this determination, which is supported by the evidence.
We find no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s lump sum
spousal support award.
Wife claims that the lump sum award is inadequate to meet her
immediate or foreseeable future needs and that the only
appropriate form of support for her is permanent periodic
payments. As noted above, the court did not err in awarding wife
a lump sum award assuring her undiminished payments for a set
period of time.
Moreover, we find no evidence that the awarded amount was
erroneous. The court balanced husband’s ability to pay against
wife’s needs. See Floyd v. Floyd, 1 Va. App. 42,
45, 333 S.E.2d 364, 366 (1985). Husband’s gross monthly earnings
were approximately $7,977. The court stated that "[husband] has more earning capacity [than wife] but he is not a bottomless
well." The trial court required husband to pay $16,585, or
two-thirds, of the parties’ marital debt. Wife never held steady
employment during the marriage and had no employment at the time
of the hearing. Wife listed monthly expenses of $5,500. The court
noted that the parties spent wife’s medical malpractice
settlement award of $263,000 in a little over a year, that both
parties spent money recklessly, and that wife "bears equal
if not more responsibility for the running up of debt." We
cannot say the trial court’s award of $50,000, payable at the
rate of $2,500 per month, was erroneous.
Wife also contends that the trial court erred in restricting
her right to receive additional support until the completion of
the lump sum payout and in requiring her to then show a change in
circumstances. The court’s letter opinion provided that
"[b]ecause of the intrinsic elements of uncertainty in
making a lump sum award, the Court will also reserve the right of
[wife] to receive additional spousal support at the expiration of
the above award in the event of a change in circumstances."
Thus, the order is a reservation to wife of the right to
additional support if it is warranted after the final payment of
the lump sum support award. See Poliquin v. Poliquin,
12 Va. App. 676, 681, 406 S.E.2d 401, 404 (1991); Blank v.
Blank, 10 Va. App. 1, 6, 389 S.E.2d 723, 726 (1990).
Wife herself argues that there is no way to know the period
for which she will need support. The court’s award assures her a
steady stream of income for a set period of time, and provides
for the possibility she may receive additional support if needed
beyond that time. The lump sum also addresses husband’s need for
stability as he establishes improved financial footing.
Therefore, we find no error.
An award of attorney’s fees is a matter submitted to the sound
discretion of the trial court and is reviewable on appeal only
for an abuse of discretion. See Graves v. Graves, 4
Va. App. 326, 333, 357 S.E.2d 554, 558 (1987). The key to a
proper award of counsel fees is reasonableness under all the
circumstances. See McGinnis v. McGinnis, 1 Va. App.
272, 277, 338 S.E.2d 159, 162 (1985).
Wife incurred $62,000 in attorney’s fees and expenses, and
husband incurred at least $40,000. The court noted that
"[b]oth parties over-litigated this case," that wife
"incurred some [$]37,000.00 of expenses for a forensic
accountant who did not testify," and that both parties
"share at least equal responsibility for such remarkable
attorneys fees." Recognizing that husband had the greater
ability to pay, the court ordered him to pay $3,000 of wife’s
fees. We cannot say that the award was unreasonable or that the
trial judge abused his discretion in making the award.
We find no reversible error in the trial court’s decision to
limit husband’s discovery. The sole issues remaining at trial
were spousal support, equitable distribution and attorney’s fees,
as the parties agreed to a one-year separation as the basis for
their divorce. The court allowed husband to introduce evidence
relevant to wife’s credibility, including that wife had been
married at least six times but did not disclose the actual number
of her previous marriages to husband. The parties also introduced
financial information concerning the assets wife brought into the
marriage and her past work experience. Husband sought to explore
wife’s alleged wrongdoing in previous marriages. We cannot say
that the trial court abused its discretion when it required
husband to limit his discovery to matters relevant to the
outstanding property-related issues of the parties’ marriage.
Accordingly, the decision of the circuit court is summarily
 Pursuant to Code ? 17-116.010 this
opinion is not designated for publication.