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Kleya v. Kleya, Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Unpublished Disposition No. 13-P-152, June 24, 2014

In Kleyna v. Kleya, the Massachusetts Appeals Court vacated a judgment of divorce nisi which divided the parties’ income generating property but failed to consider alimony as well as college education expenses for the parties’ child. The Court remanded the matter so that the wife could present a complaint for alimony.

The parties married in 1992. At the time of their divorce, they had a daughter in college and a son in high school. The husband, age 55, earned $1,094 a week from his employment and $432 a week from rental property owned by the parties. The husband was expected to receive an inheritance which would not exceed $125,000. The wife, age 53, was employed full-time earning $435 a week. During the marriage the wife was the primary caregiver for the children, working intermittently part-time. The parties owned rental property, and the total value of the marital estate at trial was $448,919. At some point during the marriage, the wife received an inheritance which was applied towards down payments for some of the property.

The trial court ruled that each party was entitled to half the martial estate, but because the husband had received a $257,031 equitable share and the wife had received a $191,908 equitable share that the husband owed the wife $32,571. The judge then off-set the payment by over $23,000 to account for mortgage payments the husband made on the marital home, funds owed by the wife under an order of contempt and security deposits from rental properties. While the husband was represented by counsel, the wife preceded at trial pro se. While testifying, the wife discussed her modest salary, at which point the judge interjected that alimony "was not going to be litigated at all," because the wife had not pled it. The judge made no provision for alimony in her judgment. Further, the judge did not enter any order with regard to college education expenses for the parties’ daughter, and commented during trial that there were: "no laws, no statutes, that say what parents are supposed to pay for college," and that she did find such orders to be constitutional. Counsel for the husband asked the wife, who stated that she would continue paying for college, if she wanted the husband to contribute, to which the wife ultimately responded no.

The Massachusetts Appeals Court began by noting that the Alimony Reform Act had taken effect six weeks prior to trial. The Appeals Court further noted that in reviewing decisions for property division under M.G.L.c. 208, § 34, a two step analysis applies. First, the findings must indicate that the court considered all the relevant factors and, second, the reasons for the findings must be apparent in the findings and ruling. The Appeals Court held that the judge’s findings did not reflect an adequate consideration of all the relevant section 34 factors. Namely, the Court found that "the judge’s findings reflect scant consideration of the wife’s needs." The Court found that the judge failed to make any findings with regard to the wife’s weekly needs and failed to explain how it found that the wife was in a "good" position to acquire assets and income in the future. Moreover, the Appeals Court found that despite substantial evidence at trial concerning the wife’s inheritance, the judge did not consider her inheritance in the "contribution" section of the findings. With regard to alimony, the Court further found that due to the recent amendments to M.G.L.c. 208, § 34, and the continued interrelationship between alimony and property division, the wife should be afforded the opportunity to bring her complaint for alimony on remand. The Appeals Court vacated portions of the judgment that pertained to the division of income producing properties.

The Appeals Court further held that the trial judge clearly had the authority under M.G.L. c. 208, § 1 to enter orders for the payment of college education expenses. The Appeals Court did not find that the wife waived any such rights since she reasonably believed that an order was not possible. The Court further held that since the child was not a party to the proceedings any waiver would affect her rights. Finally, with regard to the child support order, since the order was based upon income which the husband received from rental property assigned to him in the judgment, the Appeals Court further vacated and remanded the order but held it would remain in effect as a temporary order pending remand.