DAUNHAUER v. DAUNHAUER, ___S.W.3d___ (Ky. App. 2009)
ACREE PRESIDING; NICKELL AND SENIOR JUDGE KNOPF CONCUR
Ex-Ex-Husband appealed from TC’s order denying his motion to terminate his maintenance obligation, arguing that Ex-Wife was no longer dependent upon that maintenance to meet her needs.
Ex-Husband and Ex-Wife were married for 21 years. At time of divorce, Ex-Husband was 48 and working as a dentist, earning $22,000 per year, and Ex-Wife was 42 and working as a secretary, earning $10,000 per year. Ex-Wife relocated to California before Decree entered. Parties entered agreement in which Ex-Husband would pay Ex-Wife maintenance of $400 per month, with such amount being modifiable after two years. TC reduced maintenance to $200 per month after three years, when Ex-Wife’s income as a medical assistant was $26,000 per year and Ex-Husband’s income as a dentist was $36,000 per year. Five years after that, TC denied Ex-Husband’s next motion for maintenance reduction, finding insufficient change in circumstances. In 2006, at age 66, Ex-Husband injured himself and needed surgery and physical therapy, so he decided to sell his dental practice and retire. He filed a motion to terminate maintenance, and although TC found retirement reasonable, TC denied motion as it found parties’ circumstances had not sufficiently changed. Ex-Husband appealed.
CA held that goal of maintenance award per KRS 403.200 is to facilitate one’s transition from dependence on a former spouse to independence. CA held that original maintenance award was rehabilitative, and that the most appropriate reason for modification is Ex-Wife’s ability to live independently of maintenance. Although it is appropriate in some cases to have maintenance not terminate, that occurs only when the claimant’s prospects of self-sufficiency are dismal. The policy underlying KRS 403.250, requiring a substantial change of circumstances for modification, is relative stability. CA found these two policies are not at odds. Because Ex-Husband’s voluntary retirement was reasonable, TC could consider his resulting change of circumstances. Ex-Wife earned more income than Ex-Husband at time of hearing. Both parties had expenses in excess of their income. CA held that if Ex-Wife achieved self-sufficiency, then post-decree increases in Ex-Husband’s income or assets are irrelevant. Self-sufficiency is determined with reference to standard of living acquired during marriage, not post-decree. CA also found that TC erred by considering the “relatively small” amount of maintenance and the higher cost of living in California. If a claimant has achieved self-sufficiency, any amount of maintenance is inappropriate. Further, since Ex-Wife has sufficient income to meet her needs, the higher cost of living is irrelevant. CA reversed and remanded.