ROBERT A. MASTERS, Appellant/Cross-Appellee,
LEAH MASTERS, Appellee/Cross-Appellant
APPEAL FROM THE ALLEN SUPERIOR COURT. The Honorable Charles F. Pratt, Judge. Cause No. 02D07-1204-DR-261.
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: MICHAEL A. SETLAK, Shilts Law Office, Fort Wayne, Indiana.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: MICHAEL H. MICHMERHUIZEN, Barrett & McNagny LLP, Fort Wayne, Indiana; CORNELIUS B. HAYES, Hayes & Hayes, Fort Wayne, Indiana.
NAJAM, Judge. BAILEY, J., and PYLE, J., concur.
STATEMENT OF THE CASE
In this contentious dissolution action, the parties submitted to arbitration pursuant to the Family Law Arbitration Act, Indiana Code Sections 34-57-5-1 to -13. After several hearings, the arbitrator entered numerous findings of fact and conclusions of law, and the trial court reduced the arbitrator's findings and conclusions to judgment accordingly. See Ind. Code § 34-57-5-7 (2014). In her findings and conclusions, the arbitrator, among other things, dissolved the marriage of Robert A. Masters (" Husband" ) and Leah Masters (" Wife" ); valued and distributed the vast majority of the marital assets; resolved questions of child custody, support, and parenting time; and determined the parties' respective incomes, whether actual or imputed. In particular, the arbitrator found that Husband had an annual income of $80,000; that he must immediately pay $17,735 in back child support; that he must pay to Wife $23,965.05 in cash within 100 days of the arbitrator's order to equalize the parties' marital assets; that he must replenish $51,000 in the parties' bank accounts; and that he should be awarded $93,843 in the valued portion of the marital estate. The arbitrator then ordered Husband to pay $95,000 of Wife's attorney's fees.
On appeal, Husband challenges only the arbitrator's finding that he pay $95,000 of Wife's attorney's fees. We hold that the arbitrator's finding is clearly erroneous because it does not consider Husband's ability
to pay Wife's attorney's fees in light of his earnings, living expenses, and valued assets, or in light of the other obligations the arbitrator imposed on Husband. Further, we reject Wife's arguments on cross-appeal as well as each party's request under Appellate Rule 66(E) for appellate attorney's fees.
Reversed and remanded with instructions.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
After the parties had made several appearances before an arbitrator on the dissolution of their marriage, the arbitrator entered numerous findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Indiana Code Section 34-57-5-7, which the trial court reduced to judgment pursuant to Section 34-57-5-7(d)(1). According to the following relevant and undisputed findings and conclusions:
1. The parties were married on August 21, 1993.
2. There has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage between Wife and Husband and their marriage should be dissolved.
3. Wife and Husband are the parents of one child, namely, [E.M.], born on January 22, 2007.
4. Husband filed a Verified Petition for Dissolution on April 3, 2012.
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7. On May 18, 2012, Wife filed a Verified Counter-Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.
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1. [sic] This has been a very contentious divorce.
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20. The parties do not live in close proximity to one another . . . . Wife and [E.M.] reside in Allen Park, Michigan, with Wife's mother and father, Paul and Dona Dawson. Husband resides in Brevard, North Carolina.
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72. For child support purposes, Husband's income should be [$80,000]. His income should not include any imputed income from his prior employment.
73. Expert testimony was provided that Wife would be required to obtain six (6) mandated credits and three (3) readying credits to renew her teaching certificate, which could be completed in one (1) or[,] easily, two (2) semesters.
74. Full-time teachers in public schools in Michigan have an annual salary range from [$33,000] (rural) to [$48,500] (urban).
75. Other opportunities for Wife's employment utilizing her [existing] college degree are:
a. Para Educator (with Elementary Education degrees pays $11-14 per hour)[.]
b. Public charter school--pays approximately 75% of public school salary.
c. Home bound teacher--contracts at $25.00 per hour (Avondale School District in Detroit, Michigan[,] averaged 30 hours per week).
d. Intermediate school districts--$24,000 to $34,000 per year[.]
76. Allen Park, Michigan[,] is an urban school district, but Wife testified that she desires to work at E.M.'s [parochial] school.
77. In 2012, Wife was unemployed, in part because she was busy moving and getting E.M. settled in a new school. Minimum wage of [$290] per week[, or $15,080 ...