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Weber v. Lambe

Supreme Court of Kentucky

March 23, 2017

JUDE WEBER APPELLANT
v.
THOMAS FRANCIS LAMBE APPELLEE

         ON APPEAL FROM COURT OF APPEALS CASENOS. 2013-CA-000891, 2013-CA-000930, 2013-CA-001642 JEFFERSON CIRCUIT COURT NO. 11-CI-503339

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: Allen McKee Dodd Jacob Wayne Crouse Dodd 85 Dodd Attorneys, PLLC

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: Eugene L. Mosley Michael Thomas Underwood Mosley, Sauer, Townes 85 Watkins, PLLC

          OPINION

          KELLER JUSTICE

         Jude Weber and Thomas Francis Lambe cross-appeal the decision of the Court of Appeals to reverse in part and affirm in part the Jefferson Family Court. This Court granted discretionary review, and for the reasons stated herein, we affirm in part and reverse in part the opinion of the Court of Appeals.

         I. BACKGROUND.

         Weber and Lambe were married on October 10, 1992. They remained together for nineteen years before separating. Two children were born during the marriage: Margaret, born in December 1996, and Kevin, born in September 1999. Margaret was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at the age of two and was diagnosed with an eating disorder approximately two to three months before trial. Margaret's health issues require frequent trips to various physicians, assistance with administration of insulin, and monitoring after meals. Weber is a stay-at-home mother, who has not worked outside the home since Margaret was born. Lambe has been employed by General Electric for more than twenty-five years preceding this action.

         In September 2011, Lambe filed a petition for dissolution. Following a two-day bench trial, the Jefferson Family Court entered its Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Decree of Dissolution on February 26, 2013. The family court's decree restored each party's non-marital assets and then divided (their marital assets, which included significant real property and numerous investment and brokerage accounts.

         The family court awarded the parties joint custody of the two children and determined that their monthly living expenses (excluding education costs) were $3, 697. The court then ordered Lambe to pay child support in the amount of $2, 150.09 per month in addition to the $108 per month that he paid in health insurance for the children. The family court also determined that because of Margaret's health issues, Weber was unable to obtain full-time employment. The family court estimated that Weber's reasonable monthly living expenses were $5, 800 (including 39%, or $1, 440, of the children's living expenses), which required taxable income of about $7, 300 per month. Accordingly, Lambe was ordered to pay maintenance in the amount of $7, 300 per month for a period of nine years.

         Finally, the family court found that Weber used $50, 000 in marital assets to pay her attorney's fees, and credited Lambe with having contributed $25, 000 of that amount. Due to the disparity in the parties' financial resources, Lambe was ordered to pay an additional $15, 000 of Weber's attorney's fees.

         Following entry of the decree, both parties filed motions to alter, amend, or vacate pursuant to Kentucky Rule of Civil Procedure (CR) 59.05. On April 30, 2013, the family court ruled on the motions, making minor changes to its original judgment but otherwise denying the parties' requests. Both parties appealed the family court's decree.

         In an Order rendered November 14, 2014, the Court of Appeals determined that the family court erred by including a portion of the children's living expenses in its calculation of Weber's maintenance award. The Court of Appeals also found that the family court erred by failing to make findings that justified its award of maintenance for a period of nine years. We set forth additional background information as necessary below.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW.

         A trial court is required to make specific findings of fact and set forth the conclusions of law it relied upon in rendering its judgement. CR 52.01. Because this matter was tried without a jury, the trial court's findings of fact "shall not be set aside unless clearly erroneous . . . ." Id. "If the trial judge's findings of fact in the underlying action are not clearly erroneous, Le., are supported by substantial evidence, then the appellate court's role is confined to determining whether those facts support the trial judge's legal conclusion." Commonwealth v. Deloney, 20 S.W.3d 471, 473-74 (Ky. 2000). However, where the trial court exercises its discretion, its decision is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. "The test for abuse of discretion is whether the trial judge's decision was arbitrary, unreasonable, unfair, or unsupported by sound legal principles." Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. v. Thompson, 11 S.W.3d 575, 581 (Ky. 2000). The trial court's conclusions of law are reviewed de novo. Sawyers v. Better, 384 S.W.3d 107, 110 (Ky. 2012).

         III. ...


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