When the Court Grants Alimony and Unequal Distribution
Brady v. Brady, 2022 NCCOA 200 (N.C. Ct. App. 2022)
Brady v. Brady came before the NC Court of Appeals on Defendant Husband’s appeal.
ISSUE: What findings of facts are required to support awards of alimony, a distributive award, and the unequal distribution of assets.
Mr. and Ms. Brady were married on April 26, 1997, separated on June 11, 2017, and divorced on September 26, 2018. They had four children. Plaintiff Wife worked during the first years of the marriage while Defendant Husband attended his senior year of his undergraduate education and three years of dental school. When their first child was born, Plaintiff Wife became a stay-at-home mother and Defendant Husband worked as a dentist, beginning a successful dental practice in May 2005. Defendant Husband was the sole owner of that business and of the LLC which owned and received rent for the suite in which the business was located.
The trial court granted Plaintiff Wife $5250.00 in monthly alimony for ten years. The dental practice and LLC, in addition to two bank accounts related to the business, were distributed to Defendant Husband, and Plaintiff Wife was awarded a distributive award to compensate. Plaintiff Wife was awarded 54% of the marital property, with Defendant Husband receiving 46%.
The Court of Appeals reviews alimony, distributive awards, and division of assets for abuse of discretion. The trial court must have evidence that could reasonably support their findings of fact and include all statutorily required findings.
The Court of Appeals remanded the trial court’s alimony award for further finding of fact. NC statutes require that the trial court include reasons for the amount, duration, and manner of alimony payment, as well as specific findings of fact on each relevant factor considered. The Court of Appeals found that there were insufficient findings of fact to support the trial court’s determination of Defendant Husband’s reasonable expenses and failed to consider his child support expenses when determining his surplus income.
The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s distributive award to Plaintiff Wife. The Court found that the trial court included sufficient written findings of fact that provided evidence to support rebutting the presumption that assets should be distributed in kind and the finding that Defendant Husband would be able to pay the award. The dental practice was a closely held business that could not be shared between the parties. The office suite owned by the LLC was necessary for the practice to operate. Since this made up the bulk of the party’s assets and couldn’t be divided, it was impossible to divide assets fairly without Plaintiff Wife receiving some sort of payment from Defendant Husband. The trial court also found that Defendant Husband could refinance the office suite, supporting the conclusion that he had the ability to pay.
The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s unequal distribution of property. NC statute requires a trial court to consider certain factors when determining whether an unequal distribution is equitable, and the court in this case did make findings of fact as to those factors. However, statute grants discretion to determine the weight of each factor compared to the others and does not require findings outlining the exact weight given to each factor.