Rayborn v. Rayborn, 185 S.W.3d 641 (Ky. 2006)
Issue and Holding:
Whether the circumstances of the parties brought about by the entry of the divorce decree and maintenance obligation can serve as the basis of the “changed circumstances” required by KRS 403.250 to allow modification of the maintenance award. The Court held no, the parties circumstances at the time of the decree and maintenance obligation are the status quo against which the changed circumstances requirement of KRS 403.250(1) is to be measured.
Paul and Exie Rayborn were married for 25 years. Exie filed a petition for dissolution of marriage, and Paul did not respond. The trial court entered a default decree, wherein Exie received most of the personal marital property, including their mobile home, and Paul was assigned to pay the marital debt, except for the debt remaining on the mobile home. The parties owned a one-half interest in a 44-acre farm, which was not disposed of by the decree. Since Paul was a self-employed truck driver and Exie was disabled, the court also ordered Paul to pay $500.00 a month in permanent maintenance.
Following the divorce, Paul purchased the other half of the farm from a third party, sold the land, and gave Exie her share of the marital proceeds, $47,000, as well as the one acre where her mobile home was located. Paul received $153,615.51 from the sale of the farm.
The same year, Paul moved the court to terminate his maintenance obligation under KRS 403.250. The trial court granted the motion, finding that there had been a showing of changed circumstances sufficient to make the provisions and terms of the maintenance obligation unconscionable. The trial court noted that Exie’s standard of living had increased significantly since the marriage, due to the maintenance that she received. It also noted that Paul’s income had decreased significantly and that the sale of the farm constituted changed circumstances. Finally, it noted that the original decree was defective because it did not contain requisite findings of fact.
The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the trial court’s findings were only conclusory and not supported by facts. The Supreme Court granted discretionary review.
KRS 403.250 requires that the changed circumstances occur after the divorce decree and maintenance obligation become effective. However, the changes noted by the trial court were the product of the divorce decree and maintenance obligation. Exie’s income had increased, due to the maintenance she received. Paul’s income had decreased, due to the maintenance that he paid. Although, the Court noted that Paul’s income might have actually increased overall, if calculated before maintenance was deducted. The Court also attributed the sale of the farm to merely a distribution of property that should have occurred as part of the original decree. The Court also pointed out that the proceeds from the sale actually improved Paul’s overall financial position. These changes brought about by the divorce decree and maintenance obligation cannot serve as the basis of the “changed circumstances” required by statute. Otherwise, every maintenance obligation could be immediately modified under the statute.
Finally, the Court acknowledged that the original decree was, in fact, defective. It did not dispose of the entire marital estate or contain requisite findings of fact. However, the Court held that those defects are to be raised in a direct appeal of the decree. Those defects cannot serve as a basis for a later action to modify the maintenance obligation.
Accordingly, the Court affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case to the trial court for proceedings consistent with the opinion.