Brosnan v. Brosnan, Ky COA, maintenance, division of marital property and debt, attorney fees, qualifications of social worker to give opinion evidence of PTSD.

Timothy M. Brosnan v. Margaret Brosnan

No. 2010-CA-000229-MR, No. 2010-CA-000272-MR, No. 2010-CA-000849-MR

Published: Opinion Affirming

County: Jefferson

Timothy Brosnan appeals and Margaret Brosnan cross-appeals from judgment of Jefferson Family Court dividing marital property and debts and awarding maintenance to Margaret. Margaret also appeals from Jefferson Family Court order denying her motion for attorney fees incurred on appe

Timothy alleges that a social worker was erroneously permitted to offer expert opinion, and that the amount and duration of maintenance awarded to Margaret was an abuse of discretion. Margaret argues the trial court awarded insufficient maintenance, improperly divided parties’ bank accounts, improperly divided credit card debt, failed to require Timothy to keep her on his life insurance policy, and erred when it denied her request to withhold dissolving marriage until January 1, 2010 to permit filing of joint tax returns and denied her request to require Timothy to pay her one half the 2008 tax refund prior to sale of marital residence. She also argues that family court erred when it failed to advance her attorney’s fees on appeal and cross-appeal.

The trial court divided the marital property and ordered Timothy to pay Margaret her share from his half of the proceeds from the sale of the marital residence. The trial court found that Timothy dissipated funds from a joint savings account and ordered him to pay the parties’ entire credit card debt. On the issue of maintenance, the trial court permitted, over Timothy’s objection, the testimony of a social worker who diagnosed Margaret with PTSD and incapable of employment because of a variety of symptoms. Margaret was awarded maintenance for fifteen years and $3000 in attorney’s fees.

Both parties filed motions to alter or amend, both of which were denied. Timothy appealed and Margaret cross-appealed. Margaret also filed a motion in family court for an advance of attorney’s fees for the appeal, which the family court denied.

The Court of Appeals held that family court abused its discretion when it permitted the social worker to opine that Margaret has PTSD. Since the social worker lacks training and education to diagnose psychological disorders, her testimony was inadmissible. The Court concluded, however, that since the trial court did not rely on the social worker’s testimony and based its findings on the factors in KRS 403.200, the error was harmless, not requiring reversal. Margaret’s claims that the maintenance award is inadequate was denied, the Court finding no abuse of discretion. The Court found no abuse of discretion in any of the other issues presented on the appeal or cross-appeal.               

On the issue of Margaret’s attorney’s fees on appeal, the Court of Appeals held that family court retains jurisdiction over this matter after an appeal is filed. Prospective fees may be awarded and the trial court retains jurisdiction to alter its award and order reimbursement of any unjustified amounts. Therefore, Margaret shall be permitted to file a motion for attorney’s fees as a result of this appeal.

Digested by Sandra G. Ragland, Diana L. Skaggs + Associates.