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Wyatt v. Wyatt

Court of Appeals of Virginia

October 1, 2019

ROGER G. WYATT
v.
KIMBERLY S. WYATT

          FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF CHESTERFIELD COUNTY Lynn S. Brice, Judge

          Robert L. Isaacs (Robert L. Isaacs, P.C., on briefs), for appellant.

          Richard L. Locke (Shannon S. Otto; Locke & Quinn on brief), for appellee.

          Present: Chief Judge Decker, Judges Petty and Huff Argued at Richmond, Virginia

          OPINION

          WILLIAM G. PETTY JUDGE

         Roger G. Wyatt (husband) and Kimberly S. Wyatt (wife) each filed complaints for divorce; each alleged desertion or cruelty. The trial court entered a decree of divorce on the grounds of living separate and apart for a year. Husband argues on appeal that the trial court erred in granting wife a reservation to seek future spousal support because wife was at fault in the destruction of the marriage. We disagree and thus affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         We view the facts in the light most favorable to the prevailing party below, granting to it the benefit of any reasonable inferences; we review issues of law de novo. Hall v. Commonwealth, 55 Va.App. 451, 453 (2009).

         The parties were married in 2001. Shortly after the death of one of the parties' three children, each party filed for divorce; the cases were consolidated in August 2017. Each party alleged cruelty and desertion. The parties later agreed to divorce on the grounds of living separate and apart. In making findings regarding the relative fault of the parties in the demise of the marriage, the trial court found as follows:

The [c]ourt heard a great deal of evidence that the parties' marriage was an unhappy one from very early on. This culminated in December 2016 when the parties' son was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and Mrs. Wyatt told Mr. Wyatt, not for the first time, that she wanted a divorce. Mrs. Wyatt notes that problems began two years into the parties' marriage. She cites Mr. Wyatt's controlling and manipulative demeanor as a reason for the marriage's dissolution and notes that he would say derogatory things to her in private and in the presence of others. This was corroborated by Mrs. Wyatt's witness and best friend, Ms. Tiffany Scale, who said that Mr. Wyatt was "condescending toward her, making comments about her hearing, making fun of her, [making] comments about her weight and also about her intellect." Mr. Wyatt argues that Mrs. Wyatt's excessive alcohol consumption was an issue early on in the marriage and a reason for the marriage's dissolution.

         The trial court expressly incorporated these facts into its analysis of the statutory factors in deciding spousal support. See Code § 20-107.3. The court concluded that, although wife had need for support, husband had no ability to pay support. The court reserved the right of each party to seek spousal support in the future upon change of circumstance. Husband appeals that decision.

         II. ANALYSIS

         "The trial court has 'broad discretion in setting spousal support and its determination will not be disturbed except for a clear abuse of discretion." Giraldi v. Giraldi, 64 Va.App. 676, 681 (2015). "In determining the appropriate amount of spousal support, the trial court must consider the needs of the requesting party and the other spouse's ability to pay." Alphin v. Alphin, 15 Va.App. 395, 401 (1992). Code § 20-107.1(E) requires the trial court to consider certain statutory factors and additionally to "consider the circumstances and factors which contributed to the dissolution of the marriage, specifically including adultery and any other ground for divorce [including desertion and cruelty]." Thus, even where a court grants a divorce based on a one-year separation, it must still consider any proven fault-based ground in relation to spousal support. The factors and circumstances are not limited to the legal grounds for divorce, however, but also "encompass[] all behavior that affected the marital relationship, including any acts or conditions which contributed to the marriage's failure, success, or well-being." Barnes v. Barnes, 16 Va.App. 98, 102 (1993).

         When a court does not award spousal support, it may "reserve the right of a party to receive support in the future." Code § 20-107.1(D). Moreover, "where there is no bar to the right of spousal support, it is reversible error for the trial court, upon request of either party, to fail to make a reservation in the decree of the right to receive spousal support in the ...


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