Family Law: RAYBORN V. RAYBORN (SCOKY; 2/23/2006)

Modification of Maintenance Obligation
DATE: 2/23/2006

The Supreme Court found this to be “one of those rare domestic cases where deference to the trial court’s judgment is unwarranted.” 

Husband requested modification of TC’s maintenance award, claiming a substantial and continuing change of circumstances based on his decreased income, Wife’s increased standard of living, and a division of marital property that occurred after the decree.  TC agreed with Husband and terminated his obligation, finding that the initial decree did not include sufficient findings of fact and that, had sufficient findings been made, the award of maintenance would have been unconscionable when the decree was entered.  CA recognized that this was the incorrect standard, and reversed TC’s order. 

On discretionary review, SC recognized that the “changed circumstances” Husband referred to, his decreased income and Wife’s improved standard of living, were actually the product of the divorce decree and its included maintenance obligation and were not the result of a material change in Husband’s or Wife’s circumstances after the marriage was ended.  “

KRS 403 ..250(1)

requires that the changed circumstances occur after the divorce decree and maintenance obligation become effective. Implicit in this requirement is the understanding that the circumstances of the parties brought about by the entry of the divorce decree and maintenance obligation cannot serve as the basis of the ‘changed circumstances’ required by the statute. Rather, 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.”  Thus, the facts that Wife had an improved standard of living due to her receipt of maintenance and Husband had decreased income due to his payment of maintenance did not constitute changed circumstances. 

The sale of the parties’ farm and distribution of the proceeds that should have occurred as part of the divorce decree also did not create a substantial and continuing change of circumstances sufficient to modify maintenance.  Receipt of the proceeds left the parties in the same financial position, relative to the other. 

CA affirmed.

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