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9th District overturns spousal support award

Legal News Reporter

Published: September 22, 2014

A Medina County Domestic Relations Court erred by ruling a couple’s lifestyle during their marriage rendered their prenuptial agreement unconscionable at the time of the divorce, the 9th District Court of Appeals recently ruled.

Case summary indicates Barbara and Shane Vanderbilt married in 1999 after dating for years. The couple’s prenuptial agreement included a mutual waiver of spousal support in case of divorce.

In 2009, Barbara filed for divorce. The trial court awarded spousal support to her of $3,500 a month for 49 months, noting a return to her prior living standard would be a hardship.

Shane argued the trial court did not consider that the couple’s circumstances did not change enough during the marriage to relieve Barbara of her spousal support waiver.

Throughout their relationship, Barbara worked full-time for a county agency with no-cost health benefits and owned a modest home that she shared with Shane. She continued to work there throughout the marriage and after.

She later sold her premarital home for $60,000, using that money to help pay for her children’s college education, an extra car and some living expenses.

In a 3-0 opinion, the 9th District agreed that Barbara’s employment and earning capacity has not changed enough to warrant deviating from the prenuptial agreement.

“Wife did not invest her own financial resources or sacrifice her career to benefit Husband’s business interests, and she has no barriers to continued employment in the same capacity that she enjoyed before and during the marriage,” 9th District Judge Jennifer Hensal wrote. “Although Wife maintained in the course of the previous appeal that she made significant indirect contributions to Husband’s success, this Court rejected that position in light of the prenuptial agreement.”

The appellate court also noted that the wife’s standard of living changed over the course of the couple’s long relationship – not just during the marriage.

“Due in part to Husband’s higher income, the couple enjoyed a higher standard of living than Wife did on her own, but the record indicates that the higher standard of living was established before the marriage,” Hensal wrote. “In other words, Wife enjoyed a higher standard of living as a result of her relationship with Husband at the time that she executed the prenuptial agreement. It was neither drastic nor unanticipated, but was, instead, part and parcel of the couple’s lengthy pre-marital relationship.”

The judgment awarding spousal support was reversed. Appellate judges Beth Whitmore and Carla Moore concurred.

Vanderbilt v. Vanderbilt is cited 2014-Ohio-3652.