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DIANE CHASE v. MICHAEL CHASE (01/24/84)

argued: January 24, 1984.

DIANE CHASE, APPELLANT
v.
MICHAEL CHASE



No. 1056 Pittsburgh 1983, Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Family Division, of Allegheny County at No. FD-81-8760.

COUNSEL

James McConomy, Pittsburgh, for appellant.

Rosemary Markham, Pittsburgh, for appellee.

Wieand, Tamilia and Popovich, JJ.

Author: Popovich

[ 331 Pa. Super. Page 447]

This is an appeal from the trial court's order of equitable distribution, alimony, child support, and counsel fees in an action filed by appellant, Diane Chase, against her former husband, Michael Chase. This appeal followed. We affirm.

Appellant contends that the trial court abused its discretion when it set aside sub silentio a support order of the court which awarded to the wife one-half of the husband's 1982 bonus, net after taxes, which was paid by the husband's employer to him in January, 1983.

The procedural history surrounding this case reveals a court docket consisting of over one hundred and fifty-three (153) entries.

The basic facts are undisputed. On July 29, 1980, appellant, Diane Chase, filed a support complaint for herself and two children, Kevin, age fourteen, and Michael, age eleven. On November 14, 1980, the trial court entered a support order following a hearing requiring the appellee (1) to pay $1,500.00 per month; (2) to pay the mortgage, taxes, and insurance on the parties marital home; (3) to provide medical and dental coverage; (4) to make a one-time payment of $1,500.00; (5) to maintain payments on joint debts listed and to provide club memberships and pay dues and assessments for appellant and the children; and (6) "to pay 1/2 of the bonus to [appellant] upon receipt in 1981 and each year thereafter net after taxes." Record at No. 8. The order also provided that appellee could elect to file a joint return with appellant.

[ 331 Pa. Super. Page 448]

A hearing was held on February 27, 1981, before a hearing officer because appellant sought a contempt order for failure to pay the bonus. The parties disagreed on whether the order provided for the payment of the 1981*fn1 bonus, which consisted of $72,500.00, after taxes were withheld by the employer or after taxes were paid by parties to the federal government for the calendar year. The officer denied the contempt petition and concluded that a deduction would be allowed only for the amounts withheld by the employer. The trial court affirmed this recommendation. The appellee appealed the construction of the order to this Court on April 16, 1981.

In the interim, appellant filed a divorce complaint and petition for equitable distribution, child custody, support, and counsel fees. The trial court granted a bifurcated divorce on April 23, 1982, a divorce whereby the court retained jurisdiction over the outstanding economic issues in the case notwithstanding the granting of the divorce.

Hearings were held on the unresolved economic issues on August 19th and November 15th of 1982. The reasons for the trial court's award in favor of the appellant-wife were adequately set forth by the trial court in a ten page opinion.

The relevant portions of the trial court's opinion discloses the parties' circumstances in the following manner:

Pursuant to her divorce action, Diane L. Chase (wife), is seeking property distribution, alimony, support, and counsel fees from her former husband, Michael R. Chase (husband). The parties were married in June of 1965, following husband's graduation from the University of Colorado, where wife was also a student. Wife was unable to complete her undergraduate studies and accompanied husband with his new-found business degree so that he could complete graduate studies at the American Institute of Foreign Trade in Phoenix, Arizona. He held a part-time job, while she

[ 331 Pa. Super. Page 449]

    worked, and, following graduation, husband went into the military service, while she returned to live with her family in California. After a year, husband was placed on reserve status and began his employment with a New York bank in 1967. The wife worked in New York City while he was assigned there and went with him when he was transferred to Argentina and, eventually, Puerto Rico. While in Puerto Rico, their first child, Kevin, was born. In 1971, husband left the employ of the bank and began his employment with a mortgage company located in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1973, their son, Michael, was born. In 1974, husband assumed his present position with a prominent private company and was transferred to Allegheny County where, after several months, the parties obtained the present marital residence in Fox Chapel.

Husband's talents were obviously recognized by his employer and his gross compensation went from $74,000.00 in 1976 to $92,000.00 in 1977, $98,000.00 in 1978 and almost $114,000.00 in 1979. His gross compensation in 1980 was approximately $131,000.00. During these years of growing affluence, the parties continued to enjoy their Fox Chapel home, together with vehicles and club memberships provided by husband's employer. The children attended private schools and enjoyed an appropriate, albeit not extravagant, life style. In fact, husband indicated that the families' approximate living costs during 1979 were $2,000.00 per month, exclusive of debt repayment, tuition costs, and mortgage payments.

During the first week of April, 1980, husband left the marital domicile. Following the parties' separation, husband continued to pay the home mortgage, the household expenses and, in addition, gave wife $1,000.00 per month. She brought a support action, and, in the litigation that followed, there emerged a consent order which required husband to pay wife for her and the children's support the sum of $1,500.00, as well as the mortgage of approximately $900.00. In addition, he was to pay one-half of a bonus which he was to receive in January of 1981, said amount to

[ 331 Pa. Super. Page 450]

    be paid "after taxes". The interpretation of "after taxes" was appealed to the Superior Court. See pages 451-453, infra. Also, incident to the consent order, husband was to pay and has paid certain joint debts totaling approximately $18,000.00. On April 23, 1982, the parties were granted a bifurcated divorce. Prior to the divorce, husband was transferred by his employer to California, and thereafter he remarried and resides with his new wife together with her three children, the custody of whom was the subject of other litigation in this court. Trial Court Opinion at 1-3.

The trial court divided the marital property and awarded support in the following manner:

"DECREE NISI

AND NOW, this 15th day of March, 1983, it is ORDERED, ADJUDGED and DECREED that:

1. Plaintiff, Diane Chase, is hereby awarded:

     a. The family residence located at 104 Westchester Drive, Borough of Fox Chapel, Pennsylvania, together with the furniture and fixtures contained therein, free and clear of the mortgage encumbrance which shall be the sole liability of the defendant, Michael Chase.

In the event of the sale or transfer of said residence resulting in the satisfaction of said mortgage, the defendant shall be liable to the plaintiff for the unpaid balance under the same terms and conditions as the mortgage loan, which may be prepaid at any time.

     b. State Street Money Market Fund . . . $5,000.00

2. Defendant, Michael Chase, is awarded the following:

     a. Balance of net proceeds of partnership $35,000.00

     b. His non-contributory savings plan $20,000.00

     c. Balance, Big Rivers Fund ...


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