No. 00384 Pittsburgh 1982, Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Civil Division, of Westmoreland County at No. 11983 of 1980.
Mark J. Homyak, Pittsburgh, for appellant.
Ronald L. Chicka, Greensburg, for appellee.
Rowley, Johnson and Popovich, JJ.
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This is an appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County denying appellant's, Flora
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Mazzei's, request for alimony.*fn1 We reverse.
The Mazzeis were married in 1945. Prior thereto, Flora worked in sales at a retail store, which occupation she discontinued upon marriage to become "a homemaker" and raise a son born in 1947. Thereafter, because Flora "was going to the doctor for three years," the couple moved in with her parents in Wilkinsburg, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Also, Flora remained at home to rear her son until he went off to college in 1967.
In November of 1970, the two separated and the wife stayed with mother, but sometime in 1970 or 1972 she secured an order from the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County directing the husband to pay $53.53 every two weeks for support. In 1981, the husband was found to be $400 in arrears and had his payments increased to $60.08 to offset the amount owed. The support received, which terminated with the grant of divorce, was the only source of income for the wife-appellant. In fact, she had to "borrow" $1,400 from her mother to pay a portion of her attorney's fees. Further, the medical benefits available to Flora, as appellee's spouse under Union Switch and Signal's contract with Westinghouse Corp., also terminated with the divorce. Equivalent coverage would cost $50 a month.
From the 1940s to the present, Flora has worked intermittently for various department stores. The jobs have been sporadic, "maybe two, three weeks at a time, and then [she would] g[e]t laid off. [She] never had a full time job." The most recent employment was in 1975 and encompassed two-three weeks during the holidays and one or two days a week thereafter. However, when Flora's 83-year-old father became ill, she "wasn't available to go in" and had to leave to care for him, which she did until his death.
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Additionally, in regard to work experience, Flora attended a three-year-old child for three days a week prior to the family moving. Thus, aside from the jobs just mentioned, Flora has not worked since her husband left in 1970. Nonetheless, "[i]f [she] could find one, [she] probably would [work.]" However, as she recounted, given her age (57) and educational background (high school), despite her "good health," "with [her] training where would [she] go?" Add to this the fact that Flora does not drive, resides with and cares (cooks and cleans) for her 83-year-old mother who receives medication for high blood pressure, and the prospects for (full-time or part-time) employment in southwestern Pennsylvania are bleak.
Since the couple separated, Mr. Mazzei has been cohabitating in Westmoreland County with another woman and her two children, one of whom goes to school in Virginia. The two share the expenses for an apartment, food, utilities and a new car payment purchased for the group. Mr. Mazzei has not been in the best of health, yet he continues to retain his position as a union official (grossing $21,900 in 1980) at Westinghouse Corp., which affords him the opportunity to work in the plant rather than "on the road".
Procedurally, the instant case was initiated by the appellee's filing of a complaint in divorce on December 12, 1980. In response, the appellant filed a counterclaim seeking, inter alia, alimony. A preliminary conference before the Domestic Relations Office in accordance with the Westmoreland County Rules of Procedure proved fruitless on the issue of alimony.*fn2 Accordingly, a Master was appointed and a hearing was held on August 25, 1981. As a result thereof, the Master prepared a nine-page report finding that, at the time of the hearing, appellee was 56 years old and "in seemingly good health except for some concern over
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a potential heart condition." He earned $19,000 per year*fn3 and was paying the appellant "support in the amount of $53.53 every two weeks."
The appellant, on the other hand, was characterized as living with her mother for the past 10 years, receiving support from the appellee for the same period "and . . . work[ing] little if at all over the last several years[, although] . . . apparently [ ] in good health . . . ." Also, the Master documented the appellant's work experience, age, educational background and the fact that no jointly owed marital liabilities existed.
In conclusion, the Master examined the evidence against the backdrop of the 1980 Divorce Code, specifically Section 501 and subsection (c) thereunder, before recommending that the appellant be denied alimony. In doing so, he wrote in relevant part:
The Master is not unmindful of the Defendant's present financial outlook, but the Master finds that the Defendant is employable and unqualified for alimony under the Divorce Code of 1980. Therefore, the Master recommends no alimony be paid to the Defendant.
Exceptions to the Master's recommendations, along with briefs in support thereof, were filed by both sides. Thereafter, by Opinion and Order dated March 18, 1982, the court adopted, with modifications, the Master's findings and conclusions. This appeal followed and questions the denial of the request for alimony.
At the outset, we observe that a trial court's order concerning alimony is to be evaluated against an abuse of discretion standard. Remick v. Remick, 310 Pa. Super. 23, 456 A.2d 163 (1983). Under such a standard, albeit we are not to usurp the trial court's duty as the finder of fact, our obligation to review the proceedings thoroughly under the ...