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Biese v. Biese

July 21, 2009

TRACY L. BIESE, APPELLEE
v.
LEE C. BIESE, APPELLANT



Appeal from the Order entered September 17, 2008, in the Court of Common Pleas of Berks County, Civil, at No. 06-12474.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Allen, J.

BEFORE: ALLEN, FREEDBERG, and CLELAND, JJ.

OPINION

¶ 1 Lee C. Biese ("Husband") appeals from the order entered by the trial court which resolved the economic claims between Husband and Tracy L. Biese ("Wife") in their divorce proceedings. We affirm in part and reverse in part, and remand with instructions.

¶ 2 The trial court ably summarized the pertinent facts as follows:

The parties were married on August 7, 2004, in the Bahamas. This was the third marriage for [Wife] and the second marriage for [Husband]. The parties separated in September 2006, after approximately two (2) years of marriage. There were no children born of the marriage. Husband continues to reside in the marital home in Berks County, a home he owned prior to the marriage. Wife now resides in Camden, New Jersey, although she works in Berks County as a CAT scan technician for the Reading Hospital and Medical Center. Husband is employed as a financial analyst.

Trial Court Opinion, 12/19/08, at 2. Wife filed a pro se divorce complaint on October 24, 2006. Husband filed an amended answer in which he requested that the parties' marital estate be equitably distributed. Wife retained counsel and filed an amended complaint on March 8, 2007, which included counts for equitable distribution, no fault divorce, alimony pendente lite, and alimony, as well as a request for an award of counsel fees, costs and expenses. Following the appointment of a Special Master ("Master"), a hearing was held on February 22, 2008. Both parties appeared with counsel and presented testimony and documentary evidence.

¶ 3 On June 10, 2008, the Master filed his report and recommendation ("Master's Report"). According to the trial court:

The Master found that the income of each party fluctuated throughout the course of the marriage, and that Wife obtained training in her profession during the marriage which increased her earning capacity. Despite this, the Master found that neither party presented evidence that they overwhelmingly provided financial support to the other party during the marriage. The Master also found that both parties made relatively equal contributions to the marital estate. Based on these findings, as well as the short duration of the marriage, the Master decided that the marital estate should be divided in an equal manner.

Id. Specifically, in his report, the Master stated:

The testimony of the parties and the evidence that each has introduced into the record leads the Master to recommend that the parties be treated equally in the resolution of the issue of equitable distribution. The Master has awarded to each party the property that he or she maintained in his or her custody or control at the time of the parties' separation and has equalized the benefit received by Husband in the increase in value of the former marital residence, by an award of cash to Wife. With the award of a payment of $6,300.00 to Wife, it is the intention of the Master to achieve a 50/50 split of the marital estate, and the Master recommends that such a division be awarded to the parties as a resolution of the related claim of equitable distribution of marital property.

Master's Report, 6/10/08, at 12. In addition, while the Master recommended denying Wife's request for alimony pendente lite and alimony, he did award her $1,000 in counsel fees and $300.00 in costs.

¶ 4 Both parties filed exceptions, and the trial court heard argument on August 29, 2008. Thereafter, the trial court denied both parties' exceptions and entered a decree of divorce. Husband's timely appeal followed. Both Husband and the trial court have complied with Pa.R.A.P. 1925.

¶ 5 Husband raises the following issues on appeal:

A. WHETHER THE EQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION AWARD WAS BASED ON MULTIPLE ERRORS OF OMISSION AND ERRORS IN CALCULATION THAT RESULTED IN AN INEQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION OF MARITAL PROPERTY?

1. WHETHER THE EQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION AWARD WAS IN ERROR FOR FAILING TO APPORTION $43,400 OF MARITAL DEBT FROM A HOME EQUITY LOAN BETWEEN THE PARTIES?

2. WHETHER THE EQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION AWARD WAS IN ERROR FOR FAILING TO APPORTION ANY MARITAL DEBT BETWEEN THE PARTIES?

3. WHETHER THE EQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION AWARD WAS IN ERROR SINCE IT RELIED UPON AN INCORRECT OUTSTANDING HOME EQUITY LOAN BALANCE TO THE VALUE OF THE PROPERTY?

B. WHETHER THE TRIAL COURT ERRED BY DISMISSING THE EXCEPTIONS TO THE MASTER'S REPORT ASSERTING THE MASTER ERRED BY FAILING TO FOLLOW THE DICTATES OF 23 PA.C.S.A. ยง3501(a.1) WHEN ...


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