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S.M.C v. W.P.C

April 24, 2012

S.M.C.,
APPELLEE
v.
W.P.C., APPELLANT



Appeal from the Order entered May 9, 2011, Court of Common Pleas, Allegheny County, Family Court at No. FD 10-2470-00005

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

J. A09010/12

BEFORE: DONOHUE, LAZARUS and OTT, JJ.

OPINION BY DONOHUE, J.:

W.P.C. ("Husband") appeals from the order entered May 9, 2011, by the Court of Common Pleas, Allegheny County, dismissing his exceptions to, and making final, the order entered by the hearing officer which, inter alia, granted S.M.C. ("Wife") spousal support and ordered Husband to pay a portion of Wife's attorney's fees. For the following reasons, we affirm.

The trial court summarized the facts of the case as follows:

At the complex support hearing on October 18, 2010, both Wife [] and Husband testified that they were married for sixteen years, and that Wife left the marital home on June 9, 2010. Their marriage had produced one child, [E.C.], age 7, at the time of the October 2010 hearing.

Wife testified that she had been seeing a marriage counselor for three years prior to separation, but started actively looking for a new apartment and planning to move from the martial [sic] residence approximately two months prior to her doing so on June 9, 2010. Wife testified that she left the martial [sic] home because Husband was verbally abusive and was angry over a cruise which wife took with female friends in April 2010. Wife testified that she had originally booked the cruise in November 2009 and that Husband didn't believe it was proper for a married woman to go on a cruise without her husband. Wife also testified that while on her cruise, Husband sent her 'mean messages' and she was afraid to go home. Wife testified that she returned to the martial [sic] home after the cruise because her daughter was there, but that her husband repeatedly called her a whore and after her return from the cruise, he was emotionally abusive and bullied her. She testified that she and her daughter, [E.C.], were fearful whenever they would hear him come home.

Wife testified that when she left the martial [sic] home on June 9, 2010, she intended it to be a final separation, and that she met Lance Markle for the first time on June 12, 2010. Wife testified that she sees him at least once a week, and sometimes more frequently. She has gone on both group dates and individual dates with him and they have gone on a group vacation with friends. Wife testified that she lives only with her daughter, [E.C.]

At the October 18, 2010 hearing, Husband testified that Wife's cruise in April 2010 was a 'boiling point' in their relationship; that he didn't believe a married woman should be going on a cruise without her husband; and that he was angry that she went despite his objections. Husband testified that he had learned about his wife's relationship with another man several weeks prior to the hearing in October of 2010, and that he had hired a private investigator to follow her. Husband testified that he still considered himself married 'in every way, shape and form,' and that he was surprised when Wife left the martial [sic] residence on June 9, 2010. Husband testified that he did not attend marriage counseling with Wife for the three years that she attended prior to separation, but that he did attend marriage counseling following Wife's departure from the martial [sic] residence, until Wife decided to terminate the counseling. Husband testified that Wife gave him the impression that she was in a physical relationship with another man. The hearing officer sustained Wife's objections to Husband's questions concerning her conduct with Mr. Markle after separation, ruling that post[- ]separation conduct is not relevant to an entitlement defense.

Following the October 18, 2010 hearing, Hearing Officer Ferber made the following recommendations:

1.) Husband is to pay Wife $7,783 per month, $2,211 for child support and the remaining $5,562 in spousal support. Husband was also to continue to provide medical insurance for wife and child, and pay 61% of all unreimbursed medical expenses. Any extracurricular activities that [E.C.] participates in will be paid 61% by Husband and 39% by Wife. 2.) Husband's arrearages were set at $32,897.77 as of October 19, 2010. Husband was to pay Wife $30,000 in a lump sum payment within 10 days of the hearing and $250/month until the arrearages were paid in full. 3.) Wife was awarded $3,500 in counsel fees. Hearing Officer Ferber also found that Husband's precipitous sale of his 1/3rd interest in the family-owned Conroy Foods[,] Inc. was a voluntary reduction in income motivated by his support obligation and his beliefs regarding the divorce proceedings.

Trial Court Opinion, 9/14/11, at 2-4.

Husband filed exceptions to the hearing officer's recommendations on November 5, 2010. The trial court held oral argument on February 3, 2011, after which it denied his exceptions and converted the hearing officer's temporary order into a final order.

This timely appeal follows, wherein Husband raises five issues for our review:

A. Whether the trial court erred in upholding the hearing officer's exclusion of evidence in relation to Wife's post-separation conduct[?]

B. Whether the trial court erred in awarding spousal support to Wife and in concluding that post- separation misconduct no longer constitutes an entitlement ...


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