March 3, 2014
PAMELA O. RENDE Appellee
PERRY J. RENDE Appellant
Appeal from the Decree April 2, 2013 In the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County Family Court at No(s): FD 09-2313-004
BEFORE: FORD ELLIOTT, P.J.E., OTT, J., and WECHT, J.
Perry J. Rende (Husband) appeals from the decree of divorce entered on April 2, 2013, in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County. This decree made final the orders of October 5, 2012, January 10, 2013, and January 25, 2013 allowing Wife to proceed with her exceptions without providing a copy of the notes of testimony, and subsequently granting, in part, Wife's exceptions to the Master's Report regarding distribution of marital assets. Because we cannot determine the basis of the trial court's decision to significantly modify the Master's recommendations, we must remand for clarification.
Husband has appealed the trial court's order and raises five issues, that for simplicity we will restate as two: (1) did the trial court err in allowing Wife to proceed with her exceptions without producing a transcript, and subsequently decide the matter without the benefit of the transcript, and (2) did the trial court err in granting, in part, Wife's exceptions without due deference to the Master's determinations.
For purposes of this memorandum, we will briefly recount the factual and procedural history.
After approximately 17 years of marriage, the parties separated on July 4, 2004. In 2012, the parties took part in a two-day hearing, August 28 and 29, 2012, before a Master to resolve contested issues of equitable distribution. On September 12, 2102, the Master filed and served on the parties her Report and Recommendations.
In relevant part, the Master recommended Husband's IBEW pension, valued at approximately $41, 000.00 would be divided equally. Additionally, Husband would pay Wife alimony of $900.00 per month for 18 months. The alimony recommendation represented a total alimony obligation of $16, 200.00.
On September 27, 2012, Wife filed exceptions, challenging, in relevant part, the recommendations listed above. On the same date, Wife also filed a motion requesting permission to proceed with her exceptions without supplying a transcript to the trial court. The motion asserted the exceptions did not require the notes of testimony to resolve as she would stipulate to the Master's factual determinations but challenge the conclusions drawn therefrom. On October 5, 2012, eight days after the motion was served, it was docketed and granted by the trial court. The timing of this appears to contravene Local Rule 208.3(2)(b) which mandates a ten-day period from serving the motion to presentation.
Although it appears that an oral argument on the exceptions was scheduled for January 10, 2013, the docket contains no entry for January 10, 2013 and there is no other record of what transpired that day. See Docket
On January 14, 2013, the Order of January 10, 2013 was docketed. This order significantly modified the Master's recommendations. Specifically, Wife was granted Husband's entire IBEW pension, and Husband's alimony obligation was increased to $1, 500.00 per month for 60 months.
The $40, 000.00 modification regarding the pension represents $20, 000.00 taken from Husband and given to Wife. Husband's obligations regarding attorney's fees more than doubled. The modification to Husband's alimony obligation represents more than 500% increase in total alimony payments. Both of these modifications represent significant deviations from the Master's recommendations.
Our scope of review in equitable distribution matters is limited. Awards of alimony, counsel fees, and property distribution are within the sound discretion of the trial court and will not be disturbed absent an error of law or abuse of discretion. Berrington v. Berrington, 409 Pa.Super. 355, 598 A.2d 31, 34 (1991) citing Ruth v. Ruth, 316 Pa.Super. 282, 462 A.2d 1351 (1983).
Smith v. Smith, 749 A.2d 921, 924 (Pa.Super. 2000).
Case law requires the trial court to give the Master's recommendations "the fullest consideration" in resolving exceptions. See Moran v. Moran, 839 A.2d 1091 (Pa.Super. 2003). However, in explaining these deviations from the Master's recommendations the trial court stated, "Under the Master's division the parties' assets were essentially divided 55-45 but only 50% of Husband's IBEW pension was assigned to Wife. The Court was persuaded by the Master's findings that the husband was in a superior position to acquire future assets having multiple sources of income" and therefore Wife was entitled to 100% of the pension. See Trial Court Opinion, 7/5/2013, at 6.
Regarding the increase in alimony, the trial court stated,
Wife was a dependent spouse with little or no chance of entering the job market in a manner that would sustain her. There was a sizeable disparity in earnings and earning potential between the two parties, in that Husband historically earned a great deal more than Wife. This disparity, considered together with the length of the marriage and Wife's contributions as a homemaker and caretaker of the child Dylan, led the Court to conclude that economic justice would be achieved with the imbalance against Wife corrected with an award of time-limited alimony.
These statements provide no analysis of how the trial court believed the Master had erred or abused her discretion. The statements do not indicate the trial court gave the Master's recommendations the fullest consideration as required. Essentially, the trial court purportedly accepted the Master's factual determinations, yet came to a wholly different conclusion, reallocating both the pension award and alimony, without explaining what prompted the modifications.
Because the trial court has not explained how the same facts determined by the Master led to such a different result, we have no basis upon which we can rationally determine whether the trial court erred or abused its discretion. Therefore, we are required to remand this matter for clarification by the trial court. To that end, the trial court is directed to provide a supplemental Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a) opinion that details its reasoning and analysis supporting the significant modifications made to the Master's recommendations. This opinion is to be filed within 30 days of the return of the certified record.
This matter is remanded to the trial court for actions consistent with this memorandum. Jurisdiction retained.