LISA M. COOPER, Plaintiff-Appellee,
PATRICK SCOTT COOPER, Defendant-Appellant.
APPEAL FROM CLERMONT COUNTY COURT OF COMMON PLEAS DOMESTIC RELATIONS DIVISION Case No. 2011 DRB 01742
Christine D. Tailer, for plaintiff-appellee.
Cordell Law, LLP, Tifanie R. McMillan, for defendant-appellant.
M. POWELL, J.
(¶ 1} Defendant-appellant, Patrick Scott Cooper (Husband), appeals a decision of the Clermont County Court of Common Pleas, Domestic Relations Division, granting a divorce between Husband and plaintiff-appellee, Lisa M. Cooper (Wife). For the reasons stated below, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand this cause to the lower court.
(¶ 2} Husband and Wife were married on August 22, 1982. Three children were born during the marriage and are now adults. The parties separated on October 20, 2011, and on December 19, 2011, Wife filed a complaint for divorce. In response, Husband filed an answer and counterclaim. The trial court held a hearing on these matters on October 16, 2012.
(¶ 3} During the hearing, Husband testified that the parties agreed to finance their adult children's college education. To support this assertion, Husband called as witnesses, the parties' adult son, Scott, and adult daughter, Heather. Both indicated that their parents agreed to help pay for their first four-year degree. Heather did not complete her degree and there was no evidence that Husband or Wife incurred any expenses on her behalf. Scott testified that once he was matriculated to the University of Miami in Florida, he believed his parents took out loans to pay for his college education. Husband testified that during the marriage, he initiated several student loans, in his name, in order to pay for Scott's college expenses. Husband also testified that he considered these loans to be a joint effort between him and Wife and requested the court to divide this debt equally. The balance of the loans totaled approximately $116, 058. Wife provided no testimony on the subject.
(¶ 4} The trial court also heard testimony that a few months before the parties separated, Husband and Wife agreed to withdraw funds from his retirement account with Ford Motor Company, using a method suggested by BeneTrends, Inc. (BeneTrends), to fund a real estate investment business. Husband testified that the parties owned land along Lake Cumberland in Monticello, Kentucky and intended to build rental homes on this property. Husband explained that the purpose of the company was to finance their retirement by generating rental income from this property. In pursuance of this plan, CoCo Perle Properties, Inc. (CoCo Perle) was created in July 2011. As suggested by BeneTrends, Husband funded CoCo Perle by withdrawing $40, 101.21 from his retirement account and placing it into a business checking account in CoCo Perle's name.
(¶ 5} On January 24, 2013, the trial court issued a decision which made several findings regarding the parties' property and the division of this property. Pertinent to this appeal, the court found that the student loans Husband initiated on behalf of Scott were Husband's separate debt. As to CoCo Perle, the trial court found that the decision to employ the method suggested by BeneTrends was made "jointly or at least with Wife's consent, " and therefore found that Husband's withdrawals from his retirement account in the amount of $40, 101.21 was marital. The trial court also found that out of the $40, 101.21 withdrawn, Husband used $19, 323.85 to pay off the mortgage on the Monticello, Kentucky property, $3, 995 went to BeneTrends for their services, and $877.95 remained in the account at the time of the hearing. Accordingly, the trial court found that Husband and Wife each received the benefit of one-half of the accounted for withdrawal amount ($12, 098). As Husband was unable to account for the remaining $15, 904.31 of the funds withdrawn, the trial court found Husband "received the benefit of $15, 904.31 in marital assets plus one half of the accounted for withdrawal, for a total of $28, 002.76." In order to equalize the property division, the trial court found "Husband must pay Wife $20, 548.50."
(¶ 6} On March 7, 2013, the trial court entered a decree of divorce, granting the parties a divorce. The divorce decree also ordered Husband solely responsible for the student loan debt and ordered Husband to pay Wife $20, 548.50. Husband appeals, raising the following three assignments of error:
(¶ 7} Assignment of Error No. 1:
(¶ 8} THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN FINDING THAT STUDENT LOANS TAKEN OUT DURING THE MARRIAGE IN THE NAME OF ONE PARENT FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE PARTIES' CHILD IS NOT A MARITAL DEBT.
(¶ 9} Assignment of Error No. 2:
(¶ 10} THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN FINDING THAT [HUSBAND WAS] UNABLE TO ACCOUNT FOR $15, 904.31 OF ...