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Golan-Elliott v. Elliott

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Third District, Union

November 13, 2017

VIRGINIA GOLAN-ELLIOTT, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
G. RALPH ELLIOTT, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.

         Appeal from Union County Common Pleas Court Domestic Relations Division Trial Court No. 15-DR-0076

          Aaron E. Michel for Appellant

          Anthony W. Greco ad Aaron E. Kenter for Appellee

          OPINION

          ZIMMERMAN, J.

         {¶1} Defendant-Appellant, G. Ralph Elliott ("Ralph") appeals the January 26, 2017 Final Judgment Entry/Decree of Divorce issued by the Union County Court of Common Pleas, Domestic Relations Division, granting him a divorce from Virginia Golan-Elliott ("Virginia"). On appeal, Ralph assigns as error: (1) the trial court's denial of temporary support and subsequent spousal support award of $250 per month; (2) the trial court's failure to make findings of fact, failure to identify and classify assets, and failure to credit Ralph with transferring assets to Virginia; (3) the trial court's determination that the antenuptial and separation agreements were inapplicable; (4) the trial court's denial of Ralph's motion to add an expert to his witness list; and (5) the trial court's classification and valuations of Virginia and Ralph's respective residences and their marital debt in regard to the distributive award. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         Facts

         {¶2} Ralph and Virginia were married on July 3, 1997. (Doc. No. 66 at 1). They signed an antenuptial agreement the day of their marriage and both were represented by counsel when the agreement was signed. (11/01/2016 Tr., Vol. II, at 8-9; Def. Ex. No. B). At the time of their marriage, Ralph was 61 and Virginia was 37. (Doc. No. 40 at 3). No children were born as issue of their marriage. (Doc. No. 66 at 1).

         {¶3} During the course of their marriage, both Ralph and Virginia were professional realtors and were actively engaged in the selling of real estate. (Id. at 2). Also during their marriage, Ralph inherited an interest in real property, a portion of which ultimately became the parties' marital residence. (Id. at 3).

         {¶4} In 2013, the parties decided to terminate their marriage by dissolution and filed a petition and separation agreement in Logan County, Ohio. (Id. at 2). However, Ralph failed to appear for the final dissolution hearing and the case was dismissed. (Id.).

         Procedural History

         {¶5} This instant action commenced in Union County when Virginia filed her complaint for divorce on May 26, 2015 in case number 15-DR-0076. Ralph filed his answer on June 18, 2015. However, Ralph also filed a complaint for divorce in Union County on May 20, 2015, together with a request for temporary spousal support, in case number 15-DR-0067. On June 24, 2015 the trial court consolidated the divorce cases, and designated Virginia as the Plaintiff and Ralph as the Defendant in case number 15-DR-0076. On May 5, 2016 the trial court denied Ralph's motion for temporary spousal support.

         {¶6} The matter proceeded to a contested final hearing on October 31st and November 1st, 2016. (Doc. No. 66 at 1). From this hearing the trial court issued its Final Judgment Entry/Decree of Divorce (the "Decree") on January 26, 2017. In the Decree Virginia and Ralph were granted a divorce from each other on the grounds of incompatibility. (Id.).

         {¶7} It is from this Decree that Ralph appeals, presenting the following assignments of error for our review:

ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NO. I
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED TO THE PREJUDICE OF THE HUSBAND BY DENYING TEMPORARY SUPPORT AND SUBSEQUENTLY AWARDING $250 PER MONTH IN SPOUSAL SUPPORT TO START YEARS AFTER THE START DATE UNDER THE SEPARATION AGREEMENT.
ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NO. II
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED TO THE PREJUDICE OF THE HUSBAND BY FAILING TO MAKE FINDINGS OF FACT AS TO THE BUSINESS ASSETS, FAILING TO IDENTIFY AND CLASSIFY THESE ASSETS, AND FAILING TO CREDIT THE HUSBAND FOR THE TRANSFER OF THOSE ASSETS TO THE WIFE BY MEANS OF A DISTRIBUTIVE AWARD AND SUPPORT.
ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NO. III
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED TO THE PREJUDICE OF THE HUSBAND BY CONCLUDING THAT THE ANTENUPTIAL AND SEPARATION AGREEMENTS WERE INAPPLICABLE IN DETERMINING SUPPORT AND EQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION OF MARITAL AND SEPARATE PROPERTY AND LIABILITIES.
ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NO. IV
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED TO THE PREJUDICE OF THE HUSBAND WHEN IT DENIED THE HUSBAND'S MOTION TO ADD AN APPRAISAL EXPERT TO THE WITNESS LIST
AND ADMISSION OF HIS REPORTS ON THE VALUE OF THE RESIDENCES OF THE PARTIES.
ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NO. V
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED TO THE PREJUDICE OF THE HUSBAND IN ITS DETERMINATION OF THE CLASSIFICATION AND VALUE OF THE WIFE'S AND HUSBAND'S RESIDENCE AND MARITAL DEBT AND DISTRIBUTIVE AWARD.

         {¶8} Due to the nature of the assignments of error, we elect to address them out of order, starting with Ralph's third assignment of error first.

         Third Assignment of Error

         {¶9} In his third assignment of error, Ralph argues that the trial court erred by concluding that the parties' antenuptial and separation agreements were inapplicable in determining support and an equitable distribution of marital and separate property. Specifically, Ralph asserts that because both parties entered into the antenuptial agreement in 1997 and were represented by counsel, the agreement must be enforced. With respect to the separation agreement, Ralph argues that since each party was represented by counsel at the time they entered into the agreement, and because the agreement provided that it would remain in effect even if no final decree was issued by the trial court, he was entitled to have it enforced. For the reasons that follow, we disagree.

         Trial Court's Ruling on the Agreements

         {¶10} The trial court addressed the parties' Antenuptial and Separation Agreements together in its final divorce decree. (Doc. No. 66 at 2). The trial court found that even though the Antenuptial Agreement may have received some "lip service" in the divorce pleadings, the agreement was never attached to or made a part of any pleading until the final hearing. (Id.). With regards to the Separation Agreement, the trial court found that such agreement was entered into by Ralph and Virginia as part of their dissolution proceeding and was voided by Ralph when the petition was dismissed due to his failure to appear at the final dissolution hearing. (Id.). Specifically, as to each agreement, the trial court ruled as follows:

The Trial Court is of the view that neither party has abided by either agreement and both have demonstrated their intent not to comply with the terms thereof. The Court finds it would be inequitable to both parties to selectively enforce all or any part of either the antenuptial or separation agreements and finds both agreements inapplicable in this divorce.

(Emphasis added). (Id.).

         Antenuptial Agreement

         {¶11} "It is well settled in Ohio that public policy allows the enforcement of prenuptial agreements." Fletcher v. Fletcher, 68 Ohio St.3d 464, 466, 1994-Ohio- 434, 628 N.E.2d 1343. The Ohio Supreme Court has held that "[s]uch agreements are valid and enforceable (1) if they have been entered into freely without fraud, duress, coercion, or overreaching; (2) if there was full disclosure, or full knowledge and understanding of the nature, value and extent of the prospective spouse's party; and (3) if the terms do not promote or encourage divorce or profiteering by divorce." Gross v. Gross, 11 Ohio St.3d 99, 464 N.E.2d 500 (1984), paragraph two of the syllabus. "Although a prenuptial agreement must meet these three 'special' conditions, in all other respects, prenuptial agreements are contracts, and the law of contracts will generally apply to their application and interpretation." Johnson v. Johnson, 2nd Dist. Miami No. 2010 CA 2, 2011-Ohio-500, ¶ 10 citing Fletcher at 467. An appellate court will affirm a trial court's interpretation of such contract if the record contains competent evidence to support it. Id. "The primary role of the court in reviewing a contract is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the parties." Id. at ¶ 11, citing Hamilton Ins. Serv., Inc. v. Nationwide Ins. Cos., 86 Ohio St.3d 270, 273, 1999-Ohio-162, 714 N.E.2d 898 (1998). In ascertaining the intent of the parties, the court must look to the language of the contract. Id. If the contract language is clear and unambiguous, no interpretation or construction is necessary, however, if the contract is susceptible to two or more reasonable interpretations, it is ambiguous. Id. "Whether a contract's terms are clear or ambiguous is a question of law for the court." Id. citing Westfield Ins. Co. v. HULS Am., Inc., 128 Ohio App.3d 270, 291, 714 N.E.2d 934 (10th Dist.1998).

         {¶12} "The parties to an antenuptial agreement are in a fiduciary relationship to one another and, thus, are under a mandatory duty to act in good faith with a high degree of fairness and disclosure of all circumstances which materially bear on the antenuptial agreement." Rowland v. Rowland, 74 Ohio App.3d 415, 420, 599 N.E.2d 315 (4th Dist.1991) citing Gross, supra. See also, Cohen v. Estate of Cohen, 23 Ohio St.3d 90, 491 N.E.2d 698 (1986). "'Although antenuptial agreements are not per se invalid, they must meet certain minimum standards of good faith and fair dealing. If the agreement is fair and reasonable under the circumstances, it will be deemed enforceable.'" Id. quoting Zimmie v. Zimmie, 11 Ohio St.3d 94, 98, 464 N.E.2d 142 (1984).

         {¶13} As an initial matter, we find that while both Ralph and Virginia filed separate and competing complaints for divorce, neither party attached a copy of the Antenuptial Agreement to their divorce complaint. Further, Ralph failed to attach the Antenuptial Agreement to his answer to Virginia's complaint for divorce and neither party addressed the Antenuptial Agreement in any substantive fashion prior to the filing of their pretrial statements. (Doc. No. 60; Doc. No. 63). More specifically, neither Ralph nor Virginia filed a motion with the trial court, at any time, to enforce or challenge the validity of the Antenuptial Agreement. As such, the trial court's characterization that the parties' only gave "lip service" to the antenuptial agreement is on target and representative of the parties' lackadaisical approach to the enforcement of their antenuptial agreement.

         {¶14} Nevertheless, the trial court was on notice that an antenuptial agreement existed between the parties presenting property issues for it to consider.

         {¶15} However, as noted by the trial court in its Decision, Virginia and Ralph only sought selective enforcement of their prenuptial agreement. As such, the trial court stated:

The Court is of the view that neither party has abided by either agreement and both have demonstrated their intent not to comply with the terms thereof. The Court finds it would be inequitable to both parties to selectively enforce all or any part of either the Antenuptial or Separation Agreements, and finds both agreements inapplicable in this divorce.

(Doc. No. 66 at 2).

         {¶16} "It is a fundamental rule of equity that he who seeks equity should not be allowed to profit from his own wrongdoing." Langer v. Langer, 123 Ohio App.3d 348, 355, 704 N.E.2d 275 (2nd Dist. 1997), cause dismissed, 80 Ohio St.3d 1473, 687 N.E.2d 470 (1997) citing Klaustermeyer v. Cleveland Tr. Co., 89 Ohio St. 142, 148, 105 N.E. 278 (1913). In conducting our review of whether or not the trial court erred by declaring the parties' Antenuptial Agreement "inapplicable, " we are guided by the principles set forth by the Ohio Supreme Court in Cohen that the requirements of good faith and fair dealing in the making of an Antenuptial Agreement also exist in the performance of it. Cohen, supra. And in this matter the trial court determined that neither Virginia nor Ralph had abided by its terms.

         Thus, we find the trial court acted within its discretion to determine the parties' Antenuptial Agreement was "inapplicable." Accordingly, we overrule this ...


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