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Heavilin v. Fillman

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Fifth District, Tuscarawas

December 23, 2019

AMANDA HEAVILIN FKA FILLMAN Plaintiff-Appellee
v.
RICHARD FILLMAN, JR. Defendant-Appellant

          Appeal from the Tuscarawas County Court of Common Pleas, Domestic Relations Division, Case No. 2017 TM 11 0441

          For Plaintiff-Appellee PAUL HERVEY

          For Defendant-Appellant MATTHEW A. PETIT PATRICK J. WILLIAMS

          JUDGES: Hon. W. Scott Gwin, P.J. Hon. William B. Hoffman, J. Hon. Patricia A. Delaney, J.

          OPINION

          GWIN, P.J.

         {¶1} Appellant appeals the April 4, 2019 judgment entry of the Tuscarawas County Court of Common Pleas, Domestic Relations Division, which sustained, in part, and overruled, in part, his objections to the magistrate's October 31, 2018 decision, and adopted the magistrate's decision with modifications as the order of the court.

         Facts & Procedural History

         {¶2} Appellant Richard A. Fillman, Jr. ("Husband") and appellee Amanda R. Fillman, NKA Amanda R. Heavilin ("Wife") were married on November 22, 2003 and have three minor children. Wife filed a complaint for divorce on November 27, 2017. Husband filed a complaint for divorce under a different case number. The trial court subsequently consolidated the cases.

         {¶3} The magistrate held hearings on the complaints for divorce on July 26, 2018 and September 21, 2018. A large portion of the hearing dealt with custody and visitation issues between the parties. Relevant to this appeal, the parties testified about their income and debts, and specifically Wife's student loan debt.

         {¶4} Husband is employed as a police officer in Strasburg, making $3, 033 per month and an additional $955.00 working shifts at Tusky every week. Husband graduated from high school in 1998 and, from 1998 to 2008, he worked on the farm and also worked for Wife's father, except in 2004 when Husband suffered a serious head injury and took a year off work. In 2008, Husband worked for the sheriff's department at the jail and then worked as a patrolman in Newcomerstown. From 2011 to 2016, Husband worked at Aleris World Products. In 2016, Husband took a pay cut to return to law enforcement. Husband testified he and Wife definitely lived beyond their means and had been in debt for quite a while. Husband wants to keep the marital home.

         {¶5} Husband testified Wife went to graduate school for a master's degree towards the end of the marriage. Husband did not know where the school loans Wife took out went. Husband stated he did not receive a benefit from Wife's master's degree because they separated soon after. He has also received no benefit from her future earning potential. Husband agrees that approximately $29, 500 of Wife's student loan debt was used for marital expenses.

         {¶6} Wife currently lives with her mother and step-dad. Wife got her bachelor's degree before they got married and, during the marriage, went back to get her Master's Degree in Education. Wife started classes in 2012 and started taking out student loans at that time. After she obtained her master's degree in 2017, she became the site director at Newcomerstown Preschool. Wife testified there was no debt from student loans when she entered the marriage. After getting married, Wife subbed and then worked as a preschool aide until getting a full-time teaching position. As a result of the master's degree, Wife received a stipend to be the onsite director as well as the teacher. She could not have received this stipend if she did not have a graduate degree. Wife testified she and Husband discussed taking out more student loans to help pay for expenses. Wife stated the parties ended up using some of the student loan money, in the amount of $32, 643, to pay off credit cards, pay the mortgage, purchase antique guns Husband wanted and buy an ATV Husband wanted that was ultimately traded in towards Husband's Jeep. The remainder of the funds, $25, 210, covered educational expenses.

         {¶7} Wife testified they had extensive debt during the marriage and were trying to use the student loan money to help get out of debt. The total taken out for student loans was $57, 853; however, interest has been accruing. Wife stated her going back to school was a discussion she and Husband had together. Wife does not want spousal support if Husband is responsible for a portion of the student loans. Wife testified that without her degree, she would be making $10, 000 less than Husband and the degree has improved her income approximately 25%, such that her income is now $50, 000.

         {¶8} The magistrate issued a decision on October 31, 2018. With regards to the student loan debt, the magistrate found: the total as of the date of the hearing was $88, 733.26; both parties admit some portion of the student loans may have been used for normal household expenses or marital debts; the debt should primarily be allocated to Wife, but since some was used for household expenses, it is equitable to allocate some portion of the debt to Husband; and it is equitable for Husband to pay $16, 321.50 of the student loan debt, which is one-half the amount refunded to the parties and used for household expenses. The balance of the student loan debt, $56, 090.26, was allocated to Wife as marital debt. The magistrate ordered Wife to pay Husband $225.51 in child support. Additionally, the magistrate ordered Husband to make a distributive award to Wife of $37, 439.03, $35, 000 of which representing one-half of the equity in the marital residence and the balance equalizing the distribution to each party. Husband must pay Wife $50.00 per month towards his share of the student loan debt of $16, 321.50 until it is paid in full.

         {¶9} Attached to and incorporated into the magistrate's order is a division of debts and assets spreadsheet. Included in Husband's "debt" column is the $16, 321.50 he was ordered to pay of Wife's student loans. Included in Wife's "debt" column is $72, 411.76, the residue of the student loan debt not used for marital expenses ($56, 090.26) and Wife's one-half of the student loan debt used for marital expenses ($16, 321.50). The magistrate awarded Husband assets totaling $240, 540.45 and allocated him debts totaling $206, 981.50, for a net of $33, 558.95. The magistrate awarded Wife assets totaling $117, 668.68 and allocated her debts totaling $86, 048.76, for a net of $31, 619.92. The magistrate found that, in addition to the $35, 000 in equity in the marital home, $1, 939.03 is owed to Wife.

         {¶10} Husband filed objections to the magistrate's decision on November 9, 2018 and a supplemental memorandum in support of his objections on January 29, 2019. As to the student loan debt, Husband specifically argued that the magistrate erred in including the residue of the loan debt not used for marital expenses ($56, 090.26) on the balance sheet as marital debt allocated to Wife. Husband contends the portion of the student loan not used for marital expenses should be assigned to Wife as separate debt and removed from the balance sheet. Husband also argues the magistrate intended that all but $32, 643 of the student loans be allocated to Wife as separate debt.

         {¶11} Wife filed her own objections to the magistrate's decision on November 19, 2018, arguing the trial court should not have allocated the balance of the debt to her because Husband benefited from her higher income.

         {¶12} The trial court held a hearing on the parties' objections on January 29, 2019. The trial court issued a judgment entry sustaining in part and overruling in part the parties' objections to the magistrate's decision on April 4, 2019. The trial court found that even though student loans are considered marital debt pursuant to R.C. 3105.171 rather than separate debt, the court still has the ability to equitably divide that debt, including allocating the loan to the spouse who took out the loans and that the magistrate's recommended division of the parties' assets and liabilities, including the student loan, is fair and equitable. The trial court additionally found that while it was appropriate to allocate the majority of the loan to Wife since she was the primary beneficiary of the educational portion of the loan, it would be inequitable to remove the educational portion of the debt as a marital debt on the balance sheet because Husband also received a benefit from the portion used for educational purposes through tax credits and Wife's higher income for child support purposes. The trial court additionally ordered Husband to pay $200.00 per month to Wife toward his share of the student loan debt until the sum of $16, 321.50 is paid in full.

         {¶13} Husband appeals the April 4, 2019 judgment entry of the Tuscarawas County Court of Common Pleas, Domestic Relations Division, and assigns the following as error:

         {¶14} "I. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED BY TREATING THE TOTALITY OF APPELLEE'S STUDENT LOAN DEBT AS MARITAL DEBT.

         {¶15} "II. EVEN IF THE TRIAL COURT DID NOT ERR IN ALLOCATING APPELLEE'S STUDENT LOAN DEBT AS MARITAL DEBT, IT ERRED IN CALCULATING THE AMOUNT NOT USED FOR MARITAL EXPENSES AS BEING $56, 090.26."

         I.

         {¶16} In his first assignment of error, Husband argues the trial court erred by treating the entire student loan debt as marital debt. Husband contends the balance of the student loans should be treated as Wife's separate debt, wholly allocated to her. As such, the $56, 090.26 should not be included in the allocation of asset and division of liabilities spreadsheet because it is Wife's separate debt. Husband believes the inclusion of the $56, 090.26 in the allocation of debt to Wife on ...


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