Christianson v. Christianson
671 N.W.2d 801 (2003)
Gerald and Cecilia were both
teachers. They married, and moved around North Dakota a number of times
to further Gerald's career.
Eventually Gerald retired from
teaching to take another job, but that fell through, instead, at 56 years
old, he went to grad school.
While in grad school his
income was very low and the couple was mostly supported by his pension
and Cecilia's teaching job.
After 31 years of marriage,
the couple got a divorce.
In addition to a share of the marital
property, the Trial Court determined
that Cecilia was a disadvantaged spouse who could not be rehabilitated and was entitled to permanent support.
Basically, the Court was
saying that Cecilia was too old and didn't have the skills to work to
support herself, (even though at the time she had a job!)
The Court deferred
determining the amount of permanent support that Gerald would have to pay until after he finished his degree.
The Trial Court revisited the
issue after Gerald finished his degree and set the level of support at
$900 per month, despite the fact that Gerald did not have a job. Gerald
Gerald had looked for a job,
but couldn't find one.
The Court found that Gerald
had voluntarily given up his old
job, and they used an equalization-of-income approach and imputed income to Gerald based on what they thought he could
So basically they figured
out what they thought Gerald should
be earning and gave Cecilia half of that.
The North Dakota Supreme Court
The North Dakota Supreme
Court found that under North Dakota law, imputation of income is not appropriate for determining spousal
Basically, there was no
Statute or case law to support Cecilia's position.
The Court noted that it is appropriate for determining child
support, but that wasn't an issue in
The Court found that while
equalization of income is a factor that can be used to determine spousal
support, it is not the goal of spousal
support. And besides, ordering
Gerald to pay much more than he could afford wasn't equalizing income.
The proper calculation
should be based on the parties respective present needs and present
ability to pay.
In a dissent, it was argued
that Gerald's unilateral decision to give up his job could be considered economic
fault since it hurt the couple's
financial prospects. In addition it was argued that Cecilia had
substantially contributed to Gerald's new degree and should be compensated
for that in some manner.