White v. HowardAnnotate this Case
Appellant George White (Husband) and appellee Vanessa Howard (Wife) divorced in 2007. Among other things, the final divorce decree: (1) required Husband to obtain a $100,000 term life insurance policy, naming Wife as the beneficiary, and to keep the policy in effect for 12 years; (2) awarded Wife half of Husband’s pension; and (3) required Husband to make partial mortgage payments on property titled in Wife’s name until the land was sold. The decree also recited that neither party was entitled to alimony and that "the transfers contained herein are intended to constitute such an equitable division of property and such transfers are not alimony." In 2011, shortly after Wife remarried, Husband filed a pro se motion seeking to terminate those three components of the divorce decree, contending they were forms of alimony that expired upon Wife’s remarriage. Wife filed a motion to dismiss, and requested attorney fees but cited no statutory basis for such an award. In 2013, Husband, now represented by counsel, filed a complaint for modification of alimony. The trial court entered a final order granting Wife’s motion to dismiss all of Husband’s requests for relief and awarding her $5,000 in attorney fees. The court concluded that the three obligations at issue were equitable divisions of property rather than alimony and, in particular, that the life insurance requirement was “a fixed obligation because it is set for a definite period of time and is not terminable by operation of law and is therefore not subject to modification” as periodic alimony. The order did not indicate the basis for the attorney fees award. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part: (1) the court could modify an obligation to pay permanent periodic alimony if the financial circumstances of the parties change substantially, but the court does not have the power to modify if the marital property is fixed, even if the circumstances of the parties change; (2) the life insurance policy was periodic alimony (despite being labeled in the divorce decree as "not alimony"), that could be modified by the court, and terminated upon the Wife's remarriage.