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Appellate court upholds dissolution decree in ‘fierce’ divorce case

March 6, 2018

In a ruling on a contentious divorce case that involved parties “exploiting the judicial system to its fullest extent,” the Indiana Court of Appeals has affirmed the provisions of the Sullivan Circuit Court’s dissolution order.

In Russell Goodman v. Stephanie Goodman, 77A04-1706-DR-1300, Stephanie Goodman filed for divorce from her husband, Russell, in March 2012, beginning a five-year legal battle that resulted in more than 170 pleadings and 92 orders. The Goodmans also failed to submit the customary Excel spreadsheet detailing the proposed allocation of assets, but instead asked the Sullivan Circuit Court to comb through boxes of loose exhibits.

Testimony before the trial court revealed that despite receiving “tremendous income” from a tree-trimming business and lottery winnings, the Goodmans received government health insurance, food stamps and other public assistance. Russell — who held all property in his name — told the court they lost their money through gambling and excessive spending, but the court found he was not completely forthcoming in reporting his income and winnings.  

The trial court also heard evidence regarding the parties’ relationship with their adopted daughter, K.G. An in camera review revealed Stephanie had “tried to discourage and prevent a meaningful relationship between (K.G.) and Father” by attending his parenting time sessions.

After receiving all evidence, the court awarded 60 percent of the marital assets to Stephanie based on its belief that Russell had been dissipating assets. He was also ordered to retroactively pay his ex-wife $320 a week in child support to Stephanie, who received sole legal and primary physical custody of K.G. However, she was cautioned to provide all important information about the child to her ex-husband and was warned to stop “engaging in action that causes (K.G.) to be in fear of her father.”

Finally, the dissolution order denied Russell’s request for attorney fees, but ordered him to pay his ex-wife $25,000 in attorney fees. Russell appealed the dissolution order, but the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed all aspects of it on Tuesday.

Turning first to the marital property, the appellate panel pointed to Russell’s total control over all of the couple’s assets and his penchant for intermingling personal and business funds while hiding money from his ex-wife to uphold the valuation and unequal division of marital assets. The court highlighted a specific example of Russell’s excessive spending: while serving a prison sentence, he used his money to help other inmates buy supplies and pay their attorney fees.

“A more egregious example of dissipating would be hard to come by,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote.

The appellate court also upheld the inclusion of the marital residence and real estate, $70,000 in lottery winnings and almost $43,000 in gambling winnings into the marital estate, finding no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s valuation dates.

Next, the Court of Appeals affirmed the grant of custody of K.G. to the Stephanie, finding that the record — including two in camera interviews with K.G. — demonstrated the trial court carefully considered all factors when crafting a custody arrangement that was in the child’s best interest. The court also upheld the child support order, once again noting Russell’s practice of hiding assets and misreporting income.

Finally, the court upheld the award of attorney fees to Stephanie, with Riley writing Russell was “in a superior position to pay fees over” his ex-wife, given the disparity in their earnings. That disparity, like many other nuances of the case, was caused by Russell’s propensity for hiding funds, she said.

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