Wife loses appeal of divorce rulings at COA

The Indiana Court of Appeals has affirmed the resolution of a lower court, despite an ex-wife’s claims that the trial court made multiple errors, in a divorce case on Tuesday.

In Sandra Haggarty v. Thomas M. Haggarty, 20A-DC-1877, Sandra contested four issues at the Court of Appeals. Thomas and Sandra married on July 15, 2000, and a petition for dissolution of marriage was filed on March 22, 2018.

On Nov. 21, 2018, Sandra filed a motion for partial summary judgment in which she argued Thomas breached their agreement by failing to maintain the joint checking account for ordinary living expenses.

At the Court of Appeals, Sandra argued the trial court erred by concluding Thomas’ obligation to maintain the checking account began when the account was established in 2014, rather than in 2000 when they married.

Contrary to Sandra’s argument, the Court of Appeals found no explicit or implicit finding in the trial court’s order suggesting a duty to “maintain” the checking account did not also include an obligation to “create” the checking account. Instead, the appellate court found “the parties had to physically go into the bank” together to open the account, which did not happen until Jan. 31, 2014.

Thomas had asserted he was relieved of the obligation from July 15, 2000, until Jan. 31, 2014, due to “misconduct” by Sandra, who did not go to the bank. The COA agreed, holding that just as Sandra could not set up the joint account by herself at the bank, Thomas also was not able.

On cross-appeal, Thomas asserted the trial court erred when it used parol evidence to determine the meaning of “ordinary living expenses.” But the appellate court held that “ordinary living expenses,” as used in the agreement, was an ambiguous term, and the trial court did not err by considering parol evidence to determine its meaning.

Next, Sandra alleged the trial court erred when it denied her request for prejudgment interest on the damages awarded for Thomas’ breach of the agreement’s requirement that he maintain the checking account

On that issue, the appellate court found that the trial court exercised its discretion to determine the amount that should have been deposited each month to cover ordinary living expenses, making Sandra ineligible for prejudgment interest.

The next issue Sandra raised was whether the trial court erred by denying her objections to her own releases. The court denied her objections after finding her releases were “unambiguous.” Sandra asserted that because Thomas’ payments did not include “accrued interest and court costs” he should be precluded “from credit for ‘payment in full’” under Indiana Trial Rule 58(D).

The appellate court held the release was ambiguous as to whether it released the separate claim for appellate attorney fees and costs and ultimately held it did not release that separate claim. By contrast, Sandra’s claim for post-judgment interest was not a claim that arose separate from the trial court’s initial judgment; it was part of the very judgement that Sandra released. Thus, the trial court did not err.

The final issue brought by Sandra was whether the trial court erred when it awarded attorney’ fees to Thomas in its order denying Sandra’s request for relief from her own releases.

According to the COA, the parties’ agreement didn’t prohibit Thomas from receiving attorney fees in the context in which they were awarded, and considering the additional litigation expenses created by Sandra’s post-judgment pleadings, the Court of Appeals found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s award of attorney fees to Thomas.

Court of Appeals Judge L. Mark Bailey concurred on all accounts while Judge Margret G. Robb concurred in part and dissented in part, with an opinion.

Robb concurred with the majority on all issues but for affirming the trial court’s attorney fee order.

“Under these circumstances, and notwithstanding the trial court’s decision on the merits, I do not believe that Sandra’s request to withdraw the releases was meritless, as Thomas asserted in his request for attorneys’ fees,” Robb wrote. “Further, I note the overall financial disparity between the parties. Accordantly, I would reverse the trial court’s order that Sandra pay Thomas’ attorneys’ fees.”

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