In the case of In re Marriage of Stuart and Ely, the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed an order granting transitional spousal support to the wife, who was a professional engineer with a PhD degree in environmental engineering, since there was no evidence that she would be needing or receiving any further education or job training. However, the Court of Appeals remanded the case for further proceedings to determine whether maintenance support for the wife should be awarded while she gained the additional work experience needed to increase her earning capacity.
Background and procedural history
The parties were married for over 20 years. At the time of the dissolution, the husband was 60 and the wife was 45. Both were licensed and certified as professional engineers with similar training and employment skills. The wife, however, had less work experience because she had been the primary caretaker for the parties’ two children for several years while the husband developed his career and become a tenured professor at Oregon State University.
At trial, the wife sought an award of maintenance spousal support for an indefinite period of time. The trial court determined that an award for a period of five years was appropriate, but ruled that it should be classified as transitional spousal support, rather than maintenance and compensatory support, because the purpose of the award was to provide time for the wife to gain work experience and thereby improve her position in the job market.
The husband appealed the award, arguing that transitional support was improper without proof that such support would be used by the wife to obtain additional education or job training. The wife filed a cross-appeal, asserting that the trial court should have given her an award of maintenance support, and that the trial court’s award, if erroneously ruled as being transitional in purpose, should be reclassified as maintenance support.
The Court of Appeals decision
The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s ruling classifying the award of support as transitional support. The wife was already highly educated and trained. No proof was submitted that she needed or even sought additional education or training for advancement in the job market. The court stated that transitional support is permitted only when necessary for a party to complete education and job training for reentering or advancing in the job market.
Although the circumstances did not warrant an award of transitional spousal support, the Court of Appeals sent the case back to the trial court to reconsider whether an award of maintenance support would be appropriate. The trial court was also incorrect in holding that maintenance support was not the appropriate classification, the appellate court wrote. An award for maintenance support could have been made for an amount which would provide time for the wife to continue her professional development and obtain the work experience she needed to increase her earning capacity. The husband advanced his academic career and become a tenured professor during the marriage, while the wife’s career advancement was limited while she assumed the duties of homemaker and primary caretaker for the parties’ children. In order to advance in the job market and increase her earning capacity to a level comparable to the husband’s, she needed time to gain more employment experience and professional development.