Alcohol Consumption Terminates Alimony
March 4, 2015
Wow. A recent unpublished Court of Appeals decision arising from a messy Waterford & Clarkston divorce touches on many significant legal issues that arise in family court. It is very rare to have so many issues displayed in one case: a prenuptial agreement, alimony, a “bird nesting” arrangement, parental alienation, injunctions, alcohol, marijuana, gambling, a Guardian Ad Litem, supervised parenting time, a platoon of high-pressure lawyers, and a post-judgment evidentiary hearing that consumed 11-days in court over the span of 8-months.
Whew. Things got started in the Roth divorce when the parents attempted the always-difficult “bird nesting” arrangement. This is where the minor children remain in the marital home, and the parents are the ones that alternate weeks inside and outside the home; they make their own “off week” living arrangements. Some couples can pull it off; others, not-so-much.
In the case of the Roths, things deteriorated quickly with mutual allegations of property removal during the nesting sessions and drug and alcohol abuse. A Guardian Ad Litem [a neutral family court professional hired to investigate and make recommendations to the court] was appointed; the family court judge ordered psychological evaluations for both parents.
Although a prenuptial agreement had been executed which proscribed spousal support, in resolving their case the parties agreed to rehabilitative alimony for wife with conduct conditions. In order to receive her monthly payments of $2000, wife had to remain drug and alcohol free.
Guess what? Within a few months, husband alleged wife violated the alcohol provision. Wife admitted consuming wine on “two or three occasions”; she qualified, however, that her consumption was “minimal”. This was sufficient, however, to convince Waterford & Clarkston Family Court Judge Cheryl Matthews to terminate wife’s alimony and her decision was affirmed by the Court of Appeals.
Those were some expensive sips of wine. After switching lawyers below and in the court of appeals, wife tried to argue she was forced into a settlement agreement that she did not understand. Neither Judge Matthews nor the Court of Appeals were having it; the appellate court ruled that the alcohol prohibition was enforceable, however unwise or unfair it may now seem to wife.
Wife tossed her own barbs at her ex-spouse on appeal. She alleged that his live-in girlfriend used marijuana and had a recent drunk driving conviction; she alleged that husband alienated the children by describing their mother in demeaning and abusive terms.
So this is a clear case of wife agreeing to some onerous conditions that she simply could not live up to. The lesson in this case, however, is that at the conclusion of a divorce proceeding, when the parties agree on a settlement placed on the record, buyer’s remorse will not undo that agreement.