FindLaw's Oregon Court of Appeals Cases and Opinions. (2023)

Oregon Court.

RE: Marriage of Wanda Lee SMITH, Appellant, and Robert Henry Smith, Defendant.

15-91-09112; A104431

Decision date: September 26, 2001

Before Judge LANDAU and Judges LINDER and SCHUMAN. George W. Kelly and Eugene argued the case and filed a complaint for the appellant. Jeffrey E. Potter, Eugene pleaded for the defendant. He was joined at the briefing by Gardner, Honsowetz, Potter, Budge & Ford.

Woman claims her husband owes her unpaid child support, for which she is filing a judgment. The lower court rejected his request. she appealed. We declare.1

The husband and wife's 44-year marriage was dissolved in 1991. A prenuptial settlement agreement, contained in a dissolution order, requires both spouses to pay each other 50% of the spouse's alimony for a specified period of time and 40% thereafter, with "any income" defined as:

"[A]compensation for a party's efforts, including, but not limited to, salary, wages, bonuses, allowances, tips, and dividends, in lieu of private salary or wages."

At the time of the dissolution, the husband had just retired from Western Electronics Corporation (WEC), but continued to hold a position there and regularly perform important work for the company, although he did not receive an official, regular salary. The case arose in 1997, when the wife was adjudicating the amount of child support that her husband claimed had not been paid.

The wife's main argument at trial and on appeal was that since the dissolution her husband has received three forms of income as defined in the dissolution judgment: interest income from WEC loans at artificially high rates; excess profits from sub-leases where equipment is leased and sub-leased to the WEC. The husband admitted to spending a lot of time with the WEC after its dissolution, but replied that the money he received from the company was not income from work, as defined in the judgment, but income that he would have received under any circumstances, although he never spent it at any time at the WEC after it was disbanded.

After raising initial doubts, the lower court ruled that the man's evidence was more convincing and that the woman had failed to meet her burden of proof. See Aquarius and Aquarius, 158 Or.App. 267, 271, 974 P.2d 256 (1999) ("[W]as a supporter of higher income, it is for the wife to demonstrate that her husband is currently able to pay child support."). Specifically, the lower court said of the dividends: "I have not been able to discover that these dividends were used in lieu of wages or salaries". that the interest income from the loan was due to the husband's willingness to invest in WEC despite his precarious financial situation, and that the income from the sublease was due to the husband's willingness to compromise his reputation with suppliers of equipment to improve the deal when the WEC failed to do it themselves. Essentially, the lower court ruled that the husband's income stream from the WEC was not a salary, comparable to salary or "in lieu of salary", despite the wife's claim that it was.

On appeal, we must determine whether the spouse received "earned income" under the terms of the prenuptial settlement agreement, which in turn requires us to interpret those terms. When a prenuptial agreement is included in a dismissal order, its terms are interpreted in the same way as other contractual terms, Moon v. Maan, 140 Or. app. 402, 407, 914 P.2d 1133, rev. Den 323 or. 484, 918 P.2d 848 (1996), ie examine the text as a whole in the context of the document to determine the intent of the parties; if the text and context are not clear, extrinsic evidence of the intent of the parties; and, as a last resort, building a motto. Yogman v. Parrott, 325 Or. 358, 360-65, 937 P.2d 1019 (1997).

We start with the text. “Employment income” is defined as “all compensation for the efforts of a party, including but not limited to wages, salaries, bonuses, allowances, tips and dividends, in lieu of wages or wages in closely associated businesses.” that definition is "for * * * Compensation for Effort". "[W]ords that are common should generally be given their simple, natural, general meaning." PGE v. Bureau of Labor and Industry, 317 Or. 606, 611, 859 P.2d 1143 (1993). “Compensation” is “payment for value received or services rendered,” Webster's New International Dictionary, Third Edition, 463 (1993 in full), or “given in compensation, equivalent. Remuneration * * *,” 1 Oxford English Dictionary, 490 (abridged edition, 1971). We note features common to both definitions. Compensation is part of the consideration: ⟩Payment in exchange for value, offered as compensation, equal to something else. Thus, "employment benefit" means an award received from a person or entity, the value of which depends on the quantity or quality of the services rendered by the person receiving the award.

In the same vein, since labor income includes "dividends[d] paid rather than salary or wages", we can assume, by negative implication, that labor income excludes ordinary dividend income, or we can assume the "pure" dividend to call. income” - that return on investment comes from luck, the efforts of others, seemingly random market forces, careful calculations of risk to potential returns, or a combination of these factors. This list of examples of residual income confirms this notion. "[S]alaries, wages, tips, allowances, tips, and dividend payments[d] in lieu of wages or wages" are specific examples of "compensation for a party's efforts." Payment received. Although the enumeration is not exclusive, it appears from the examples cited that the general term "income from employment" refers to remuneration for services rendered as a result of a party's effort, the value of which is related to their quality or quantity, according to the principle of homogeneity. See Groshong on Enumclaw Ins v Mutual. Ltd., 329 or. 303, 312-13, 985 P.2d 1284 (1999) (applying the same principle to the "textual and contextual" level of contract interpretation).

Any ambiguity about the meaning of "earned income" can be resolved by extrinsic evidence on file. The husband rejected a draft agreement that defined "earned income" as "all remuneration for the efforts of one party, including but not limited to * * * dividends"; her attorney said the husband wanted language that would allow him to keep the company's income All dividends unless "he goes back to work and instead of paying him a salary, pays him dividends to which he is not entitled".

For example, "employment income" or "employment benefits" includes only remuneration income received from an individual or entity in an amount more or less related to the value of the services rendered by the person receiving the remuneration. This conclusion, in turn, means that traditional investment income is not "earned". While this income may result from effort, it is not related to the quantity or quality of that effort; the same "effort" can produce high income, low income, or losses.

Applying this interpretation to the various sources of income that the wife tried to call "earned income", we conclude that none of them were "earned income" as defined in the dissolution judgment.

We start with interest and sublease income. A profit is made on borrowing money, after calculating the appropriate risk-based interest rate, just as any other investor earns. The same goes for people who lease equipment after calculating the probability of recovering their investment through subleasing. However, as we have already explained, income from work is the payment for services rendered due to the effort of one of the parties, related to the quantity or quality of the services rendered. It does not include investment income, the reward value of which depends primarily on the outside of the market Market forces influence investors. Spouse interest and sublease income are examples of forms of offsetting speculative investment income that are not included. When her husband lent money to WEC, knowing the company's precarious financial situation, he became an investor whose returns were unrelated to the quantity or quality of his efforts, whatever those efforts were. When he leases equipment with the expectation of subletting it at a profit, he is making a speculative investment, the return of which may fluctuate due to factors beyond his control. Therefore, interest income and sublease income are not "earned income" as defined.

Now we turn to dividend income. The two sides gave conflicting explanations for the high spending in 1993 and 1994. The woman sees this as a disguised form of salary: "The evidence is completely consistent with the view that there is an informal tacit agreement whereby the husband transfers the company's funds in return for their 'free' help". the woman's evidence was circumstantial. Her claim that the WEC is a troubled company that normally does not pay large dividends and that the WEC is doing this in conjunction with her husband's threats that he will find legal ways to avoid paying child support, concludes that the dividend is a excuse it. The husband, on the other hand, argued that the high dividend was due to the normal course of business: Wasden, who owns about 75% of WEC's shares, was heavily liable for lawsuits related to his business activities. The WEC chose to compensate Wasden by paying him a dividend. WEC auditors determined that if Wasden received a cash distribution, her husband, the only other shareholder at the time, must also receive a cash distribution for the WEC to maintain its Subchapter S tax classification.

The lower court found the husband's argument somewhat more credible and concluded that the dividend income was not "earned" because it was not compensation the husband received for his work in the WEC. Instead, the court found an actual gap between the husband's WEC efforts on the one hand and his compensation on the other. we agree. The wife has provided no convincing evidence to refute her husband's claim that his dividend income would have been the same if he had never taken up work at WEC "post-retirement" - i.e. there was evidence that the dividends came from a company that wasn't an accountant. a motivated company would make that decision whether or not the spouse is going through a period of "retirement" in the WEC. The fact that the husband occasionally works in the WEC to "protect his investment" does not matter. The man did his best; he received payment; but the woman has not provided sufficient concrete evidence of a causal relationship between her efforts and the payment. She unsuccessfully disputed her claim and testimony that the payment was unrelated to her efforts and thus was not "compensation" and thus not "income". Therefore, the wife is not entitled to any dividends in question.



1After the woman voluntarily rejected a motion to amend the original judgment for rescission, the trial went into lower court to set delays based on that verdict. Both sides claim that our judging standards are made from scratch. We assume that our assessment was ab initio, but we did not decide that our assessment was ab initio, because we would have concluded the same whether we reviewed the facts ab initio or reviewed the lower court's findings to make sure of being supported by the evidence on the record conclusion.

Schumann, J.


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