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In re Dow

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

August 15, 2017

IN THE MATTER OF LESLIE DOW AND HARRY DOW, IV

          Argued: May 24, 2017

         10th Circuit Court-Brentwood Family Division

          Cleveland, Waters and Bass, P.A., of Concord (William B. Pribis on the memorandum of law and orally), for the petitioner.

          John A. Macoul, of Salem, by brief and orally, for the respondent.

          BASSETT, J.

         The respondent, Harry Dow, IV, appeals an order of the Circuit Court (Greenhalgh, J.) requiring him to pay alimony to the petitioner, Leslie Dow, in the amount of $750 per month for three years. When it calculated the amount of alimony, the trial court declined to impute income to the petitioner, concluding that it had no authority to do so under RSA 458:19 (Supp. 2016). On appeal, the respondent argues, among other things, that the trial court erred because RSA 458:19 authorizes the imputation of income for the purpose of determining the amount of alimony. We agree with the respondent and, therefore, vacate and remand.

         The record supports the following facts. The parties were married for over thirty years. For much of the marriage, the petitioner worked at a preschool in Massachusetts, and the respondent worked for a local carpenters' union. In 2010, the parties agreed that the petitioner should leave her position, where she was earning approximately $21 per hour, to spend time with the parties' grandchildren. In October 2013, the respondent's employment with the union ended, and he began receiving unemployment benefits.

         The parties divorced in April 2014. In their stipulated divorce decree, the parties agreed that the respondent had no ability to pay alimony, and that, once he obtained new employment, the petitioner could request alimony.

         In October 2014, the respondent started a business. Subsequently, the petitioner filed a motion requesting alimony, alleging that the respondent was earning sufficient income through his business. The respondent objected, arguing that the petitioner had "failed to take . . . meaningful action to become self-sufficient" and had "the ability to generate sufficient income . . . to provide for her own reasonable needs." At the hearing on the motion, the respondent argued that the trial court should consider both the fact that the petitioner had been earning $21 per hour at her previous position, and the lack of evidence that the petitioner had made diligent efforts to obtain employment after the divorce.

         The trial court granted the petitioner's motion and ordered the respondent to pay $750 per month for a period of three years. Although the court determined that the petitioner could not be fully self-supporting, it also found that she was "capable of . . . contributing to her own support" and had "failed to take . . . meaningful action to become self-sufficient." The trial court declined to impute income to the petitioner, however, concluding that it had no authority to do so under RSA 458:19. Specifically, the court stated, "[RSA 458:19, IV(e)] provides a basis for imputation of income for alimony purposes and [is] applicable to the obligor only. Therefore I cannot impute income to the [p]etitioner." The trial court denied the respondent's motion for reconsideration, and this appeal followed.

         On appeal, the respondent argues, among other things, that the trial court erred when it ruled that it had no authority, under RSA 458:19, to impute income to the petitioner. Because we agree that a trial court has the statutory authority to impute income when it determines the amount of alimony, we need not address the respondent's other arguments.

         We review the trial court's statutory interpretation de novo. In the Matter of Lyon & Lyon, 166 N.H. 315, 318 (2014). In matters of statutory interpretation, we are the final arbiter of the legislature's intent as expressed in the words of the statute considered as a whole. Id. When examining the language of a statute, we ascribe the plain and ordinary meaning to the words used. Id. We interpret legislative intent from the statute as written and will not consider what the legislature might have said or add language that the legislature did not see fit to include. Id. Further, we interpret a statute in the context of the overall scheme and not in isolation. Id.

         RSA 458:19, IV(b) (Supp. 2016) provides:

In determining the amount of alimony, the court shall consider the length of the marriage; the age, health, social or economic status, occupation, amount and sources of income, the property awarded under RSA 458:16-a, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities, and needs of each of the parties; the opportunity of each for future acquisition of capital assets and income; the fault of ...

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