Marriage of Bliss

Marriage of Bliss, 2016 MT 51 (March 8, 2016) (Shea, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court erred in finding the prenuptial agreement was valid and enforceable; and (2) whether the district court properly determined that more than 150 firearms belonged to Bliss.

Short Answer: (1) No, and (2) yes.

Affirmed

Facts: Creed Evans and Dava Bliss married in 1996, and divorced in 2015. One day before their marriage, they executed a notarized prenuptial agreement providing that all property held individually by a party before and during the marriage remains that party’s property upon dissolution. Before signing the agreement, Evans met with an attorney to obtain independent legal advice.

During the dissolution proceedings, Bliss moved for a declaratory judgment that the agreement governed the distribution of marital property and debt. Evans challenged the validity of the agreement, and after conducting a hearing, the standing master declared the agreement enforceable.

After reviewing the record and holding a hearing, the district court affirmed and adopted the standing master’s declaratory judgment, determined that the standing master’s findings of fact were not clearly erroneous, her conclusions of law were correct, and she did not abuse her discretion. Evans moved to alter or amend, and the district court denied the motion.

In January 2015, the standing master issued findings of fact, conclusions of law, and a decree of dissolution. Among the factual findings was a finding that Evans is prohibited by federal court order from owning firearms and ammunition. Before the parties’ marriage, Evans gave Bliss a number of breech-loading guns to Bliss due to his conviction, as they are :firearms” under federal law. However, Evans is not prohibited from owning muzzle-loading guns, and Evans rightfully owns 26 of those.

Procedural Posture & Holding: The district court adopted the standing master’s findings, conclusions, and decree. Evans appeals and the Supreme Court affirms. 

Reasoning: (1) The record contains sufficient evidence to support the district court’s finding that Evans voluntarily signed the prenuptial agreement. The district court applied the proper standard of review to the standing master’s findings and conclusions, and its factual findings are not clearly erroneous.

(2) Evans does not dispute that he gave all of his breech-loading guns to Bliss before and during the parties’ marriage. Under the clear language of the agreement, the firearms belong to Bliss.