Marriage of Anderson

Marriage of Anderson, 2013 MT 238 (Aug. 20, 2013) (5-0) (Morris, J.)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court abused its discretion in denying Viola’s Rule 59(e) and 60(b) motions, and (2) whether the district court abused its discretion in determining that the property settlement agreement was valid without a disclosure of assets.

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


Facts: Viola and Gary Anderson decided to divorce after 35 years of marriage, and entered into a mediate property settlement. They owned a trailer court in Lewistown and rental property in Ulm, as well as a ranch, guest ranch, and outfitting business on the Smith River. The parties did not complete an assessment of the value of the ranch or guest ranch business before mediation, and stipulated that the final disclosure requirements had either been met or waived. Viola had been the bookkeeper for the ranch and guest ranch business for several years.

Both parties were represented by counsel at the mediation. Pursuant to the settlement, Viola received a lump sum payment, the Ulm property, a lifetime monthly payment from Gary, and up to $2,500 in attorney fees. She also remained the named beneficiary of Gary’s life insurance policy, and received the right to recreate on the Smith River property for the rest of her life. Gary received the Smith River ranch, guest ranch and outfitting business, as well as the equipment and livestock. No value was assigned to these assets. Gary also accepted the debt on these businesses, which he estimated at about $500,000.

Viola actively participated in the mediation, and agreed to sign the settlement without reading it  after her counsel and the mediator explained the terms of the proposed agreement to her.

The settlement was approved by the district court, which entered a decree of dissolution on August 22, 2012. Viola did not attend the hearing. She obtained new counsel shortly after the mediation, and filed Rule 59(e) and 60(b) motions on Sept. 18, 2012, claiming she expected to receive a lump sum payment of $3 million, not $300,000.

Procedural Posture & Holding: Viola sought relief from the judgment on the grounds that the settlement agreement was unconscionable and failed to disclose assets, as required by § 40-4-254, MCA. The district court denied Viola’s motions, and she appeals. The Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: (1) Viola did not argue at the dissolution hearing that the settlement agreement was unconscionable. The district court held that the property division was equitable, which meets the lower threshold of being “not unconscionable.” Gary received more assets than Viola, but he also accepted the risk and the debt associated with those assets.

(2) Section 40-4-254, MCA, states that “[a]bsent good cause, the court may not enter judgment with respect to the parties’ property rights” unless the parties have provided a full disclosure of assets. Gary and Viola did not have an appraisal of the ranch, guest ranch or outfitting business prior to the court’s decree of dissolution, and Viola argues this is reversible error. Viola admits that she believes that the marital estate was worth about $8 million. She also admits she accepted a settlement that provided her with less than $4 million. These admissions undermine her claim that she was prejudiced by Gary’s failure to provide a final disclosure of assets. Viola was familiar with the marital property and its approximate value, and a final disclosure would not have materially affected the parties’ understanding of the value of the marital estate.