More on Blazer: Retained Earnings Not Income for Alimony
September 25, 2009 | Complex Financial Issues, Court Decisions, Divorce, Income Calculations, Legal Perspective
The California Court of Appeal’s decision in Marriage of Blazer (2009) dealt not only with double dipping, but also with the exclusion of a company’s retained earnings when determining the owner’s income subject to an alimony obligation. After a 20 year marriage, Husband and Wife divorced, the husband retaining ownership of a berry distribution business. At trial, the husband’s expert testified that the berry company was thinly capitalized for its gross revenue. Wife’s expert agreed (if not grudgingly) that some earnings must be retained for capital reserves. The trial court excluded these retained earnings from the husband’s income for alimony purposes.
The husband’s expert also testified that retailers were seeking to eliminate middlemen, forcing the business to integrate vertically. The capital expenditures to purchase a growing farm and expand distribution were not added back to the company’s income, despite wife’s argument that husband “chose” to incur those expenses and would benefit from the enhancement in the company’s value. Again, the trial court adopted the position of the husband’s expert, over the opposition of wife’s expert.
On appeal, the California Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision under an “abuse of discretion” standard. The Court noted that there is no statutory definition of “income” for alimony cases in California, and it was unclear whether retained earnings could be properly categorized as “income” for alimony purposes. Case law held that the child support definition of “income” did not apply to alimony cases.