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La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 160 provides: When the wife has not been at fault, and she has not sufficient means for her support, the court may allow her, out of the property and earnings of the husband, alimony which shall not exceed one-third of his income when: 1. The wife obtains a divorce; This alimony shall be revoked if it becomes unnecessary and terminates if the wife remarries.
In November 1977, plaintiff Robert I. Sonfield filed a rule against his former wife, defendant Anita Deluca Sonfield, to show cause why the weekly alimony that was previously awarded in a judgment of divorce should not be terminated. In his rule, the plaintiff alleged three changes in circumstances; first, he was remarried and was the father of two minor children in his second marriage, he was no longer gainfully employed and has suffered a substantial reduction in income, lastly, the defendant was no longer in necessitous circumstances because of the amount of equity in her home. After a hearing on the rule, the trial judge refused to terminate alimony and ordered plaintiff to continue paying defendant the weekly alimony. The court of appeal reversed and held that defendant’s equity in her home was sufficient means for her support and she was therefore not entitled to alimony; however, because of the non-liquidity of the home, the court gave defendant seven months which to sell her home at which time alimony would cease whether or not the house was sold. Defendant sought review.
Did the appellate court err in terminating the plaintiff’s weekly alimony obligation?
On appeal, the court reinstated the trial court's decision. The court held that plaintiff’s expenses did not completely negate his obligation to support defendant. The court further held that defendant’s home provided reasonable, not lavish, shelter for her and one minor daughter. Also, the court was of the opinion that the defendant should not be forced to sell her home and use the equity for her support until she again needed to be dependent upon her former husband. Hence, the trial court correctly found that the defendant was still in need of alimony for other necessities, therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it refused to terminate alimony as prayed for and to continue the alimony to cover those expenses. Accordingly, the court reversed the appellate court’s decision and set it aside.