Thacker v. Thacker, 311 S.W.3d 402 (Mo. App. W.D., June 8, 2010)

August 8th, 2011

Husband, a retired physician, and Wife, a Russian school teacher with two daughters, met over the Internet in late 2005. The following summer, Husband traveled to Russia to meet Wife and her daughters and asked Wife to marry him. Wife accepted and upon Husband’s return to the United States they kept in contact by email, with Husband professing his love for Wife and discussing excitement over becoming a family and purchasing her a vehicle. In January 2008, Husband proceeded with submitting documents to Department of Homeland Security stating he intended to contribute to the support of Wife and her daughters and documents to the American Embassy in Russia, all to facilitate Wife’s visa. In anticipation of her move to the United States, Wife sold her apartment in Russia as well as many of their possessions. Upon arrival in the United States, Wife and daughters moved into Husband’s home. In March of 2008 the parties were married, but the marriage had trouble, with Wife alleging that Husband viewed pornography, demanded sex, kept loaded firearms in the home and took photos of her daughters. Husband alleged Wife was never happy, complained about the house, and her interest in sex decreased after marriage. Wife eventually left the residence with her daughters, and later attempted to reconcile. Husband refused and filed for dis­solution. Wife’s counter-petition for dissolution sought spousal maintenance and child support on the theory that Husband’s representations to the Department of Homeland Security evidenced an express contract for Husband’s support of Wife and children in exchange for Wife’s agreement to marry and that Husband was estopped from denying any obligation to support them because they had relied to their detriment on Husband’s representations promising support. The trial court awarded Wife no maintenance and no child sup­port, finding that there was no existence of an express or implied contract for Husband to provide support. As to Wife’s estoppel theories, the trial court found that Wife failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, or, in the alterna­tive, she had not met her burden with respect to her claim of estoppel. The trial court stated that life for Wife and her daughters in Russia was difficult and they wanted to come to the United States; thus, any reliance on Husband’s promises was not to their detriment.

The Court of Appeals affirmed and also held that that Wife did not establish the existence of an express contract of support. For her to establish such, Wife would have to show that, in exchange for her promise to marry Husband, or for some other consideration, Husband promised to Wife that he would support her daughters, even if they no longer lived with him. Instead, Wife testified that she married him because she loved him and thought he would make a good husband and father, not because of a promise of support. Wife also claimed on appeal that the trial court erred in failing to order child support based on the theory of estoppel. The appellate court agreed with the trial court that Wife did not meet her burden to establish the claim; therefore, they did not need to decide whether there was error in finding Wife failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. In order for Wife to establish a claim for child support based on the estoppel theory, she would have to prove that: (1) Husband promised to support Wife’s daughters; (2) Wife (or her daugh­ters) had relied on Husband’s promise to their detriment; (3) Husband expected or should have expected reliance; and (4) that injustice resulted from the reliance that only enforcement of the promise could cure. See White, 293 S.W.3d at 27 (Ahuja, J., dissenting); Bauer Dev. LLC v. BOK Fin. Corp, 290 S.W.3d 96, 100 (Mo. App. W.D. 2009). Even if Wife and her daughters had relied on the promise of support, there was evidence to support a finding that the reliance was not to their detriment, as their life in Russia was not easy and they had made no attempts to return to Russia despite having return plan tickets. The conclusion that Wife failed to meet her burden was supported by substantial evidence.