Angiulo: Sometimes a Spouse Really Does Get Half Your Stuff in a Divorce
Monday, August 31, 2015
In general, the marital estate gets divided up between spouses at the time of divorce. Whether or not a party is entitled to a particular asset that one spouse claims as theirs will depend on a number of factors included within the relevant statute. Those factors include, but are not limited to, the length of the marriage, amounts and sources of income, as well as the needs of each party.
The recent case of Pfannenstiehl v. Pfannenstiehl from the Appeals Court of Massachusetts puts a spotlight on the process of divvying up money. The money in question in this case was in a large trust fund held by one of the spouses. The husband was the beneficiary of a generous family trust that provided regular and ongoing distributions during the course of the marriage. The facts of the case recite a one-time payment of $300,000 in 2008 as well as several payments ranging from $20,000 to $85,000 during 2009 and 2010. In addition, the husband was working for the family business receiving a salary roughly three times that which an ordinary person would get for the position of assistant manager at a college bookstore.
All of this mattered to the Appeals Court because of the central role this wealth played in the spouse's lifestyle during the marriage. The court noted that these monies afforded the parties a large house, weekly individual expenses between two and three thousand dollars, and discretionary spending. Most importantly, these liquid assets provided the ability to provide exceptional care for their two children who had significant health concerns.
In order to divide anything, one must first identify the sum total. In this case, the trial court decided that the marital estate included the husband's portion of the trust fund. The question on appeal was whether, or not, this was appropriate.
The husband's defense included terms of the trust fund that are known as a “spendthrift” clause. This is a fancy name for the idea that a beneficiary cannot transfer their interest to a third party. In addition, there was some effort to show that distributions to the husband were irregular and, therefore, the court could not assign any particular figure to the marital estate.
While the published opinion rests on legal and factual grounds the ultimate result was the Appeals Court agreeing with the Trial Court. The wife received approximately sixty percent of the marital estate totalling $2.3 million. Approximately $1.1 million of that amount was from the husband's portion of the trustfund. For many people they may be wondering why this money, which was made independent from any act by either party of the marriage, would be reachable by a divorce court. While the answer is a long one, the moral of this story is short: be careful who you marry because they just might end up with half your stuff.
- Angiulo: Drug Dogs, Traffic Stops and the U.S. Supreme Court
- Angiulo: SJC Affirms Juvenile Suspects’ Rights During Interrogation
- Angiulo: SJC Says Marijuana Cultivation Alone is Not Proof of Crime
- Angiulo: SJC Makes Adoption Easier For Same Sex Parents
- Angiulo: When is a Business Owner Responsible For a Customer’s Injury?
- Angiulo: A Generation of Employees Just got Squeezed a Little Harder
- Angiulo: Personal Injury, Insurance Companies & the Obligation to Settle Clear Cases
- Angiulo: Obamacare, Supreme Courts, and Statutory Interpretation
- Angiulo: New SJC Decision on the Individual’s Second Amendment Right
- Angiulo: Statutes of Limitation and the Need to Take Action
- Angiulo: No Matter Who the Defendant is the Law Remains the Same
- Angiulo: Unringing the Bell of Falsified Drug Tests
- Angiulo: Drug Convictions, Firearms and the Supreme Court
- Angiulo: An Insurance Agent at the Intersection of Business Model and Criminal Act
- Angiulo: SJC Looks at Mortgage Foreclosure Process in Massachusetts
- Angiulo: Drunk Driving Charges and Commercial Driver’s License Suspensions
- Angiulo: Freedom of Speech and Political Campaigns
- Angiulo: Challenging the Legality of Motor Vehicle Stops by Police
- Angiulo: Land of the Free, Home of Live Nude Dancing
- Angiulo: The Supreme Court, the Death Penalty, and the Constitution
- Angiulo: Elder Abuse, Powers of Attorney and Harassment Prevention Orders
- Angiulo: SJC Says Breath Tests in Massachusetts Are in Question
- Angiulo: Supreme Court Decides When Online Threats Become Criminal Acts
- Angiulo: SJC Defines the Limits of Parental Discipline
- Angiulo: Overtime Pay for Employees and Employer Obligations