Family Law Prof Blog

Editor: Margaret Ryznar
Indiana University
Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Case Law Development: Division of Debt Caused By One Partner Spouse's Criminal Conduct

Just in time for Halloween, the Michigan Court of Appeals decides a case in which the husband's arguments for assigning fault in the characterization of debt as marital sound like something an Edgar Allen Poe character would construct.

The case involved a division of debt owed to the insurance company due to husband's actions in burning down the marital home on the evening after Wife had left the home and announced her intention to get a divorce.  The trial court allocated to Husband all of the $300,000 is restitution owed to the insurance company. Husband argued that Wife should split that debt with him because he had acted in response to her adulterous affair. 

The court of appeals affirmed, in its unpublished opinion, concluding:

We agree with the trial court that it is difficult to take seriously defendant’s
contention that his wife’s affair so outraged him as to make his act of arson her fault when
indeed he had conducted numerous affairs himself during the course of the marriage. We find illogical, and distasteful, defendant’s attempts to characterize his conduct as different from his wife’s conduct for the reason that he never intended his affairs to end the marriage, while she did. We find puzzling defendant’s suggestion that the trial court should have, and this Court should now, consider the alternative scenario where defendant’s conduct resulted from being physically poisoned by his wife. In short, we find no error in the trial court’s assessment of fault in the breakdown of this marriage.

The court noted that "the courts of this state have not spoken specifically to the issue of whether an innocent spouse may be liable for criminal restitution debt incurred by the partner spouse during the course of the marriage, probably because such an illogical and unreasonable argument has not before been made."

Thanks to Jeanne Hannah, of the Updates in Michigan Family Law Blog, for highlighting this case!

League v League, 2006 Mich. App. LEXIS 3063 (October 19, 2006)
Opinion on the web (last visited October 24, 2006 bgf)

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