Monday, April 16, 2018
From JD Supra, Holland & Knight:
The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (ERISA), pre-empts most state laws. However, there are certain types of state laws that are not pre-empted. Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Laborers' Pension Fund v. Miscevic, 880 F.3d 927 (7th Cir. 2018), held that the Illinois slayer statute is one of those state statutes that is not pre-empted by ERISA. A slayer statute is a law that prevents an heir from receiving assets or other property from a decedent if that heir is responsible for the decedent's death.
In this case, a woman killed her husband. The husband was a participant in a union pension plan that provided survivor benefits to a surviving spouse or, if there were no surviving spouse, to a minor child. There was no dispute as to the facts. In a state criminal proceeding, the woman was found to be not guilty of killing her husband by reason of insanity. Her husband's pension fund, The Laborers' Pension Fund (the Fund), brought an interpleader action to determine the proper beneficiary of the husband's pension benefits because the couple had a minor child.
Read more here.
Wednesday, February 15, 2017
From ABC 12 News:
A renewed effort is underway by fathers in this state to get a law passed allowing equal custody for both parents during a divorce.
"When you go through a divorce you split everything down the middle, why is it when you have a child you can split custody and time with that child,” asked Noel Geren, 37.
He and his infant daughter are inseparable but Geren said he does not get to see his 10-year-old son from his first marriage as often as he'd like.
"I've been seeking more time with my son for the last four years and I've spent upwards of $80,000," he explained.
Geren is now among the vocal supporters of Texas House Bill 453, authored by State Rep. James White, R-Woodville, which would give mothers and fathers equal custody during a divorce.
"If this bill passes you're going in there at an equal advantage with the other person," added Geren. "It doesn't touch on any child support. It doesn't touch on anything that would be detrimental to the child. It's still left in the courts hands on what they want to do."
If parents reach a custody agreement before arriving in a family court, judges simply approve it. But more often, mothers win custody which leaves fathers only with visitation. House Bill 453 could change the starting point in family courts giving both parents equal custody from the beginning.
At least five states already have similar laws. But since custody cases are often messy and each one is unique, a former family law judge says the legislature should not mandate what to do with children.
Read more here.
Sunday, October 9, 2016
From the ABA Journal:
An exonerated inmate who married his wife while he was in prison can’t exclude his $20 million wrongful conviction settlement from marital property, an Illinois appeals court has ruled.
The Illinois Court of Appeals ruled in the case of Juan Rivera and Melissa Sanders-Rivera, the Chicago Tribune reports. Rivera had been imprisoned since his arrest in the 1992 murder of 11-year-old Holly Staker; he was cleared by DNA evidence and released from prison in January 2012.
Rivera was married on Halloween in 2000; he filed for divorce in May 2014. His settlement payout, after taxes and attorney fees, was about $11.4 million, according to court records cited by the Tribune.
Rivera had argued that the settlement was not marital property because it stemmed from conduct that occurred in 1992. Sanders-Rivera said the settlement is marital property because it stemmed from a lawsuit filed as a result of Rivera’s overturned conviction in 2011.
The appeals court sided with Sanders-Rivera in a Sept. 30 decision.
Read more here.
Saturday, September 17, 2016
From The Indiana Lawyer:
A trial court correctly awarded certain property to a woman who filed a complaint against her longtime partner for unjust enrichment after the two broke up after a 17-year relationship, the Indiana Court of Appeals held.
Jeffrey McMahel and Mary Deaton met in 1996 and shortly moved in together in McMahel’s home. They have one child together, born in 1998. During their time together, both worked, with McMahel making substantially more than Deaton. He began receiving disability toward the end of their relationship, unable to work due to his multiple sclerosis. The two moved into a house McMahel later bought in his name only and the two purchased vehicles together, went on vacation together and shared a bank account.
After they broke up in 2014, Deaton filed the complaint alleging unjust enrichment. The trial court found sufficient evidence to support an equitable clam for recovery, as McMahel would be unjustly enriched if the court took the position that Deaton had no claim to any of the assets held in McMahel’s name alone or to the growth of his asset base that occurred during their cohabitation.
Orange Circuit Judge Larry Blanton awarded certain cars or other property to Deaton, her 401(k) account, as well as a $13,102.30 equalization payment from McMahel for a total award of $54,753.32.
McMahel appealed in Jeffrey L. McMahel v. Mary A. Deaton, 59A04-1601-PL-91, asking the appellate court to reconsider its holding inBright v. Kuehl, 650 N.E.2d 311 (Ind. Ct. App. 1995).
Read more here.
Wednesday, March 9, 2016
From Indianapolis Bar Association:
The Indiana Court of Appeals in In Re The Marriage of Carr ruled that the survivor benefit that may go to a spouse in a dissolution of marriage is an asset for the purposes of property division and must be included in the marital pot.
In this case, Husband had been in the military for 14 years prior to the parties’ marriage but his pension did not vest until after the marriage. Husband also had a pension from a private employer. The parties agreed after the dissolution was filed that Husband would elect to allow Wife to have a survivor benefit in his military pension. The court applied the coverture fraction in determining the percentage split of the pensions. Wife contended that since Husband had not vested until the parties were married, the entire military pension should be included in the calculation. The trial court found that in order for the pension to exist the husband had to have served those 14 years before the marriage and, therefore, it did include the time served before vesting.
Wife then argued that the survivor benefit should not be considered a marital asset as it depended upon her surviving her husband. The court rejected this argument and found that while Indiana followed that line of reason previously to exclude any pension from the marital pot, that this reasoning no longer was accepted. Dan Andrews testified to the value of the survivor benefit as well as the other pension benefits and the Court of Appeals found that the trial court erred by excluding that value of the survivor benefit from the calculations of the distribution and marital pot.
Read more here.
Monday, January 25, 2016
Getting divorced has a significant impact on your finances — and some missteps can make it even more costly.
Divorce is an issue plenty of Americans will find themselves navigating. In 2014, divorces and annulments occurred at a rate of 3.2 per 1,000 people, according to provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control. At least anecdotally, lawyers say, the number of filings and proceedings initiated tends to pick up in January — leading to the nickname Divorce Month.
"We definitely see an uptick," said Joslin Davis, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. "People just really don't want to do anything during the holidays — for emotional reasons, primarily." The new year seems like the ideal time for a fresh start, she said.
As much as you might want to get the process over with as soon as possible, moving quickly through a divorce can be a mistake. Take time to consult with a financial advisor and accountant, as well as your attorney.
"There are a lot of financial 'gotcha' nuances that people aren't aware of, because they aren't your day-to-day," said certified public accountant Tracy Stewart, a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants' personal financial planning executive committee.
"Everything matters in a divorce," she said. "Pay attention."
Moves made without due consideration could mean you give up more than you need to or don't get your fair share. Worse, some aren't fixable, or they initiate a domino effect of problems — like an acquaintance of Stewart's who (without asking for professional advice first) dipped into his IRA early to pay off joint debt during his divorce. Not only did that affect his retirement prospects, but it also more immediately triggered penalties and a taxable-income increase that phased him out of valuable deductions.
Read more here.
Sunday, June 17, 2012
Margaret Ryznar (Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law) and Anna Stępień-Sporek (University of Gdańsk School of Law) have posted The Harmonization of Matrimonial Property Regimes on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Although family law often differs by jurisdiction, harmonization efforts would make such state laws uniform. In the United States, the major obstacle to the harmonization of family law is the federal system. In the European Union, on the other hand, efforts to harmonize the family laws of member states are increasingly successful. This significant experiment in harmonization offers lessons into the roles of jurisdictional autonomy, cultural relativism, and legal absolutes in society, all of growing importance in an increasingly mobile society and in light of the European Union Commission’s pending proposal for harmonization of matrimonial property regimes.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
From The Vancouver Sun:
MONTREAL — A groundbreaking decision from Quebec's Court of Appeal opens the door for common-law partners to collect alimony, affecting about 1.2 million Quebecers and bringing the province in line with the rest of the country.
But the woman who brought the issue to a head by taking her billionaire ex to court, claiming alimony payments of the kind most women can only dream, might be out of luck.
Two out of three judges on the panel Wednesday gave the provincial government a year to revamp the family law section of the Civil Code so that unmarried couples can't be excluded from the right to claim alimony.
Read more here.
Friday, November 19, 2010
Let's add to the media frenzy surrounding Kate & William's engagement by pointing out that it has brought much attention to the English premarital agreement, which is entering a new era of enforceability in the UK.
From Business & Law:
Britain's Prince William and his long-time girlfriend Kate Middleton ended speculations about their future by announcing their engagement on Tuesday but triggered a new speculation over whether the couple will opt for a prenuptial agreement.
To date, no member of the British royal family has signed a prenuptial agreement but William and Kate could set a royal precedence.
According to divorce and family law experts, a prenuptial agreement would make William and Kate be seen as a modern couple and would help avoid a lot of unnecessary headache and heartache later.
Last month, the U.K. Supreme Court, in a landmark ruling, swept away hundreds of years of legal precedent that a married couple should be together for life and their property should be shared, by saying that prenuptial agreements are enforceable under British divorce law.
The court had ruled against Nicolas Granatino, a former investment banker who had challenged a prenuptial agreement he signed with German heiress Katrin Radmacher.
Court President Lord Phillips said that the law cannot prevent a couple deciding how to arrange their affairs should they come to live apart. The court said that all English courts should follow its precedence and after its ruling "it will be natural to infer that parties entering into agreements will intend that effect be given to them."
However, Lord Phillips also said that prenuptials will not be legally binding in all circumstances and the courts would still have the discretion to waive any pre- or postnuptial agreement, especially when it was unfair to any children of the marriage.
UK is known as the "divorce capital of Europe."
Read more here.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
The ownership of the Dodgers might hinge on a lawyer’s mistake in drafting a marital property agreement. According to AmericanLawyer.com, the lawyer drafting the agreement recently “took the stand and admitted he changed the document after it was signed--without consulting the McCourts--to list Frank McCourt's sole property as ‘inclusive’ rather than ‘exclusive’ of the Dodgers.” This was to correct an initial mistake in the agreement. On the stand, the lawyer said, “Sometimes I garble the language.” Read more here.
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled last week that postnuptial agreements dividing property on the eve of divorce are permissible, ending years of uncertainty about the enforceablity of such contracts in Massachusetts.
Addressing a matter that has long sown doubt among Massachusetts family law specialists, the Supreme Judicial Court said postnuptial agreements that divide financial assets must be scrutinized to make sure they were not negotiated fraudulently or coerced by a spouse with threats of divorce. But if the agreements meet stringent standards, they should be enforced.
“Marital contracts are not the product of classic arm’s-length bargaining, but that does not make them necessarily coercive,’’ Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall wrote on behalf of the seven-member court. “Such contracts may inhibit the dissolution of a marriage or may protect the interests of third parties such as children from a prior relationship.’’
Several states, including Alabama, Louisiana, and Wisconsin, have laws authorizing such agreements, the court said. At least one state, Ohio, forbids them. But many states have not addressed the issue.
Such contracts are uncommon in Massachusetts compared with prenuptial agreements, said divorce lawyers, but that may be partly attributable to uncertainty over whether they would be upheld.
Given the confusion, couples marrying in Massachusetts had only two options if they wanted to sign a binding contract dealing with their assets: a prenuptial agreement before their wedding or a separation agreement if their marriage crumbled.
The SJC’s ruling carves out a third option. Thomas J. Barbar, a Boston family law specialist, said postnuptial agreements are a particularly good choice for more affluent couples who want to address financial issues when their marriages are strong, rather than wrestle with them through costly and painful litigation during a divorce.
The high court spelled out a five-step review that judges must conduct before approving such contracts, a process that must include making sure there was no fraud or coercion.
David H. Lee, the Boston lawyer who represented Ansin, said he was pleased that the court upheld the contract and finally addressed such agreements. Lee said he has negotiated fewer than 10 postnuptial agreements in his 37 years practicing family law, compared with more than 100 prenuptial agreements, because of concerns about whether they could be enforced.
Such agreements, he said, can benefit couples with marital woes who want to settle financial matters so they can focus on rebuilding their relationships. Postnuptial agreements are also signed by couples as part of estate planning or to address issues over inheritance that arise in second marriages.
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Law.com discusses a New York trial court's rejection of constructive trust and unjust enrichment arguments to transfer any property interest from a New York ad-exec to his long-time girlfriend:
A prominent advertising executive's alleged promises to support his longtime girlfriend if they broke up are unenforceable because the couple never married, a Manhattan judge has ruled.
In declining to impose a constructive trust, Supreme Court Justice Ellen Gesmer ruled that such statements as "I will always take care of you" and "everything that we put in, we will enjoy together" do not constitute legally binding promises.
"Indeed, even if [the defendant] had made an explicit promise that, upon separation, [the plaintiff] would be entitled to 'equitable distribution' of their assets, it would be unenforceable, as it would be contrary to the long-standing law and policy in New York that unmarried partners are not entitled to the same property and financial rights upon termination of the relationship as married people," Justice Gesmer wrote.
"Unless and until the law imposes equitable distribution on unmarried couples, in New York, as least, the legal status of marriage remains vitally important to establishing the economic rights of members of a couple."
The plaintiff, Malin Ericson, filed suit in 2009 against Fabien Baron, the advertising executive and creative director best known for reinventing Burberry, producing racy ads for Calvin Klein and designing Madonna's "Sex" book. According to her complaint, Ericson began working for Baron's fledgling company, Baron & Baron, in 1993, and became romantically involved with Baron in 1994. They moved in together later that year, had a daughter in 1999 and remained a couple until 2007, though they never married.
Ericson alleged that, in addition to the assurances Baron made throughout their relationship, when they broke up, he promised he would treat the separation as if the couple had married.
When Baron purportedly failed to live up to that promise, Ericson filed the present petition seeking a constructive trust on his Mercer Street loft, which was purchased in 1997 for nearly $1.5 million, his Amagansett real estate, bought in 1999 for nearly $1.3 million, and three years of profits from Baron & Baron. The company, according to the decision, has gross annual revenues of some $20 million.
Ericson claimed she contributed to the couple's household and Baron's burgeoning business in reliance on his assurances.
Monday, March 22, 2010
England's highest court is hearing argument today in a case between a German paper industry heiress and her French ex-husband about the enforceability of a prenuptial agreement they signed in advance of their 1998 marriage.
At stake in the legal tussle between Katrin Radmacher, heiress to a paper industry fortune, and her French ex-husband Nicolas Granatino, is a settlement worth millions of pounds and the status of pre-nuptial agreements in English law.
A lower court in 2008 awarded Granatino 5.9 million pounds but Radmacher appealed, citing an agreement signed in Germany in 1998 before the couple married in London that stipulated he would get nothing if the pair divorced.
In a landmark decision, the Court of Appeal ruled last July that the pre-nuptial agreement was valid, reducing Granatino's settlement to 1 million pounds.
Before that ruling, English courts did not recognise such agreements, in which couples decide before their marriage how they would split their assets in the event of a divorce.
The hearing is scheduled to last two days, with a decision due several weeks later.
The couple's marriage began to break down in 2003 after Granatino gave up an investment banking job that Radmacher said paid him up to 330,000 pounds a year, to become a biotechnology researcher at Oxford University earning 30,000 pounds a year.
Read more here.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
The Tennesee Supreme Court has ruled that a $17 million class action settlement fee received by a husband-attorney after his wife filed for divorce is marital property subject to equitable division. The decision is consistent with the wealth of jurisprudence on marital and community property - acquisitions that are the result of effort, skill, or industry expended during marriage should be susceptible of being shared. But to reach this decision, the Court had to creatively interpret a Tennessee statute which requires that property be "owned by either or both spouses as of the date of filing of a complaint for divorce" to qualify as marital property.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Years ago, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that a spouse may continue divorce litigation after the other's death for the sole purpose of proving that the deceased spouse had diverted marital assets. The divorce is an equitable method of recovering those diverted assets for equitable distribution.
Last week, the New Jersey Supreme Court considered for the first time the reverse scenario. In Kay v. Kay, the deceased spouse raised the claim that marital assets had been diverted during marriage. The question was whether a divorce action to recover diverted assets for equitable distribution could be maintained by the deceased spouse's estate.
The Court held that the right to continue divorce litigation under these circumstances is reciprocal. Equitable distribution statutes exist to promote equity and fair dealing between the spouses, and depriving the estate of the opportunity to pursue its claim would not serve those policies.
Read the opinion here.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Business Week reports on an unsuccessful argument that a divorce settlement might be rescinded for mutual mistake relating to the Madoff scam.
A judge says a prominent New York City lawyer can't recover money he paid in a divorce agreement when he believed he and his ex-wife had millions of dollars invested with Bernard Madoff.
Steven Simkin says he gave Laura Blank $6.6 million as her share of marital assets in July 2006 after more than 30 years of marriage. The figure included $2.7 million that was half the value of Simkin's Madoff account.
But the account with Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities was empty. Madoff later admitted cheating thousands of investors and was imprisoned.
A Manhattan Supreme Court justice ruled Blank didn't have to "shoulder her share" of the Madoff losses and threw out the case.
Read the story here.
Friday, December 11, 2009
The North Dakota Supreme Court heard a case last week questioning whether a wife's breast implants and surgical eye improvements (through Lasik) are marital assets to be divided on divorce.
"Do we have any lines to be drawn? Is dental work a marital asset? Is a hip replacement a marital asset?" Justice Daniel Crothers asked attorney Christina Sambor during Supreme Court arguments on Thursday.
Sambor represents Erik Isaacson, of Mandan, who is appealing South Central District Judge Robert Wefald's decision to exclude the value of his former wife Traci's breast implants and Lasik vision improvement surgery from a list of their assets and debts. Sambor said the expense should be included in instances when a medical expense is "clearly cosmetic, elective, (and) non-necessary." Insurance companies often make those judgments in deciding what to cover, she said.
I think the district judge's comments about the issue are great:
"I can't imagine people would actually waste time thinking that breast implants are marital assets. It just defies common sense. I don't know how you would expect me to award breast implants, if you want me to have them cut out and given to Mr. Isaacson. It is absolutely nonsense."
Read the news report here.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Monopoli: "Marriage, Property and [In]Equality: Remedying Erisa's Disparate Impact on Spousal Wealth"
Paula Monopoli (University of Maryland School of Law) has posted "Marriage, Property and [In]Equality: Remedying Erisa's Disparate Impact on Spousal Wealth," Yale Law Journal Online, Vol. 119, p. 61-65 on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Congress is considering pension reform in the wake of the tremendous loss in market value of retirement plans during the current recession. This article suggests that this is a historic moment to remedy a previously unidentified, unintended but profound gender disparity embedded in the federal law governing retirement plans in this country. It explores the common perception that while contemporary law and policy aim to facilitate equality within marriage, including in the area of property ownership, embracing equitable distribution in reallocating property upon divorce, the Employment Retirement Income Security Act’s (ERISA) structuring of retirement asset accumulation runs counter to this trend and in fact incentivizes the concentration of wealth in the hands of husbands rather than wives within intact marriages. It suggests that in order to remedy this inconsistency and facilitate equality within intact marriages, Congress should amend ERISA to confer an immediate ownership interest in one-half of the assets in each spouse as they are earned and contributed by one spouse, akin to a community property theory of ownership. Each half should then be allocated to a separate account, one in each spouses’s name. While this second step may be somewhat inconsistent with the view of marriage as a partnership, it minimizes the risk that one spouse will dominate investment decisions with regard to the assets. In the alternative, ERISA should at least provide that each spouse’s defined contribution plan be held in a joint account as a default rule. A less fundamental but equally important additional reform would be to allow married couples to equalize ownership by transferring unlimited amounts between their accounts without triggering income taxation and the 10% early withdrawal penalty. This would be akin to the existing unlimited marital deduction as applied to transfers under the current federal gift tax. The article concludes that, with these amendments, Congress could align federal pension law with the overall movement toward gender equality in marital property law.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Maybe. A California Court of Appeals just ruled (reversing the lower court's decision) that a Porsche bought for husband with wife's separate funds was to be classified as community property. California law generally requires a writing to transmute the classification of property, but there is an exception for gifts of "tangible articles of a personal nature." The California court held that a Porsche was not such property. Read the full opinion here. And if you're in a community property state, delight in the fact that you'll still own a portion of most items you gift to your spouse!
Thursday, October 29, 2009
We'll find out soon enough. With the filing of a petition for divorce on Tuesday, Jamie and Frank McCourt have begun what seems likely to become a long and bitter divorce battle. Among the issues raised in the petition for divorce is ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Frank claims he is the sole owner of the team. Jamie claims the team is community property. A 2004 marital property agreement executed just after the Dodgers purchase indicates that the team may be Frank's separate property. No doubt the enforceability of that agreement will be questioned, and there are reports that Frank himself did not believe the agreement made him sole owner of the team. Read early news coverage of the case here and here.