Wednesday, April 23, 2008

When Lawyers Divorce

The Oregon Supreme Court reversed a spousal support award and modified the property division to grant the wife a one-half interest in two trusts. Both husband and wife are lawyers: she practiced in Montana'a water court; he was in private practice and a county prosecutor. He was the beneficiary of two family trusts. The trusts "became a significant financial asset for the husband and wife." The court concluded that:

"Husband's assurances and his financial planning with regard to the trusts caused wife to change her circumstances dramatically, leaving a new home and a satisfying, stable job to begin a retirement that was more husband's desire than hers. See Becker, 122 Or App at 571 (granting the husband a greater equalizing judgment against the wife, where the parties had not saved for retirement, 'in anticipation that [the] wife's trust receipts * * * would keep them financially secure during retirement'). That change of position, in reliance on husband's actions, cannot be ignored in making an equitable division of the property.

Moreover, this marriage was of long duration, and in such cases, 'we are less concerned with identifying the relative contributions of the parties than we are with ensuring that the parties separate on as equal a basis as possible under the circumstances.' Bentson and Bentson, 61 Or App 282, 285, 656 P2d 395, rev den, 294 Or 613 (1983). In this case, the most valuable asset the parties have is husband's interest in the Brown Trust corpus, valued at $250,000. There is no other asset of the parties that is comparable. Were we to ignore that asset in dividing the marital property, we would not leave the parties 'on as equal a basis as possible.' Id. It is therefore just and proper to give wife a portion of husband's interests in the trusts." (Mike Frisch)

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