Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Indiana Court of Appeals issues new marital property case

Husband challenged the make up of the marital pot and division of the marital pot in Delbert Hill v. Sarah Hill (PDF format). The new case does a good job of explaining the marital pot theory used by Indiana courts and how that pot is to be divided, but also how to treat a spouse secreting assets from another spouse.

Husband argued that since his pension paid in monthly installments, this was not property. The Court of Appeals held on this issue:

We disagree. Indiana Code § 31-9-2-98(b) provides, in pertinent part:"Property", for purposes of IC 31-15 [regarding dissolution], IC 31-16, and IC 31-17, means all the assets of either party or both parties, including:
(1) a present right to withdraw pension or retirement benefits[.]

As Husband is currently receiving payments from his pension plan, he clearly has "a present right to withdraw pension or retirement benefits" under subsection (b)(1)
Husband also challenged inclusion of real estate bought before the marriage and property bought with son in Florida.

I thought it strange that Husband raised the issue of real estate bought before the marriage. That all marital property goes into the marital pot is black letter law. So why raise this issue the way that Husband did? To me, the better argument ought to have been this: the court ought to have included only the value accrued in the property from date of marriage. This value becomes an issue of evidence but the evidence would be in the record for arguing before the Court of Appeals. (However, the trial court seems to have given Husband the value of his pre-marital investment when dividing the property.)

The Florida properties clearly shows an evidence problem. One that the Court of Appeals pointed out with emphasis: "though Husband apparently intended to transfer the Florida real estate to his son from a previous marriage, the deeds evidencing the transfer were not recorded until April 26, 2004, eleven days after Wife filed for dissolution."

The Court of Appeals discusses the means of dividing the marital property. Considering how reviewing a property division comes down to comparing numbers, I am convinced that the only way to properly present a large asset case is with a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet gives counsel the means of examining the numbers in the division and controlling their presentation. In this case, Husband appealed on the issue of an equal division of the property even though he received a higher net distribution of that same property. I am not seeing the sense Husband's argument here but then neither did the Court of Appeals.

Finally, the trial court found that Husband hid money from Wife. The amount hidden came to about $40,000.00. Hiding that money influenced the trial court's division of the assets.

An interesting case setting out in clear terms what is marital property and the criteria for dividing the marital property. However, as with many cases, the story behind the case seems a good deal more interesting.

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