When Sally Field won her second Oscar in 1984, her acceptance speech included the line often now misquoted as “you like me, you really like me.” Nancy Alper might respond to the Second Department, “you hate me, you really hate me.”
In the Alper’s 20-year childless marriage, during which the parties were separated for 10 years, both parties worked, but Mrs. Alper spent her money on herself and her daughter of a prior marriage. We are not told how much the parties earned, or of the decadence of their purchases.
Nevertheless, it was only last year that the Court of Appeals held that the parties’ choice of how to spend funds during the course of the marriage should ordinarily be respected. Courts should not second-guess the economic decisions made during the course of a marriage. See, Mahoney-Buntzman, 12 N.Y.3d 415, 421, 881 N.Y.S.2d 369 (2009), holding that one spouse may not recover for the money the other spouse spent on required support for a prior spouse and child.
Here, we are told Mrs. Alper contributed little, if any, financial support to the marriage, contributing nothing “to the purchase, and only minimally to the maintenance of the marital home.” Accordingly, she was awarded no interest in that residence. Moreover, as Mrs. Alper failed to demonstrate “the manner in which her contributions resulted in the increase in value and the amount of the increase which was attributable to her efforts,” Mrs. Alper was awarded no part of the appreciation in value in her husband’s pre-marital country home.
Also, as Mrs. Alper failed to prove whether her husband’s cash and securities were separate or marital property [doesn’t the burden rests with the titled spouse to rebut the presumption that property is marital? Fields, 15 NY3d 158, 163, 905 NYS2d 783, 785 (2010)], she was awarded no part of those assets.
Finally, as Mrs. Alper failed to prove the value of a parcel of vacant land, concededly marital property, she was not entitled to a distributive award.
Perhaps it is naive to think that the appellate decisions should pave the way towards minimizing conflict, generating guidelines to assist resolution by agreement. This decision foreshadows the opposite; enhancing the ill will between parties as they challenge the value to the marriage of each other’s choices.