Six years before the parties’ marriage in June 2000, the wife became the sole owner of real property, which would later become the parties’ marital residence. At the time of marriage, the wife owned the property free and clear of any liens or encumbrances. In 2005, apparently in an effort to consolidate debt, the husband
The failure of a prenuptial agreement to specify that earnings during the marriage were separate propertywarranted a breach-of-contract recovery as part of a distribution on divorce when those earnings used to pay sparate liabilities. So held Supreme Court New York County Justice Laura E. Drager in her January 15, 2014 decision in R.B. v. M.I (New York Law Journal published decision).
Once again, the focus of the court’s attention was on the import of a prenuptial provision that limited marital property to that held jointly by the parties.
In Zinter v. Zinter, Saratoga County Supreme Court Justice Thomas D. Nolan, Jr., last month held it was unconscionable for a prenuptial agreement to give the husband power to control whether earnings and other after-marriage acquired property would be placed into joint or indiviual accounts, and thus marital or separate property (see, my March 17, 2014 blog post).
Here, the Justice Drager held that whether pproperty was owned jointly or individually at the commencement of the divorce action did not end the inquiry, if a breach of contract claim arising during the marriage is viable.…
In its December 13, 2012 decision in Murrary v. Murray, the Appellate Division, Third Department, affirmed the determination to deny a husband an equitable distribution credit for the value of a home which he owned before the marriage and which, after the marriage, he deeded to himself and his wife jointly.
The parties were married in 1986 and have four children. 15 months before the marriage, the husband purchased a residence in Queens County. Tthe parties lived there together for several years after their marriage. In 1991, the husband conveyed the home to himself and his wife jointly. The parties thereafter refinanced the Queens County property and used the proceeds to purchase their ultimate marital residence in Sullivan County, keeping and renting out the Queens County property. In 2003 the parties separated. The husband commenced this divorce action in 2005.
In resolving equitable distrution issues, Sullivan County Supreme Court Justice Robert A. Sackett denied the husband a credit for the premarital value of the Queens County property. On appeal, the Third Department found that that determination was within Justice Sackett’s discretion.
The transfer of that property into joint ownership created a presumption that it was marital property, placing the burden upon the husband to rebut this presumption with clear and convincing proof that the transfer was solely a matter of convenience.
Here, the appellate court noted, the husband’s testimony regarding the Queens County property (characterized by Supreme Court as evasive and questionable) failed to rebut the presumption. The entire Queens County property was thus part of the parties’ marital property and subject to the court’s substantial discretion in fashioning an equitable distribution award.
While the appellate court noted that a credit is often given for the value of former separate property, such a credit is not strictly mandated. The property is no longer separate, but is part of the total marital property. Quoting the 2010 Court of Appeals decision in Fields v. Fields, 15 NY3d 158, it was stated:
There is no single template that directs how courts are to distribute a marital asset that was acquired, in part or in whole, with separate property funds.
Upon review of the record and the entirety of the equitable distribution award, the Third Department was unpersuaded that Justice Sackett abused his discretion.…
A spouse contributing separate property (most commonly pre-marital, gifted, or inherited funds) to the purchase of the marital residence does not make a gift of (half of) that payment to the other spouse, even if the residence is held by the parties jointly.
So was the holding of the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, in its…