What happens on divorce when during the marriage, the marital residence that had been owned by one spouse prior to the marriage is conveyed during the marriage to the parties jointly? That was the issue addressed by the Appellate Division, Second Department, in its decision this month in Spencer-Forrest v. Forrest.

The parties were married on March 31, 1984. There were no children of the marriage, but children from each of the parties’ prior marriages resided with the parties in the marital residence during the children’s respective minorities. Both parties were employed for the majority of the marriage, and the wife provided care for the husband’s children, who were younger and resided in the marital residence longer than her children.

The husband had purchased the marital residence prior to the marriage, and transferred the property to himself and the wife as joint tenants in 1989. Other than the marital residence, the parties’ assets were held in their respective names. Both parties contributed to the household expenses, although the husband contributed a larger sum to household expenses and maintenance of the marital residence, and the wife ceased financial contributions in 2006 or 2007, after she retired.

In August, 2012, the wife commenced this action for a divorce and ancillary relief. The wife was 68 years old and the husband was 67 years old at the time of trial.

Except for the marital residence, Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Stacy D. Bennett divided the marital property) equally (other than the vehicles and personal items) regardless of the party holding title. As to the residence, Justice Bennett awarded the wife 20% of the appreciation in the value of the marital residence from 1989 (when the husband conveyed the home to the parties jointly) through the date of the commencement of the action, an award amounting to $30,000. The court declined to award the parties credits sought for assets allegedly secreted or wasted by the other party and denied the wife an award of maintenance.


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Despite repeated efforts to bring predictability and consistency to temporary support awards, that goal remains elusive. Consider the December, 2017 decision of the Appellate Division, Third Department, in Rouis v. Rouis.

The parties were married in 1993 and had two children. After the husband departed the marital residence, the wife commenced this action for divorce in 2014. Applying the pre-2015 temporary maintenance formula on the wife’s motion for temporary relief, Sullivan County Supreme Court Justice Mary MacMaster Work granted the wife, among other things, temporary maintenance ($1,958 per month) and child support ($2,720 per month) and required the husband to pay for the carrying costs and upkeep of the marital home ($4,859 per month), private school for the youngest child ($848 per month), health insurance for the family ($1,921 per month), interim counsel fees ($10,000) and the wife’s vehicle and fuel costs ($644 per month). The husband appealed.

Recognizing that the combined monthly awards amounted to an annual award of $155,400 plus $10,000 in interim counsel fees, to be paid from the husband’s annual gross income of $183,300.50 (the wife’s pre-award income was $11,700.00), the Third Department agreed that the temporary awards were excessive and should be modified.

The appellate court noted that the (pre-2015) temporary maintenance formula resulted in a presumptive monthly temporary maintenance amount of $4,387.50. Justice Work also granted the wife’s request that the husband also pay the $4,859 in expenses, including the mortgage, taxes, utilities, insurance and upkeep. Justice Work recognized that it would not be equitable to require the husband to pay full maintenance, child support and all carrying costs on the marital home, and therefor essentially credited the husband for one half of the carrying costs on the home ($2,429.50 per month) by reducing the presumptive maintenance award by that amount, resulting in a temporary maintenance award of $1,958 per month. The lower court also ordered the husband to pay the full monthly carrying costs on the home ($4,859) in which he did not reside. The appellate court noted that when the wife’s vehicle expenses were added ($644 per month), the total combined monthly award was $7,461, plus tuition ($848 per month) and child support. The net effect of Supreme Court’s order was that the husband was ordered to pay the full presumptive maintenance award plus one half of the carrying costs on the home and the wife’s vehicle expenses.


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What do you do upon divorce when the home purchased during the marriage and titled in one spouse’s name was purchased using the proceeds from the sale of the home owned at the date of marriage solely in the name of that same spouse?

The Appellate Division, Second Department, in its March 2, 2016 decision in Ahearn v. Ahearn, applied well-established equitable distribution principles to affirm the determination of now-retired Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice William J. Kent, III, and hold that the home purchased during the marriage was marital property even though titled in only the one spouse’s name. Moreover, the titled spouse was entitled to a dollar-for-dollar separate property credit against the equity in the marital-property home for the use of the first home’s net sales proceeds.

The fact pattern was straightforward. In June 1996, the wife-to-be purchased a house on Salem Street in Patchogue. Approximately nine months later, the parties were married and lived together in the Salem Street house. In December 2004, the wife sold the Salem Street house and used the $143,000 in net proceeds from that sale toward the purchase, in March 2005, of a house in Holbrook. Only the wife’s name was on the Holbrook deed, but, at the time of trial, both parties were listed on the mortgage.


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Once again, it has been made clear that where either or both spouses have assets or liabilities at the date of marriage, it is foolhardy (or at least imprudent) to enter the marriage without a prenuptial agreement and/or the assembly of proof of the extent, nature and value of those assets or liabilities.

Take the January 8, 2015 decision of the Appellate Division, Third Depatrtment, in Ceravolo v. DeSantis. In that case, the parties were married in July, 1996. The wife commenced the action for divorce in June, 2010. Acting Albany Supreme Court Justice Kimberly O’Connor determined, among other things, that the marital residence, which had been purchased by the husband prior to the marriage, was marital property and awarded the wife, among other things, half of its value. The husband appealed.

The Third Department agreed with the husband that Justice O’Connor erred in classifying the marital residence as marital property. Marital property is defined as “all property acquired by either or both spouses during the marriage” (Domestic Relations Law §236[B][1][c]), while “property acquired before marriage” is separate property (D.R.L. §236[B][1][d][1]).

Title is a critical consideration in identifying the nature of real property acquired before the marriage. The circumstances surrounding the purchase of the residence and the parties’ intent relative thereto are irrelevant to the legal classification of the residence as separate or marital property.

Here, the husband purchased the marital residence in January 1994 — 2½ years prior to the parties’ marriage — paying $130,000 of his own funds and borrowing an additional $100,000 from his father, secured by a note and mortgage. Although the wife contributed $30,000 of her separate funds to the initial purchase of the residence, the husband took title to the property in his name alone.


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In a May 8, 2013 decision in Mejia v. Mejia, the Appellate Division, Second Department, modified a divorce judgment’s provisions concerning the cap on combined parental income, the disposition of the marital residence, college expenses for three children ages 14, 10 and 6, and judgment inconsistencies with the underlying decision and judgment  formalities.

After the parties separated, they each petitioned the Family Court for custody of the children. The parties consented that they share joint legal custody, and that the father have primary physical custody.

After a non-jury trial on certain financial issues, the Family Court considered the first $200,000 of combined parental income in determining child support, based upon, among other things, “the economic reality of life in Rockland County,” and a determination that the gross income of the mother was substantially less than that of the father. The mother’s pro rata share of the basic child support obligation was 37% of 29% of the first $200,00 of combined parent income was fixed at $1,789 per month in the 2011 Family Court order.

The marital residence, titled in the parties’ joint names, was awarded to the father and the children, based upon the father’s claim that there was no equity in the house. The court further concluded in its decision that the father should maintain health insurance for the children, and that the mother should pay 37% of the college expenses of the children.

The Second Department lowered to $150,000 the applied cap on combined parental income, “considering the substantial difference between the parties’ income, the fact that the [mother] has less income than the [father], and the amount of parenting time awarded to the [mother].” Calculated on that basis, the mother’s pro rata share of the child support obligation was $1,341 per month.


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House divided.jpgIn 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.


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Calulator on 100s 3.jpgTwo decisions last month of Queens County Supreme Court Justice Pam Jackman Brown provide insights on how courts might cope with the overlap of the statutory temporary maintenance formula and the payment of marital residence carrying charges.

Yesterdays blog reported upon the Second Department’s November 21, 2012 agreement in Woodford v. Woodford with the First Department in Khaira v. Khaira that the statutory temporary maintenance formula is intended to include the portion of marital residence carrying costs attributable to the nonmonied spouse.

In the November 5, 2012 decision in Liebman v. Liebman, Justice Jackman Brown balanced the factors presented by directing the husband to continue to make the marital residence carrying charge payments, but deducting the full amount of those charges from the presumptive maintenance formula.

The wife had sought an award of temporary maintenance based upon husband’s 2011 W-2 income. The wife also asked that in addition to the calculated temporary maintenance sum, the husband should be directed to continue to pay the maintenance, mortgage and carrying charges on the marital residence.

The Court found that the presumptive temporary maintenance award would be $6,337.70 monthly. However, under the facts presented, Justice Jackman Brown found that the presumptive award would be unjust or inappropriate. Specifically, the Court adjusted the presumptive temporary maintenance award after considering factor: (q) any other factor which the court shall expressly find to be just and proper.

The Court noted that the statute is silent regarding whether the Court shall order the presumptive maintenance award in proceedings in which the payor spouse has agreed or is directed to maintain the mortgage and/or carrying charges on the marital residence. In Liebman, it was undisputed that the husband had been paying the carrying charges, including the mortgage, maintenance and insurance, in the sum of $1739.91 monthly.

The Court deducted the sum of $1,739.91 from the husband’s presumptive monthly temporary maintenance obligation $6,337.70, and awarded the wife $4,597.79 monthly. The Court also directed the husband to continue to pay the mortgage, maintenance and insurance on the marital residence.


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