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DIVORCE 2: In Michigan, is marital misconduct a factor in dividing the marital estate?

In this case, defendant appeals as of right the parties’ judgment of divorce, challenging the trial court’s 60/40 distribution of the marital estate in favor of plaintiff.

Defendant argues that the trial court’s 60/40 distribution of the marital estate in plaintiff’s favor was inappropriately punitive. According to defendant, the trial court placed a disproportionate amount of weight on the parties’ respective fault, while ignoring defendant’s significant financial contributions to the marital estate.

The goal in distribution of the marital estate in a divorce action is equity in light of all the circumstances.  Mathematical equality is not required, but any significant departure from congruence must be clearly explained. The court must consider all relevant factors, but may not assign disproportionate weight to any one circumstance.  Specifically, in determining what is equitable, a trial court should consider each party’s age, health, needs, station in life, and earning capacity; the length of the marriage; contributions to the marital estate; fault of the parties; and other equitable circumstances. Marital misconduct is only one factor among many and should not be dispositive. Trial courts must consider fault in conjunction with all other relevant factors, and may not impose an inequitable division of property as a punitive response to fault. When considering the parties’ contributions to the marital estate, the financial contributions need not be equal. A nonwage earning spouse can make substantial nonfinancial contributions to the marital estate by maintaining the marital household and caring for the parties’ children. Additionally, the court may choose to consider the interruption of the personal career or education of either party.

The trial court noted that the parties, each 52 years of age, had been married for close to 30 years and were both in good health. During the marriage, plaintiff maintained the household and attended to the parties’ two children. Defendant worked, often times over 40 hours per week, supported an upper middle class lifestyle for both parties for the majority of their marriage. Over 29 years, the parties accumulated considerable assets contributing to the marital estate. Most, if not all, of the parties’ assets were purchased with defendant’s earnings.

Although defendant suggests that the trial court failed to consider his significant contributions to the marriage, the record does not support defendant’s suggestion. To the contrary, the trial court specifically noted that defendant was the person who worked for the majority of the income that the marriage received. However, the trial court also noted that plaintiff’s contributions at home facilitated defendant’s ability to work long hours for two different companies.

The trial court considered the matter of fault, concluding that defendant’s extramarital affair and his refusal to end it caused the breakdown in the parties’ marriage. Defendant argues that the trial court erred when it assigned a disproportionate weight to the issue of fault and awarded plaintiff more than half of the marital estate.

Nothing in the record suggests that the trial court’s distribution was imposed as punishment for defendant’s behavior. To the contrary, the trial court’s determination reflects an understanding of the difficult situation plaintiff now faces as a single woman, after 30 years of marriage, with no formal education and very little work experience. The trial court noted that defendant maintained the capacity to generate a larger income, having a greater history of and training for employment. The trial court also properly considered the fact that during the divorce proceedings, defendant began hiding cash from plaintiff by altering direct deposits from his paycheck.  In total, roughly $128,000 was unaccounted for over an 11-month period. Defendant also spent marital funds on hotel rooms and expensive jewelry for his mistress.

Based on the foregoing, the trial court’s 60/40 division of the marital estate was equitable.

Are you facing a divorce in Michigan? Do you have questions about how your assets and your debts will be divided with your soon-to-be ex-spouse?  Financial issues are often the biggest concern for individuals and families who are facing divorce. Seek the advice and guidance of an experienced family law and divorce attorney who will be by your side every step of the way.

Contact Aldrich Legal Services

REAL ESTATE 2: Property dispute, intent is not required for a trespass.

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