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DIVORCE 64: Appeal review of spousal support award for an abuse of discretion.

In the previous appeal, court held that the trial court’s division of two assets required remand.

The first asset was defendant’s interest in SE stock. The trial court’s finding that this property was defendant’s separate property was affirmed. They also affirmed the court’s valuation of defendant’s stock interest at $3 million as within the range established by the parties’ joint expert and defendant’s expert. They vacated the trial court’s award of one-third share or $1 million of the stock interest to plaintiff, remanded for the trial court to articulate its reason for the amount awarded.

Evidentiary Hearing

Defendant requested an evidentiary hearing concerning the trial court’s distribution of SE to plaintiff. At the hearing, the court clarified that its prior judgment was based on a finding that the assets of SE were commingled, and that plaintiff contributed to the enterprise.

On remand, the trial court considered these factors: the source of the property; the parties’ contributions toward its acquisition, as well as to the general marital estate; the duration of the marriage; the needs and circumstances of the parties; their ages, health, life status, and earning abilities; the cause of the divorce, as well as past relations and conduct between the parties; and general principles of equity.

Plaintiff Contributed to the Value

Defendant’s efforts during the marriage contributed to the increase in valuation of SE and other entities. The court noted that the plaintiff, who worked part-time for her family-owned business, was also employed during the marriage in various roles with SE and contributed to its valuation through her direct efforts. Additionally, the court found that plaintiff contributed to the value of SE indirectly because she had almost exclusive responsibility for maintaining the parties’ home and child rearing. The court noted defendant’s testimony that he worked seven days a week, many days working 12 hours, and his concession that plaintiff was both employed and fully responsible for the children while he worked long hours. Based on these findings, the trial court held that plaintiff was entitled to one-third the value of the SE asset, namely $1 million.

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FAMILY LAW 83: A trial court can terminate a parent’s rights and permit a stepparent to adopt a child.

A trial court has discretion to terminate a parent’s rights and permit a stepparent to adopt a child when the conditions of MCL 710.51(6) are met. MCL 710.51(6)(b) requires the petitioner to establish that the other parent had the ability to visit, contact, or communicate with the children, and substantially failed or neglected to do so for a period of two years.

PROBATE 53: The trust agreement included an Incontestability Provision.

A settlor’s intent is to be carried out as nearly as possible. Generally, in terrorem clauses are valid and enforceable. However, a provision in a trust that purports to penalize an interested person for contesting the trust or instituting another proceeding relating to the trust shall not be given effect if probable cause exists for instituting a proceeding contesting the trust or another proceeding relating to the trust.

FAMILY LAW 82: Court stated it would terminate the personal protection order (PPO) after the parties present documentation of the initiation of the divorce proceedings.

However, the trial court concluded that these matters should, in fact, be in the province and the jurisdiction of the Family Division and in that respect, having issued a personal protection order, the Court stated it would terminate the personal protection order after the parties present documentation of the initiation of the divorce proceedings.

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FAMILY LAW 77: Court awarded plaintiff sole legal custody; defendant was unwilling to work with plaintiff.

For joint custody to work, parents must be able to agree with each other on basic issues in child rearing including health care, religion, education, day to day decision making and discipline and they must be willing to cooperate with each other in joint decision making. If two equally capable parents are unable to cooperate and to agree generally concerning important decisions affecting the welfare of their children, the court has no alternative but to determine which parent shall have sole custody of the children.

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