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DIVORCE 71: Court determined house was marital property and defendant was not entitled to spousal support.

The parties were married on December 28, 2007, and they separated on December 5, 2019. Plaintiff filed for divorce on December 30, 2019. The parties did not have any children together, but plaintiff had two adult children from a prior relationship. A contested divorce trial was conducted on November 13, 2020. Two of the main issues to be resolved at the trial included division of property—specifically, the marital home—and spousal support.

Marital Home

Defendant argued that the marital home should be deemed his separate property. The parties came into possession of the home as part of the distribution of defendant’s father’s trust following his death. The trust provided that the home be given to defendant and made no mention of plaintiff; however, the quitclaim deeds conveying the house and a plot of farmland named both plaintiff and defendant as the recipients.

The parties moved into the home before defendant’s father passed away in January 2009 and lived in the home for 11 years, up until the point of separation.

Spousal Support

The other major point of contention at the trial was the issue of spousal support, to which defendant argued he was entitled because plaintiff supported him through almost the entirety of the marriage, and he would be left destitute without such support.

During the marriage, plaintiff was the primary breadwinner, working 40 hours a week for $12 an hour. Plaintiff made additional income by growing marijuana in the parties’ pole barn. After the parties separated, plaintiff’s wage increased to $16 an hour, but she did not continue her marijuana operation. Defendant had not been employed since 2011, but he received $870 a month from Social Security disability benefits.

Defendant testified that this was his only source of income, but he also had been making unexplained cash deposits into the parties’ joint bank account that totaled approximately $2,000 a month.

Court Decision

Prior to dividing assets, the trial court must determine what is marital property and what is separate property. Generally, marital property is that which is acquired or earned during the marriage, whereas separate property is that which is obtained or earned before the marriage. The marital property is then apportioned between the parties in a manner that is equitable.

The court determined that the house was marital property, and that defendant was not entitled to spousal support. The trial court was bound by the terms of the quitclaim deed and correctly concluded that the house was marital property.

The object in awarding spousal support is to balance the incomes and needs of the parties so that neither will be impoverished.

Both Parties have modest incomes. According to the testimony, Plaintiff makes approximately $32,000 yearly. Defendant makes $870 monthly equating to $10,440 a year. That puts Defendant under the federal poverty line. If the Court imputes a further income of $2,000 monthly for the various cash deposits in his bank account, then he makes approximately $30,000 per year. The trial court found that plaintiff and defendant both had modest incomes and that, including defendant’s unexplained cash deposits, plaintiff made only slightly more than defendant. In addition, the trial court noted that plaintiff did not have the means to pay spousal support because she had substantial debt and was financially supporting her unemployed adult son.

Legal Assistance with Property Division

At Aldrich Legal Services, our attorneys and staff understand the stress that can come with family law disputes. We provide guidance with all issues involving the division of property, assets, and debts incident to divorce.

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REAL ESTATE 89: RM had not included any language in the deed providing that the property was a joint tenancy with full rights of survivorship, the property instead became a tenancy in common.

RM drafted the deed without seeking counsel and mistakenly believed that, if either she or FK died, the property would fully pass to the surviving tenant. FK’s will provided that if his wife predeceased him—which she did—the personal representative of his estate should sell any residual property that he owned and divide the cash proceeds equally among his surviving children.

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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