In this case, the trial court awarded plaintiff a lesser portion of the marital estate because of her illness and anticipated short life expectancy. The trial court awarded plaintiff a life estate interest in the marital home, while granting defendant a remainderman interest. The court also granted plaintiff a life estate interest in the personal property located at the marital home. Defendant was awarded a remainderman interest in the marital-home personal property.
Division of Marital Assets
Once a trial court determines which assets are to be considered marital property, it may apportion the marital estate between the parties in a manner that is equitable in light of all the circumstances. Mathematical equality is not required, but any significant departure from congruence must be clearly explained. An unequal distribution of the marital estate is not inherently inequitable, so long as an adequate explanation for the distribution is provided.
Property Division Factors
The following factors are to be considered wherever they are relevant to the circumstances of the particular case: (1) duration of the marriage, (2) contributions of the parties to the marital estate, (3) age of the parties, (4) health of the parties, (5) life status of the parties, (6) necessities and circumstances of the parties, (7) earning abilities of the parties, (8) past relations and conduct of the parties, and (9) general principles of equity. There may even be additional factors that are relevant to a particular case.
The trial court’s division of the marital estate was essentially fashioned around providing plaintiff with just enough assets to keep her afloat and in good care until her soon-to-be-expected death, instead of simply dividing the marital estate as if plaintiff were like any other litigant. Her terminal illness should not have played such a significant role in the distribution of the parties’ property. Furthermore, awarding life estate interests in real and personal property because plaintiff had a terminal disease was, at a minimum, questionable. Awarding life estate and remainder interests to the parties in a divorce action is the antithesis of finality, leaving one ex-spouse waiting on the death of another to obtain fee ownership.
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