Fault, Marital Assets and Alimony Awards: Only Partially Connected

Case Discussed:

Gossett v. Gossett

MiLW No. 08-89493

Michigan Court of Appeals - Unpublished

A wife with a continuing drug habit is divorced by her husband. She was incarcerated at the time of the trial, having been convicted of 2nd degree home invasion and theft of medication. The trial court concluded that the wife was more at fault for causing the breakdown of the marriage. The trial court found that the wife was entitled to a 50% share in the equity of the marital home. The trial court also found that the wife intended to reside with her mother after the sale of the marital home. Lastly, the trial court found that there were grounds for an award of transitional alimony of $450 per month for a three-year term.

The wife appealed, arguing that the alimony award was inequitably low and that the award of equity in the marital home was improperly applied to the alimony analysis by the trial court. The wife's appeal was successful.

What to take away from this case?

The most obvious lesson to learn here is that your spouse can still receive some alimony award despite being found to be more responsible for the breakdown of the marriage. Despite a widely-held belief to the contrary, being found more responsible for the end of the marriage does not mean you are ineligible for alimony, nor does it mean you will lose out on your 'share' of marital assets automatically.

One should also understand that receiving substantial assets does not mean an alimony award is out of the picture. Rather, the trial court should look at the income generating potential of the assets received by the parties. In Gossett, the trial court considered the $30,000 dollars received by the wife, but incorrectly considered it a factor weighing against spousal support.

The last point to consider is that the trial court should not have considered the wife's intention to live with her mother when considering a spousal support award. The Michigan Court of Appeals noted in its opinion that the wife had no way of knowing how long she would/could reside with her mother.

The factors identified as relevant for a trial court's examination when making a determination regarding spousal support are:

  • The past relations and conduct of the parties

  • The length of the marriage

  • the ability of the parties to work

  • The source and amount of the property awarded to the parties

  • The age of the parties

  • The ability of the parties to pay alimony

  • The present situation of the parties

  • The needs of the parties

  • The health of the parties

  • The prior standard of living of the parties and whether either is responsible for the support of others

  • The parties' contributions to the joint estate

  • A party's fault in causing the divorce

  • How cohabitation affects a party's financial status

  • General principles of equity

See: Loutts v. Loutts, 298 Mich App 21, 31, 826 NW2d 152 (2012; Myland v. Myland, 290 Mich App 691, 695, 804 NW2d 124 (2010).

Closing Thoughts

If you are contemplating a divorce, you need to carefully consider how the division of your marital assets will effect a possible claim for alimony by your spouse.

Full opinion available here, courtesy of Justia.com

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