Couples who are getting a Maryland divorce often fight over marital property, especially the marital home. Once a court decides what property is marital property (such things as pension, retirement, or a deferred compensation plan) it may transfer ownership in order to adjust the equity of the parties with respect to the marital property. However, a trial court cannot order that the title of a marital home be transferred if the parties have already agreed in a formal agreement that the home is non-marital property.
In a 2010 case, an appellate court considered, among other things, whether a divorce court had the authority to transfer ownership of a jointly owned marital home that the parties had agreed would be non-marital. The couple in the case were a cardiologist and an attorney in their fifties with no children.
The parties filed a joint proposed statement regarding marital and non-marital property. They owned their residence as tenants by the entirety, but listed the property as non-marital on the statement. At trial, the husband did not appear because he was incarcerated for an earlier domestic violence altercation. Meanwhile the wife testified and called the husband abusive, describing how he humiliated her, criticized her, slapped and restrained her freedom of movement.
The wife had obtained a protective order against him and claimed he contributed nothing to the marriage. She also testified that he purchased the house using a loan from her for the down payment.
The husband had stated in his interrogatory answers that he bought the property to develop it as part of a business venture that he and his wife owned. He also noted that his wife abused him verbally for failures, including the discovery that the contractor he was working with had committed fraud.
The wife also testified as to joint properties including a Lexus and an account, but noted that only she made contributions to the accounts.
The couple’s joint statement listed 19 pieces of marital property including the development property and the wife’s medical practice. They differed in their evaluation of the worth of the marital property, with the wife valuing it significantly less.
The couple did agree that a number of items were non-marital because the wife purchased them before the marriage. However, the couple agreed that their home was a joint property. The wife had purchased the home and added the husband to the title.
The wife requested that the court transfer the title of the home to her and also grant a monetary award to her recognizing her non-marital interest in the home and her mortgage and tax payments on the house. A real estate appraiser testified the home’s value was $720,000.
The wife argued that the joint statement was not binding, while the husband argued that it was. The court granted the divorce based on the husband’s cruelty and vicious conduct, noting that the wife’s version was corroborated by police officers. The court also determined, based on the couple’s joint statement, that the home was not marital property, and ordered that it be transferred to the wife. It reasoned that she had contributed almost all of the money to the house and that there was no explanation for why the husband didn’t work for most of the marriage.
The husband appealed, arguing that since the court found the home wasn’t marital property, it didn’t have the authority to transfer the home to the wife. Marital property in Maryland doesn’t include property that has been excluded by agreement.
The appellate court explained that a court may only transfer title to real property that it finds is marital property. The appellate court overturned the lower court’s transfer of the marital home and sent the case back to the lower court to be heard again. If you are about to proceed with a difficult divorce, an experienced Maryland family law attorney can make a world of difference. Contact our office via the online form for a legal consultation.
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