Assigning Each Spouse’s Share of a Marital Home in Maryland that Was Purchased Before the Marriage and Appreciated During the Marriage

If you read enough appeals court decisions (and who doesn’t, right?) you’ll eventually come across the phrase ”abuse of discretion.” This generally means that an appeals court is bound to uphold what a trial court decided unless the trial judge committed some sort of blatant error. What you can take away from this quick lesson in “legalese” is that it is often very difficult to get a trial court’s judgment overturned on appeal. That’s why it pays to have a skilled Maryland divorce lawyer by your side from the very start, making sure your presentation to the trial court is the strongest it can be.

A recent divorce case from Montgomery County is a good example of what we mean. B.N. and his brother bought a home in Silver Spring in September 1997. Four years later, the brother deeded his interest in the home to B.N., making B.N. the sole owner.

One day later, B.N. married S.F. At the time the spouses married, the home had a value of $245,000 with $74,000 in equity.

Eighteen years later, the couple divorced. They had several assets to distribute, including a bakery in Cameroon, the husband’s 401(K), and the marital home, which had gone up in value during those 18 years.

The Circuit Court concluded that the wife’s share of the marital home was worth $104,649. The husband challenged the trial judge’s ruling, arguing that the divorce judgment undervalued his non-marital portion of the home. The court gave the husband credit for 100% of the equity in the home as of the date of the marriage, but he argued that he also should have been credited “a percentage return in the ratio that the non-marital portion ‘bore to the total non-marital and marital value at the time of divorce.’”

The crux of the husband’s contention was that the appreciation the home experienced during the marriage was the result of market forces, not the use of marital funds or the efforts of the spouses during the marriage. As a result, he argued he should have received a portion of that appreciation as a non-marital amount, instead of 100% of the appreciation being credited as a marital asset.

The wife, however, had the proof she needed to stymie this argument. In determining how to allocate the home’s increase in value during the marriage, the trial judge “credited Wife’s contributions in a variety of forms. The court noted that she contributed to bills at an increasing rate as her salary increased, and that during the marriage, she placed proceeds from a substantial car accident settlement into a joint account they used to renovate the home.”

Why Success in Your Divorce Trial is So Important

This was all very important because the law gives trial judges broad discretion in making these kinds of property division decisions in a divorce case. Once the trial judge has ruled in your favor, your spouse cannot get that decision overturned unless he can show to the appeals court that the trial judge’s ruling was so far off-base as to be an “abuse” of the judge’s discretion.

As the appeals court noted, the trial judge could have given this husband a larger share of the home’s appreciation during the marriage, “but nothing compelled the court to give Husband a greater portion of the increase.” The wife’s proof of her contributions was enough to establish that the trial judge’s decision had sufficient factual basis underpinning it to make the ruling a permissible use of discretion. Had the judge given the husband a larger share, that likely would have survived an appeal, just as this ruling for the wife did. Putting your “best foot forward” in your presentation to the trial court is of paramount importance because, in a lot of divorce appeal cases, the appeals court is going to affirm what the trial judge decided.

Given how important your divorce is to you, and how important a positive outcome at your divorce trial is, make sure you are equipped for success from the very start. Get in touch with the skilled Maryland family law attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC to protect your interests. To learn more about how we can assist you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

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