The Role a Trustee May Play in the Distribution of Your Marital Assets in a Maryland Divorce

One of the biggest questions a divorcing couple in Maryland may face is “who gets the house?” Depending on the specific facts of your divorce and the ability of you and your spouse to reach mutual agreements about your marital property, the answer may be “neither of you.” Whether you end up resolving the question of property distribution through agreement or through litigation, you need someone who is keenly familiar with Maryland law, so make sure you have a knowledgeable Maryland divorce lawyer representing you throughout the process.

Take, for example, this divorce case from Charles County. The husband and wife were a couple who ran a working farm that produced naturally raised meats and local raw honey. The success of the farm, regrettably, outlasted that of the marriage, and the wife filed for divorce in 2015.

The spouses could not agree regarding how to distribute much of their marital property, including the marital home. Frequently, when the spouses cannot agree, the court will (as this judge did) appoint a trustee, who is a neutral third-party individual charged with selling the marital properties and then distributing the proceeds of those sales.

There are Limits to What a Trustee (and a Judge) Can Do in a Divorce

The judge has broad discretion to put such a plan into action and, once such a judgment is entered, the trustee has broad discretion to get the property sold. They do not have unlimited authority to do whatever they think is best, though. One key restriction by which both your judge and your trustee must abide is that they can do nothing that is in direct contradiction with what was put in “black and white” in the divorce judgment.

In the farm couple’s case, the court entered its judgment of divorce in the summer of 2015. By the fall of 2017, a great many of the disputed assets remained unsold so, during an October 2017 hearing, the trial judge ordered the spouses to go to their farm, inventory everything there, then return immediately to the courtroom. Once they returned, the judge allowed the spouses to testify about the value of everything on the inventory list. Once that was done, the judge made a new ruling declaring, “These are hers, these are his.”

In general, this is a permissible and appropriate way to distribute assets in a divorce. The problem in this instance was that it went directly against what the divorce judgment said was going to happen. Absent an active motion before the court by one or both spouses asking the trial court to modify the divorce judgment, the judge lacked the authority to do what he did, or anything else that would not mesh with the divorce judgment.

The court could have instructed the trustee to sell the farm equipment and other remaining items or could have directed the trustee to suggest a distribution between the spouses. The court could have dismissed the trustee and ordered the spouses to sell the property themselves or could have appointed a new trustee. All of those would have been consistent with the divorce judgment. Because the judge did something completely different that was inconsistent with the judgment, the husband was successful in his appeal.

Whether you are a small business owner, a farm owner, or just someone concerned about holding onto your current home, your divorce is a difficult and stressful but also very important time. Make sure you maximize your chances of exiting the divorce process with the best possible outcome. Talk to the skilled Maryland family law attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC. We are here to help you get through the process of divorce and protect your interests to the greatest extent possible. To learn more about how we can assist you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

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