In many walks of life, people say that “timing is everything.” In civil lawsuits, timing isn’t everything but it definitely is a very important thing. That’s especially true in divorce cases. When it comes to things like alimony and monetary awards, the date used for evaluating the spouse’s assets is key. Sometimes, even just a difference of only a few months can alter the outcome by thousands of dollars. As with any essential detail of your divorce case, a knowledgeable Maryland divorce lawyer can help you identify the correct date and, in the process, get you a fair outcome.
Maryland law requires a trial court, before imposing a monetary award as part of a divorce, to engage in the three steps. First, the judge must identify what property is the husband’s, what is the wife’s, and what is marital. Second, the trial court must decide the value of the marital property. Finally, if the judge determines that simply dividing the marital assets “according to title” would yield an unfair result, then the judge adds a monetary award to the spouse who received the lesser group of titled marital assets.
In S.L. and T.L.’s divorce case, the trial court in Prince George’s County went through all those required processes. The court determined that, of the couple’s $1.24 million in assets, $553,000 was titled in the husband’s name, $86,000 was in the wife’s name, and $602,000 was titled in the spouses’ names jointly. After subtracting the couple’s marital debt, the judge ultimately awarded the wife a monetary award of $50,000.
The husband objected in an appeal, arguing that, in the final outcome, he ended up owning less than $50,000 of marital assets, making a $50,000 monetary award improper.
The appeals court noted that the husband was correct that a monetary award in a divorce “cannot exceed the value of the marital property owned by the payor spouse.” Nevertheless, the court rejected the husband’s appeal.
An ‘Accident of Timing’
Even though the process of assessing the value of this couple’s assets took place on various different dates, Maryland law looks at “the marital property analysis as if it happened” on the date of divorce. If an asset depreciates between the date of the analysis and some later date, that is something the court called an “accident of timing.” The court went on to explain that, while the husband “may not have the money today, that’s not what’s required by caselaw. Rather, we must ensure that Husband had sufficient marital property to fund the monetary award at the time the award was made.” In this case, he did, so the monetary award in favor of the wife was a valid one.
In any civil case, but especially in a divorce action, details matter… often, they matter a great deal. Getting the fair and appropriate outcome you deserve means having knowledgeable legal representation that can accurately identify all those details… and make them work for you. The experienced Maryland family law attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC are here to provide that sort of effective advocacy to you in your divorce case. Contact us today at 301-519-2801 or via our online form to set up your consultation.