Will the Court Stay A Lawsuit Against Your Spouse While Your Divorce Is Pending?

A personal injury or other lawsuit against a spouse is unusual, but possible. It is likely that An interesting and challenging 2010 case arose when a wife sued her husband of 25 years for fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, conversion, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Both the husband and the wife were lawyers. During the marriage the husband managed the finances.

The couple had a joint checking account into which both spouses deposited their earnings. The wife stopped working to take care of their two children, but never read the bank statements. She also had an inheritance account only in her name, containing money inherited from relatives.

The wife later claimed that the husband spent huge sums from joint accounts on various investments and compact discs she couldn’t identify. The sums he spent exceeded the couple’s income. Accordingly, the husband took out loans against his 401k. He took out a home equity line of credit, ran up an overdraft of more than $10,000 and ran up debt on credit cards. He didn’t not tell his wife about these problems or why he had them.

Meanwhile, because of what the husband said, the wife thought their financial situation was the result of her not working. She lived cheaply. She later claimed her husband lied to her about bonuses. At one point she tried to make a small ATM withdrawal and couldn’t. In 2002, she told her husband she would take over their finances. She then learned about the home equity line of credit and overdraft. The husband when confronted blamed her lack of income. After that, they refinanced to get rid of home equity debt and pay off credit cards.

The husband moved out. The wife went through his things and found the bank statements. The husband collected his things and told her he didn’t plan to come back. She then filed suit and her husband filed for divorce.

The couple completed significant discovery in the divorce case. The wife was awarded custody of their kids. All other issues were scheduled for trial. The parties agreed as to a number of financial issues including alimony and child support.

The husband asked for a stay (pause) in the tort case while the divorce was pending. The court agreed and the case was stayed until the couple was divorced in 2007.

The husband then moved to dismiss or for summary judgment on all counts of the tort-based lawsuit. The court granted the motion. The wife appealed on multiple counts. One of its questions for review was whether the lower court had erred in staying the tort suit while the divorce case was pending.

The wife argued her tort claims involved financial misconduct that happened before the marriage had become broken and there it couldn’t be corrected by a doctrine of dissipation. The wife had moved to lift the stay while the divorce was pending, but her request was denied. She argued that to rule the stay was appropriate was to make it possible for tortfeasor spouses to file for divorce in order to stop tort lawsuits from moving forward against them.

The appellate court held it was within the trial court’s discretion to stay the lawsuit while the divorce (and an equitable distribution of marital property) was pending even though the issues were intertwined.

The wife also argued that summary judgment was not appropriate on her various causes of action. Among other holdings, the court held that a husband and wife are not true fiduciaries, so there could be no breach of fiduciary (nor violation of a “confidential relationship” between husband and wife).

The appellate court vacated the judgment and called for the lower court to consider whether it was in the child’s best interests to order genetic testing. If you are dealing with sensitive family law issues, contact an experienced Maryland family law attorney for representation.

More Blogs:

Corporal Punishment in Maryland Family Law, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, January 26, 2013

Untimely Objections in Maryland Family Law, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, January 10, 2013


Contact Information