ILNews

Court rules on marital estate divisions

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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A trial court should assume that when a divorcing couple divides part of their marital assets on its own, that division is done justly and reasonably and the court should divvy up the remainder of their estate as the entire balance.

The Indiana Court of Appeals made that holding in today's ruling on Thelma M. Nornes v. Raymond M. Nornes, No. 46A03-0712-CV-564, a divorce case out of LaPorte County. The two were married in 1998 and started the dissolution process in 2006.

Prior to the final hearing, the Norneses decided to divide all of the marital estate except for Raymond's $43,159 in pension accounts and Thelma's $46,000 in student loans incurred from getting her degree in 2005.

At the hearing, they agreed to split the value of his pension accounts in half, but the loans remained the only outstanding liability at issue. He argued she should be responsible for them all because she reaped the benefits of the degree. The trial court ordered that Thelma was responsible for all of her loans and that Raymond was harmless for the entire amount.

"This case presents a recurring problem for trial and appellate courts, namely, what should be the decisional standard for dividing a part of the marital estate when the parties by agreement have divided the balance," Judge James S. Kirsch wrote for the unanimous panel.

Judge Kirsch pointed out a number of questions arose from this case and situation, such as how a court divides the balance, how it knows if the previous division was fair and reasonable, and if it should try to equalize the remaining assets' division if that previous agreement was unfair.

"We hold that, in the absence of an agreement of the parties to the contrary, where the parties divide between themselves a part of the marital estate and leave the division of the balance to the discretion of the trial court, the trial court should assume that the property that the parties have already divided was divided justly and reasonably and shall divide the remainder ... as if they were the entirety of the marital estate," Judge Kirsch wrote.

The court should determine if the 50/50 presumption under state law should apply, and if so then it should divide the assets and liabilities equally. By doing that, the parties can maximize the value of their settlement and the trial court has the basis for its property division that conforms with state law, the judge wrote.

In the instant case, the trial court erred by assigning the student loans to Thelma on the basis that she has the degree and should now pay for it. Those loans were marital obligations, Judge Kirsch wrote, and the decision was vacated for the lower court to determine whether the student debt should be divided in half or another way.
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  1. Family court judges never fail to surprise me with their irrational thinking. First of all any man who abuses his wife is not fit to be a parent. A man who can't control his anger should not be allowed around his child unsupervised period. Just because he's never been convicted of abusing his child doesn't mean he won't and maybe he hasn't but a man that has such poor judgement and control is not fit to parent without oversight - only a moron would think otherwise. Secondly, why should the mother have to pay? He's the one who made the poor decisions to abuse and he should be the one to pay the price - monetarily and otherwise. Yes it's sad that the little girl may be deprived of her father, but really what kind of father is he - the one that abuses her mother the one that can't even step up and do what's necessary on his own instead the abused mother is to pay for him???? What is this Judge thinking? Another example of how this world rewards bad behavior and punishes those who do right. Way to go Judge - NOT.

  2. Right on. Legalize it. We can take billions away from the drug cartels and help reduce violence in central America and more unwanted illegal immigration all in one fell swoop. cut taxes on the savings from needless incarcerations. On and stop eroding our fourth amendment freedom or whatever's left of it.

  3. "...a switch from crop production to hog production "does not constitute a significant change."??? REALLY?!?! Any judge that cannot see a significant difference between a plant and an animal needs to find another line of work.

  4. Why do so many lawyers get away with lying in court, Jamie Yoak?

  5. Future generations will be amazed that we prosecuted people for possessing a harmless plant. The New York Times came out in favor of legalization in Saturday's edition of the newspaper.

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