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Judge wants state to discard ‘archaic’ coverture fraction

January 20, 2016

The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the division of a husband’s pension through the use of the coverture fraction, but one judge questioned why Indiana continues to use the doctrine which has its origin in an “outdated and misogynist view” of the rights and roles of men and women.

Shari and W. Michael Morey appealed the decree of dissolution of their marriage. Shari Morey’s arguments included the court erred in its application of the coverture fraction formula to husband’s pension. He had worked at the same company for 22 years, including eight years prior to his marriage to Shari Morey.

The trial court concluded the marital estate should be divided equally, and then applied the coverture fraction formula to the pension to determine how much the wife was entitled. Michael Morey claimed the trial court erred when it failed to apply the formula to his annuity and 401(k).

Judge Paul Mathias noted that the doctrine of coverture dates back to when husband and wife were legally viewed as one person and that although now women are recognized as separate legal persons, courts have retained remnants of the doctrine expressed in the coverture fraction formula. Writing for the majority, he outlined the steps a trial court should take when applying the formula in a dissolution of marriage proceeding.

But Judge John Baker, in his concurring opinion, argued that the formula is no longer needed in Indiana because the General Assembly passed the Dissolution of Marriage Act in 1973, and the statutes can reach the same outcome as if the coverture fraction formula had been applied.

“As the majority observes, the doctrine of coverture has its origin in an outdated and misogynist view of the respective roles and rights of men and women. In my view, it is long since time that the State of Indiana should discard this archaic doctrine, especially since it is no longer needed,” he wrote.

“In my opinion, the coverture fraction has been superseded by statute for decades. Given that it has been superseded, and given its roots in an aspect of our history that we have gladly put behind us, I believe that the outmoded theory should no longer be applied in this State, and I part ways with the majority in its application of this doctrine.”

The judges affirmed the trial court in all respects. The case is Shari L. Morey v. W. Michael Morey, 49A02-1502-DR-64.
 

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