COA: 75-25 split of marital estate was proper

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A wife who received only 25% of the martial estate in her divorce from her golf pro husband failed to convince the Indiana Court of Appeals that she was entitled to a larger portion, though the appellate court did remand the case for the distribution of an overlooked vehicle’s value.

In Patricia J. Smith v. Christopher M. Smith, 18A-DN-2273, Patricia and Christopher Smith filed counter-petitions for divorce in Tipton Circuit Court in late 2014. Each spouse brought “significant assets” to the marriage, Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Paul Mathias said, with Christopher earning a living as a PGA golfer.

However, Christopher’s golfing career was not profitable during the five-year marriage, nor were other business ventures the couple undertook. By the time they divorced, the Smiths had “significant credit card debt, a home-equity line of credit, and loans totaling over $350,000. The only remaining assets with significant value were the marital residence and Husband’s PGA retirement account.”

As the divorce case proceeded, Patricia filed seven motions to continue the final hearing, including one shortly before a Feb. 15, 2018, final hearing date after her attorney withdrew his appearance. That motion was denied, so she appeared without counsel.

The Tipton Circuit Court issued an order in August 2018 dividing the marital estate and finding that Christopher had rebutted the presumption of an equal division of the $512,711.27 estate. He was thus awarded 74%.

The appellate court largely upheld the trial court’s ruling, rejecting Patricia’s argument that her seventh motion to continue was wrongly denied.

“Wife is understandably upset that she had to proceed pro se at the final dissolution hearing, a crucial stage of the proceedings,” Mathias wrote “But Wife also engaged in dilatory conduct during these proceedings, including failing to comply with the court’s discovery order.

“… Husband argues that he was prejudiced by Wife’s multiple motions to continue because he incurred additional attorney fees when the final hearing was continued twice on Wife’s motion just days before it was scheduled to occur,” Mathias continued. “Although another judge might have made a different decision under these circumstances, we cannot conclude that the trial court abused its discretion when it denied Wife’s February 7, 2018 motion to continue the final hearing.”

Patricia also challenged the division of the marital estate, and the parties agreed that a Ford Raptor vehicle should have been included. Thus, the case was remanded for the trial court to assign value to the vehicle and distribute it accordingly.

But Patricia’s claim that the court failed to distribute $505,742.07 — the remainder of Christopher’s unspent assets, according to an accountant — was not supported by substantial evidence. “Importantly,” Mathias said, “Wife presented no evidence that these funds existed on the date the parties separated.”

Similarly, Patricia failed to prove the trial court abused its discretion when it assigned any net carryover losses to Christopher to offset future tax liabilities. Christopher had requested that losses from Rock Hollow Golf Course, which he partially owned, and from other golf losses be assigned to him.

Finally, the appellate court upheld the award of 74% of the estate to Christopher. Mathias pointed to evidence that Christopher brought more money into the marriage than his ex-wife, and that Christopher was sued after the separation because Patricia failed to pay multiple loans. Additionally, no debt was assigned to Patricia.

“For all of these reasons, we agree with the trial court that Husband rebutted the presumption that an equal division of the marital estate is just and reasonable,” Mathias wrote. “And Wife has not met her burden of persuading us that the trial court abused its discretion by awarding her only 25% of the marital estate.”

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