COA: Dissolution of marriage reversed in part for recalculation of marital estate

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The Court of Appeals of Indiana has partially affirmed and reversed a couple’s dissolution of marriage, ordering the Hancock Circuit Court to recalculate and redetermine a just and reasonable division of the marital estate.

Following the dissolution of Roy Johnson’s marriage from his wife Samantha Johnson, the husband appealed the Hancock Circuit Court’s ruling in Roy Michael Johnson v. Samantha A. Johnson, 21A-DN-1003.

In 2017, Roy filed for divorce after having already moved out of the family home in 2013. The couple, who have two children together, had agreed upon their marriage in 1990 that Samantha would quit her job to stay at home while Roy continued working at the United States Postal Service.

During their marriage, the couple bought, sold, and managed residential real estate for extra income. Samantha was also diagnosed with cancer and underwent treatment and several surgeries during that time.

By the time their eldest child enrolled in college, Roy had moved out and was still working, but stopped contributing any of his salary to the joint marital pot or towards to Samantha for their youngest child’s care. Samantha subsequently secured a part-time bus-driving job, grossing roughly $12,000.

Roy eventually cosigned college loans with his children as they began schooling before and after the divorce despite Samantha’s objections. The children’s college loans were $57,000 and $23,977 at the time of filing, respectively.

By the time the dissolution was filed, Roy’s annual gross income for 2016 was $90,841.72 while Samantha’s income was $29,163. The husband also had a Federal Employee Retirement Service pension of $643,060.58 with a survivor benefit and a FERS supplement of $69,587. His accumulated leave at work was worth $142,912.79.

Following the dissolution ruling, Roy argued the trial court erred by including his accumulated leave in the marital pot and by excluding their children’s college loans that were executed after the divorce petition was filed. He also opposed the trial court’s determination that an unequal distribution of the marital estate – 58% to Samantha and 42% to himself–was just and reasonable by considering his failure to contribute financially to Samantha for the care for his minor child following the date of their separation.

Roy further argued the trial court erred in concluding that he dissipated assets and by awarding him half of his pension’s survivor benefits. Lastly, he claimed it was unclear whether Samantha was awarded attorney fees.

The COA partially affirmed and reversed, concluding that the trial court only erred by including Roy’s accumulated leave in the marital pot and by finding that he dissipated assets. It determined his accumulated sick leave was not a vested asset at the time of filing, and the trial court clearly erred by finding that it was a marital asset and including it in the marital pot.

As for the dissipation issue, the COA found that Roy’s action in withholding his paycheck from the joint marital pot was a valid basis for dividing the marital estate unequally in Samantha’s favor, but that action standing alone does not fall within the definition of dissipation.

The appellate court found the trial court didn’t abuse its discretion in determining that an unequal division of the marital estate in Samantha’s favor was just and reasonable. It also found the trial court did not err in considering Roy’s failure to provide child support as a factor in determining a just and reasonable division of the marital estate.

The COA concluded the trial court did not err by excluding the children’s co-signed college loans after the date of filing the dissolution petition. It noted that despite Roy’s assertion that they had an oral agreement on the matter, Samantha was never asked to cosign the loans and that he made the decision independently.

“Based on the foregoing, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand with instructions to the trial court to remove Husband’s accumulated leave from the marital pot, award Wife the full sum of the FERS pension survivor benefit, clarify whether it is awarding Wife attorney fees, and recalculate and redetermine a just and reasonable division of the marital estate,” Judge Terry Crone wrote.

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