Law School Case Brief
Reeves v. Reeves - 137 A.D.2d 586, 524 N.Y.S.2d 478 (App. Div. 1988)
Equitable distribution is not necessarily equal distribution.
A couple was middle-aged and independently affluent at the time of their marriage, the second for each party. Unfortunately, the marriage was short lived and they filed for divorce. The Supreme Court of Westchester County, New York, awarded plaintiff wife $15,065 of defendant husband's IRA and Keogh accounts and $27,000 as the wife's equitable interest in her alleged disproportionate payment of taxes. Both parties cross-appealed aspects of the property division, contending it was inequitable. The wife cross-appealed the trial court's determination that proceeds from the sale of the marital residence were equitably divided by the parties prior to the commencement of the divorce action.
In an action for a divorce and ancillary relief, did the trial court properly declined to disturb the parties' prelitigation division of the proceeds realized upon the sale of the marital premises?
On appeal, the court modified the order and deleted plaintiff wife's award of any portion of defendant husband's IRA and Keogh investments and any reimbursement for disproportionate tax payments. The court held that: (1) the proceeds received upon the pre-divorce sale of the marital residence were divided prior to commencement of the divorce; (2) 70 percent of the net proceeds were retained by husband, which represented his separate property interest in the house; (3) the balance was retained by wife; (4) the trial court properly did not re-distribute those monies; however, (5) the trial court improperly awarded wife a portion of husband's pre-marriage retirement and reimbursement for her disproportionate payment of taxes during the marriage, which issues were not revealed to husband until the date of trial. Contrary to the plaintiff's contentions, the trial court properly declined to disturb the parties' prelitigation division of the proceeds realized upon the sale of the marital premises. Although the trial court's holding resulted in an unequal division of the proceeds, its determination was rationally premised upon its finding, amply supported by the record, that the parties themselves had fashioned an equitable division of the proceeds by reference to their respective original contributions to the purchase of the asset. Under the circumstances, the trial court appropriately exercised its authority to mold a fair and just result by ratifying the parties' own fully executed and equitable division of the proceeds.
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