Equitable Distribution in Divorce Weighed by Indiana Appellate Court

When exploring the possibility of filing for divorce in Indiana, one primary consideration is the way in which courts divvy up property accrued during the marriage.
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The courts have established that the goal is equitable distribution, which some mistake to mean “equal distribution.” This is not so. Hammond divorce attorneys want to stress that “equitable” is usually taken to mean “what’s fair under the circumstances.”

That means the family law judge is going to look at the length of the marriage, your contributions to the marriage, your careers, whether you have children, whether there are any special situations that must be considered. Rarely if ever does it mean a 50-50 split. The truth is that distribution of assets is typically one of the most complex matters before a divorce court. Having an experienced lawyer by your side makes a difference.

Recently, the Indiana Court of Appeals weighed a husband’s appeal of the family court’s ruling on division of assets in In re the marriage of Schlotterback v. Schlotterback. Specifically, the claimant appealed the lower court’s denial of a Motion to Correct Error related to the division of the marital estate, as well as the granting of his ex-wife’s Motion to Correct Error on the issue of uninsured medical expenses relating to the pair’s children.

According to court records, the pair married in 1990. The marriage lasted 21 years, until the wife filed for divorce in the fall of 2011.

In distributing assets, the court had a lot to sort, especially considering the pair had three minor children. The court determined the total amount of the marital estate was about $425,000. The court awarded $374,000 of that to the husband, in the form of the parties’ previously-shared residence, 50 percent of his annuity account, 50 percent of a retirement account and 100 percent of a life insurance account. It then awarded the wife assets totaling $51,000, including the remaining 50 percent of both his retirement and annuity accounts. She was also ordered to pay some $37,000 in debts.

Seems unjust, right?

The court may have varying reasons for determining such an arrangement. However, in this case, it didn’t stop there. In order to “equalize the property settlement,” the trial court ordered the husband to pay the wife $162,000. This was to be paid directly from certain accounts held by the husband.

Finally at issue was the uninsured medical expenses the two shared for their kids. The court ordered that the wife was to pay the first $1,400 each year for uninsured medical expenses. After that, the husband was to pick up the tab for 86 percent of any subsequent expenses, with the wife responsible for the remaining 14 percent. This was based on a provision agreement the pair had reached at the beginning of their separation, prior to their divorce.

The mother later filed a motion to enforce the court order – specifically alleging he owed her $4,200. The husband indicated the order wasn’t retroactive, so he shouldn’t have to pay the outstanding balance.

While the trial court initially denied her request, saying she hadn’t presented the evidence at the final hearing, that ruling was later reversed when she showed $3,300 of those expenses were incurred between the final hearing and the time the final order was executed. The trial court agreed to have the husband pay 86 percent of that amount.

The husband later appealed, saying the $162,000 he paid should cover all of his obligations to his ex, and he should not have to be responsible for paying additional uninsured medical expenses for the children.

The court disagreed, affirming the earlier order.

As this case underscores, division of property in a marriage – particularly one that is long-term and involves minor children – can be complex. To ensure your interests are upheld, contact an attorney with experience.

Indiana Family Law Attorney Burton A. Padove handles divorce and child custody matters throughout northern Indiana, including Gary and Hammond. Call Toll Free 877-446-5294.

Additional Resources:
In re the marriage of Schlotterback v. Schlotterback, May 30, 2014, Indiana Court of Appeals
More Blog Entries:
Bifurcated Divorce in Indiana Can be Beneficial, May 9, 2014, Hammond Divorce Lawyer Blog