Articles Posted in Property Division

Published on:

The term equitable distribution refers to how a court divides up a couple’s assets in a Rhode Island divorce. Rather than split a couple’s assets down the middle 50/50, courts consider a variety of factors when determining how to divide assets and liabilities. The concept behind the doctrine of equitable distribution is that marriage is viewed as an “economic partnership” between two people. Thus, courts attempt to award marital property according to the contributions each party made to the “partnership” during the marriage. Most types of property can be subject to equitable distribution, including real estate, cars, artwork, furniture, bank accounts, business interests, and even retirement accounts.

The equitable distribution process requires Rhode Island family law judges to engage in a multi-step analysis. First, the judge must determine what constitutes marital property. Courts consider marital property any property that was acquired during the marriage, with a few exceptions. While property that was owned by one spouse before the marriage is not typically considered marital property, any increase in value that occurred during the marriage may be subject to equitable distribution. Inherited property is not considered marital property, nor is any income received from such property. However, gifts between spouses are marital property.

Once a judge determines which of the couple’s assets are marital property, she will then consult the list of factors contained in Rhode Island General Laws section 15-5-16.1, including:

Published on:

The laws and regulations that apply to subdivisions of land vary by the locality and the specifications of the property, making some Rhode Island real estate disputes quite complex. The high court in neighboring Massachusetts confronted these complexities when it decided a case involving the subdivision of land that took place in 1964.

Evidently, in 1964, a lot was divided into two separate lots without having the plan presented to the local planning board. Later, the owner of one of the lots applied for a permit to build a house on the lot. The building inspector denied the permit. The plaintiff brought the case to the planning board, which determined that the division of the lot was not in compliance with the subdivision control law. On appeal before the state’s supreme judicial court, the court considered whether the division was considered a subdivision according to the subdivision control law and the local zoning ordinance, and if it was not, whether it still had to be approved by the planning board.

The state’s supreme judicial court reversed the lower court’s decision. The court decided that the division did not require approval from the planning board at the time, and that it met the legal requirements for the division of the land at the time. The subdivision control law stated that a subdivision could not be made unless it was first approved by the local planning board. However, certain divisions of land were excluded from the meaning of “subdivision.” For example, a division was excluded if each new lot had sufficient frontage on a public way to satisfy the applicable local zoning ordinance.

Published on:

Last month, the state’s high court issued an opinion in a Rhode Island family law case discussing a marital settlement agreement and whether Husband was entitled to visitation with two dogs. While at first glance the case may seem narrowly focused, it provides valuable insight regarding Rhode Island marital settlement agreements and how courts interpret and enforce these documents.

According to the court’s opinion, Husband and Wife filed for divorce after 26 years of marriage. At the time the court entered an order dissolving the marriage, it incorporated a marriage settlement agreement (the “agreement”) that the parties had agreed upon. Among other things, the marriage settlement agreement provided that Wife would retain sole ownership of the former couple’s two dogs. The agreement also stated that Husband was permitted to take the dogs for visits from Tuesday morning through Thursday morning.

For about six months, Husband was able to visit the dogs under the terms of the agreement. However, Wife eventually stopped allowing Husband to visit the dogs. Husband requested the court step in to enforce the terms of the marriage settlement agreement, asking the court to order Wife to allow his visits and provide for make-up visits. Wife responded with her own request to the court, claiming that she should not need to comply with the agreement because Husband was not properly caring for the dogs and had attempted to keep them away from her, in violation of the agreement.

Published on:

A premarital agreement, also called a prenuptial agreement, is an agreement between prospective spouses regarding the disposition of the couple’s assets in the event that the marriage ends. A premarital agreement applies not only upon divorce, but also upon the death of one of the spouses.

Prospective spouses may enter into a premarital agreement for any number of reasons, most of which are valid. Rhode Island law provides for certain default rules to be applied in the event of death or divorce, and these rules may not work for all couples. Thus, couples can clarify their intent to have a different set of rules apply in their marriage by creating a premarital agreement. Most often, Rhode Island prenuptial agreements are designed to provide the parties financial clarity.

The Enforceability of Prenuptial Agreements

As a general rule, validly created Rhode Island premarital agreements are considered binding against the parties. In Rhode Island, courts look to the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act when determining whether an agreement is valid. Notably, Rhode Island courts place a heavy burden on the party seeking to invalidate the agreement.

Continue reading →

Published on:

When a couple goes through a Rhode Island divorce, there are many issues that must be resolved. For example, the division of the couple’s assets, who will take on the responsibility for the marital debt, which party will get to remain in the marital home, and whether there is the need for spousal support. If the parties have not entered into a valid prenuptial agreement, Rhode Island courts will apply a set of default rules to resolve these issues. However, many couples are not satisfied with the default rules and choose to enter into a Rhode Island prenuptial agreement.

What Is a Prenuptial Agreement?

A prenuptial agreement, also called a premarital agreement, is a contract that is entered into in anticipation of marriage. Under Rhode Island’s Uniform Premarital Agreement Act, a premarital agreement can cover a broad range of issues, including:

  • The rights of the parties to use property;
  • The disposition of property upon separation or divorce;
  • The modification or elimination of spousal support;
  • Ownership of either parties’ life insurance benefits; and
  • The choice of law governing the divorce proceeding.

Continue reading →

Published on:

The issue of how a couple’s assets and liabilities are divided up is one of the most contentious issues in many Rhode Island divorces. Indeed, it is not as simple as merely dividing everything in half. Instead, Rhode Island uses an equitable distribution model when determining what each spouse is entitled to after a divorce is finalized.

Typically, an equitable distribution framework consists of three parts. First, a court must determine which assets are considered marital property. Importantly, nonmarital assets are subject to equitable distribution. However, the determination of whether something is a marital or nonmarital asset is not always straightforward.

Marital Versus Nonmarital Property

Generally speaking, most assets acquired during a marriage are marital property. However, inheritance, gifts, and proceeds from lawsuits are not typically considered marital property even if they are received during the marriage. Thus, in a recent Rhode Island divorce case the court determined that a car that was purchased during the marriage with funds that Wife was gifted by her parents before the marriage was not marital property subject to equitable distribution. The court also determined that a subsequent gift from Wife’s parents to Wife was considered nonmarital property although it was deposited in the couple’s joint bank account.

Continue reading →

Published on:

One of the most contested issues in any Rhode Island divorce is the division of property. While the concept of dividing up a couple’s assets may sound straightforward, in practice the process can be quite complicated.

Rhode Island is an equitable distribution state. Thus, courts employ a three-step approach when dividing marital assets. First, the court will determine which of the couple’s assets should be considered marital property subject to equitable distribution and which assets are an individual spouse’s separate property. As a general rule, marital property consists of the assets that were acquired during the marriage. However, certain exceptions exist. For example, inheritance and gifts from third parties are not considered marital property, even if they are assigned or received during the marriage.

Once a court determines which assets are marital property, the court will then consider a list of factors to determine how to divide those assets. These factors are set out in Rhode Island General Laws § 15-5-16.1, and include:

Continue reading →

Published on:

In a case heard by the Rhode Island Supreme Court, the court evaluated a lower court decision involving hidden assets during a divorce. The parties were married for about nine years by the time the divorce was finalized. The divorce trial took 12 days and the decision issued was 59 pages. The family court magistrate issued its decision in March of 2016 with findings that included that there were irreconcilable differences and the breakdown of the marriage was irremediable. Thus, the divorce was granted.

However, a couple of months after the magistrate issued their decision, the wife filed a motion to allow further evidence to alter or amend judgement. In this motion, the plaintiff argued that there was newly discovered evidence that showed her ex-husband had concealed financial information during the divorce proceedings. The magistrate dismissed all of the issues except for one. The remaining issue involved the defendant’s failure to disclose at trial that he had sold a specific piece of property referred to as the Tourtellot property.

The defendant had purchased the Tourtellot property before the marriage using his own separate funds. However, during the marriage the plaintiff had helped to improve the property, which increased the value. Therefore, the magistrate found that the failure of the defendant to disclose during the trial that the property was sold affected the rights of his ex-wife. The magistrate then compensated the plaintiff by awarding her 60% of the difference between the purchase price and the sale price of the property. He also ordered her ex-husband to pay this amount in one lump sum.

Published on:

When a couple gets divorced, one of the first things the court needs to figure out is which property is marital property and which property is separate property. Typically, any property brought into the household during the marriage will be considered marital property. The biggest exceptions to this rule are when the property is given as a gift or bequest to only one of the spouses. Rhode Island is an equitable distribution state, which means that marital property is split “equitably” between the parties during a divorce. It’s important to have a basic understanding of these concepts because it is how the court decides which property is subject to division. Of course, laws can be complicated and only a qualified Rhode Island divorce attorney can give you a true sense of how a court is likely to split property between a couple.

Post-Employment Compensation

In the vast majority of cases, future earnings are not considered marital property and are thus not subject to division. However, this does not count compensation that was earned during the marriage which will be paid later. For example, if one spouse participates in a 401k employer match program, the money put into the account by both the employer and the spouse (including the interest that is earned) will usually be subject to division. However, any contributions by either the employee or employer (as well as the interest from those contributions) after the marriage ends will typically be the sole property of the employee spouse.

Published on:

Rhode Island is one of the minority of states that recognize common-law marriage. However, there are certain things that are required in order for a court to decide that a couple is in a common-law marriage. One requirement specifically was recently found to be determinative in a case before the Rhode Island Supreme Court. They held that a couple that had been together for 23 years was not deemed to be in a common-law marriage because at different times they represented their relationship in different ways. If the court had found the couple to be in a common-law marriage, it could have affected the rights of the parties upon separation. If you live in Rhode Island and are considering divorce or separation after a common-law marriage, you should contact a skilled Rhode Island divorce attorney today.

Lower Court Ruling

The lower court had held that the couple was in a common-law marriage. They based their reasoning on the fact that the couple had been together for 23 years and had frequently told others that they were married. The court heard evidence that the couple would sometimes wear wedding rings, and they raised a child together. The man in the couple referred to the child as his son, even though they were not biologically related. In 1991, the couple became formally engaged but never had a wedding ceremony. The judge held that there was “clear and convincing proof” of the couple having a mutual and present intent to be married.

Contact Information