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Rhode Island Supreme Court Affirms Wife’s Asset Award and Husband’s Sanctions for Failing to Disclose Assets

When parties undergo divorce proceedings, they must fully disclose their assets. The trial court will then determine which assets are separate property and which are marital property subject to equitable division between the parties. However, issues arise when a party is dishonest about the existence or value of their assets. Some people may attempt to conceal their assets to prevent the court from dividing them up. However, if a party fails to disclose a marital asset, the court may impose monetary sanctions against them. A recent Rhode Island Supreme Court case demonstrates the consequences of hiding assets from an ex-spouse and from the court.

According to the opinion’s account of the divorce proceedings below, the husband failed to respond to the wife’s requests to identify marital property and concealed several assets including his pension, workers’ compensation, Certificates of Deposit (CDs), undisclosed accounts, and ownership of the marital home. After several warnings, the trial judge sanctioned the defendant $1,000 per day that the husband failed to provide the requested documents showing proof of his assets, totaling $50,000. The husband argued that the assets were his separate property, though the wife paid what she believed to be her share of the mortgage every month. The trial judge awarded the wife 50% of the value of the husband’s pension, CDs, and the marital home’s appreciation in value. The trial judge also found that the appreciation of the wife’s second home was her separate property, as the husband’s remodeling projects did not contribute to the increased value.

On appeal, the husband argued that the trial judge erred in assigning marital assets to the wife, classifying the wife’s home as separate property, and imposing sanctions against him. He also claimed that the judge abused her discretion and disfavored him in the proceedings below. The high court affirmed the trial judge’s ruling. First, it reasoned that the husband’s decision to delay retirement should not deprive his wife of the pension. Second, the court found that the trial judge acted within her discretion in awarding 50% of the husband’s CDs to his wife. The husband provided no evidence that the CDs were his separate property, and he was not a credible witness on this point because he concealed his assets.

The court also found that the trial judge properly ruled on both homes: the wife contributed to the marital home’s appreciation in value, but the husband’s routine upkeep did not increase the second home’s value. Then, the court affirmed the trial judge’s decision to impose sanctions against the husband. Despite several warnings, the husband continued to withhold information about his assets for over a year after the deadline to disclose. When he did submit financial disclosures, he provided false information. Finally, the court found no evidence that the trial judge disfavored the husband. Because the husband failed to provide evidence that several assets were his separate property and actively hid them under penalty of perjury, the court affirmed the trial court’s decision.

Do You Need a Rhode Island Family Law Attorney?

If you or a loved one is seeking a divorce, the property you believe is separate may actually be marital property subject to division. While this may be frustrating, disclosing your assets upfront will prevent you from receiving costly sanctions in the future. The Rhode Island divorce and family law attorneys at Bilodeau Capalbo will work with you to understand disclosure requirements under Rhode Island law. Through our experienced representation, we have fought for our clients to recover a fair share of their marital property and retain their separate property. To discuss your case with a qualified Rhode Island family law attorney, call our office at 401-300-4055.

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