There is more than one way to split a pie. For couples considering a divorce in California, for example, a variety of issues can determine how the pie (money, property, etc.) is divided between spouses. In In re Marriage of Baron, California’s Second District Court of Appeals takes a look at some of those issues, including a spouse’s ability to work.Richard and Sandra Baron were married for nearly 30 years before divorcing in 2007. Shortly after they were married, the couple started a retail and commercial nursery in which Richard’s brother also owned a 40 percent stake. Sandra worked for the company over three decades – as an office manager and in other clerical positions – until she was fired in 2010.
In a stipulated agreement, the Barons decided that Richard would buy out Sandra’s interest in the business, paying her $1 million (plus interest) over the course of 15 years. Following a trial, a lower court also ordered him to pay spousal support in the amount of $5,500 per month until either person died or Sandra remarried. The court additionally required Richard to buy a $500,000 term life insurance policy as security for spousal support.
In reaching this decision, the trial court noted that Sandra was 62 years old and had recently been fired from the only job she’d ever had. “The court finds it is unrealistic to believe that [she] will find employment in the near future,” the trial judge wrote.
The Second District upheld the order on appeal, rejecting Richard’s argument that he couldn’t afford to pay support because of the money he owed Sandra for her share of the business. The court explained that these were two separate issues. “Richard’s analysis is based on the incorrect assumption that his property division obligation affects his ability to pay spousal support,” the court said. Citing its 1991 decision in In re Marriage of Martin, the court further explained that “a spouse may not finance a ‘buy-out’ of community property and then successfully claim inability to pay spousal support.”
Furthermore, according to the court, the order requiring Richard to purchase life insurance was also appropriate. Richard argued that the requirement was unnecessary because the settlement agreement provided that Sandra would get the remaining buyout money in the event of his death. Like the trial court, the Second District noted that Sandra was over 60 years old with no job prospects. She also did not have retirement income. “If Richard dies, she will have virtually nothing available for support other than her remaining share of the community assets,” the court said.
Questions about property division and spousal support commonly arise in California divorces, and for those couples who are willing to work together and endeavor to listen and understand what is important to each other, can usually be resolved without going to court. A person considering a divorce or child custody and support action is well-advised to seek the counsel of an experienced family law attorney and consider potential alternatives to litigation. With offices throughout the Bay Area, California divorce lawyer Lorna Jaynes provides innovative legal tools to resolve family law disputes without the bitterness and acrimony engendered by the adversarial process.
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