Most people assume that a divorcing couple’s assets will be divided according to what they own at the time they separate. But in some cases, things that happen after a couple split up can affect what they’re entitled to in a divorce.
Only an attorney with expertise in divorce law can determine exactly what you might be entitled to…so it’s important to tell your attorney about anything that could affect the prospects of both you and your spouse down the road.
Take the case of a man in South Carolina who was a 25% partner in a real estate development project at the time he and his wife filed for divorce. While the divorce was pending, the value of his share increased…and his partner then bought out his interest in the project for $1.6 million.
The wife wanted to share in the increased value of the partnership, while the husband argued that his interest should be valued as of the date they filed for divorce.
The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the appreciation in value could be included in the couple’s marital property if it occurred “passively,” meaning it was due to factors other than the efforts of the spouse.
In this case, the court said, the appreciation was “passive” because it was due primarily to the efforts of the husband’s partner, not those of the husband. Therefore, the wife could share in the increase.
In another case, a woman in Virginia received stock options from her employer while she was married, but options didn’t vest until after she had separated from her husband.
The wife argued that because the options hadn’t yet vested when the couple split up, they were her own separate property.
But the Virginia Supreme Court decided that even if the options hadn’t vested, they could still be divided at divorce in a similar way to other types of deferred compensation, such as pensions or retirement benefits.
A Pennsylvania case involved a couple who had a pending personal injury lawsuit when they divorced.
In that case, the husband had been seriously injured in an accident at a racetrack. The couple sued for the injury, but they separated before the case was settled.
After the case was settled, the wife argued that she should get a share of $60,000 in settlement money.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court sided with the wife, ruling that because the couple were married when the injury occurred and when the suit was filed, any proceeds from the suit were marital property.
In yet another case, a divorcing couple in Vermont didn’t have much money, but the husband came from a wealthy family, and it was likely that he would inherit significant assets in the future through family wills and trusts. The wife argued that this should be considered in dividing up the marital assets.
The Vermont Supreme Court agreed, saying that even though the husband’s potential inheritances weren’t property – they were merely an “expectancy” – they could still be considered when dividing the couple’s assets, so that the wife could get a larger share.
Of course, as always, the law can vary from state to state and from case to case. But it’s important to tell your family law attorney about possible future events that could affect either you or your spouse, because they might be relevant to a divorce.