Friday, February 4, 2011

Observations about a Divorce Case at the Court of Appeals

I recently attended a Court of Appeals session to observe my husband, also an attorney, make his first Court of Appeals oral argument.  While we were anxiously waiting for his case to be called, we had the opportunity to watch other cases.

One case in particular was very interesting to me.  The facts as follows:  couple dates for 1 year; wife has debilitating stroke; couple continues dating for 4 more years; couple gets married; couple stays married for 20 years; couple gets divorced.

The marital estate at issue in this case was rather large and valued at over $7,000,000.  The husband made the argument at trial that because the wife did not contribute to the marital estate (because she had a stroke that he clearly knew about before they got married) by working or raising children (they were married in their mid-40s), that she should get less of the estate.  The trial court awarded the husband 60% of the estate, plus a large amount of stock options and the wife 40% of the estate.

The husband appealed the trial court.  His attorney stated that the husband felt like he was entitled to 70% and the wife should have only gotten 30%.  In my opinion, the husband won at the trial court and this appeal was just adding insult to injury.

During the wife’s attorney’s defense of the case, she stated that she felt like she “got a whooping” at the trial court and was embarrassed to have to defend this case in front of the Court of Appeals.  I was very impressed by her conversational style and preparedness.
Another fact that made this case memorable is that the wife’s attorney stated that the husband’s attorney was paid $130,000 in fees out of the marital estate before the division, and her attorney’s fees had not been paid out of the marital estate.  For a $130,000 fee, I expected to see some spectacular rhetoric and wit, or, at the very least, extreme preparedness.  Instead, I witnessed an attorney who was not even able to recall the value that his client had been awarded at the trial court level.
The Court of Appeals does not rule from the bench, and the parties in this case may not get a ruling for a few months.  I am interested to see how the case turns out.

Rachel Rieger

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