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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Court of Appeals Establishes Rule with Respect to Payments to Former Spouse

In Mahoney-Buntzman v Buntzman, --- N.Y.3d ----, 2009 WL 1227875 (2009) the Court of Appeals established the general rule that "where payments are made before either party is anticipating the end of the marriage, and there is no fraud or concealment, courts should not look back and try to compensate for the fact that the net effect of the payments may, in some cases, have resulted in the reduction of marital assets. Nor should courts attempt to adjust for the fact that payments out of separate property may have benefitted both parties, or even the non-titled spouse exclusively. The parties' choice of how to spend funds during the course of the marriage should ordinarily be respected. Courts should not second-guess the economic decisions made during the course of a marriage, but rather should equitably distribute the assets and obligations remaining once the relationship is at an end." Thus, the Court held that payments made to a former spouse and/or children of an earlier marriage, even if made pursuant to court order, are not the type of liabilities entitled to recoupment. And, a student loan, which was both incurred and fully paid for during the marriage, was a marital obligation for which responsibility was to be shared between the parties. The Court also held that, as a matter of public policy, a "party to litigation may not take a position contrary to a position taken in an income tax return."
The parties were married in New York in 1993 and had two daughters. The wife had an adult child from a previous relationship. The husband was married once before, and had two adult children from that marriage. Pursuant to a divorce judgment, the husband was obligated to pay his first wife maintenance. During the present marriage, the husband and another individual formed Educational Video Conference Inc. (EVCI), a New York Corporation that went public in 1999. At the time of the action, the husband owned a number of shares and options of EVCI stock, all of which were acquired during marriage. Prior to his marriage to plaintiff, the husband had an interest in Arol Development Corporation (ADC), a real estate development company he founded with his father in 1971. In 1983, the husband founded another company, Big Apple Industrial Buildings, Inc., 80% of which he sold to ADC in 1989. In 1998, the husband entered into an agreement with his father whereby he agreed to relinquish his stock ownership in both corporations in exchange for a lump sum payment. The agreement provided that the payment would be reported on a "1099" form issued to him by the purchasing company. In order to account for the increased tax liability that the husband would incur as a consequence of treating the payment as ordinary income rather than as a sale of stock, the payment was increased by 17 percent. This money, amounting to $1.8 million was received by the husband during the marriage and reported on the parties' joint income tax return as self-employment business income. In May 1996, the husband obtained a doctorate in education from Fordham University for which he had taken out a student loan that was repaid two years later. On May 19, 2003, the wife commenced the divorce action.

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