LaRue v. LaRue (1983).docx

Digest Author: Dodot

LaRue v. LaRue (1983) Petition: Appeal from Judgment of Circuit Court of Ohio County, Callie Tsapis, C.J. [Divorce] Appellant: Betty J. LaRue Appellee: Walter F. LaRue Ponente: J. Miller [Supreme Court of Appeals of W. Va.] Date: 28 December 1956 Facts: Trial court held that wife was not entitled to equitable distribution of marital assets. SC concluded that the trial court erred.  1950 – couple married o Traditional marriage: husband (finances), wife (homemaker) – evidence that husband encouraged his spouse to serve as the homemaker, wife only worked in the early years of the marriage o Husband’s gross earnings, last year of marriage: $43,000 o Wife’s gross earnings (iver 7 years): $51,000 March 1980 – divorce granted [irreconcilable differences, following 8-10 yrs. of problems] o “inequitable conduct” both sides – but Walter’s abusive conduct outweighed his wife’s Divorce Order o For Betty: alimony, allowance for health insurance o No provision for distribution of marital assets o Court denied Betty’s petition to be granted a portion of the properties:  Failed to prove contractual agreement of equal ownership of property  That any of her earnings were invested in properties under Walter’s name Betty signed away house – originally in Betty’s name, but Walter was able to have Betty sign a document transferring the title to his name only. [Betty could not recall doing so, said Walter always made her sign docs.] In sum, two grounds for granting equitable distribution:  Economic contributions o Valuing: contributions of wife relative to husband, weighed against net assets at the time of the divorce  Homemaker services o Valuing: length of marriage, quality of services (ex. Frugality that let to savings), age/health/skills of homemaker, amount of independent assets possessed – weighed aganst net assets at the time of the divorce Issues: 1.

Was Betty entitled to a portion of the assets?

Ruling/Ratio: 1. YES.  On both grounds: economic contribution (earnings during the time she had been employed) and homemaker services.

Opinions:  Justice Neely (Concurring): o Importance of property distribution:  Other means of compensating the wife are plagued by gross negligence: for example, more than half of alimony payments and child support payments are either not paid at all, or not fully paid.  Savings are not held solely in the form of liquid cash, but it real property – like houses – and pension/insurance plans. (Often tied to the primary wageearner?) o Alimony and property distribution should be considered separately o “Gifts” apart from personal ones (like titling stocks/bonds in the name of one of the spouses) should be presumed as a matter of expedience – they are not transfers from one spouse to the other: mutual benefit is still the intent/effect.  “Gifts” of a non-personal nature should be properly qualified [and accounted for]. Relationship is defined less by donation and more by trusteeship.

Pertinent laws/provisions/concepts: In West Virginia: no specific statute on equitable distribution.  Evolving concept of equitable distribution [w/in courts]: W. Va., Fla., S. Car. o When wife made material contributions to acquisition of property [earning] o When wife made material contributions of industry and labor to acquisition of property o When the wife had to forgo career opportunities at the behest of her spouse Patterson v. Patterson (W. Va. SCA 1981)  Constructive Trust Theory: for properties acquired through joint effort, but titled under one spouse’s name.  Purpose: redress “unjust enrichment” – wife should be entitled to a trust in property to the extent that the husband is unjustly enriched by her contribution.

Decision: Judgment of the lower court reversed. Case remanded. Principles: Divorce  Foreign Divorce

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