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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 Husbands gross earnings, last year of marriage: $43,000 o Wifes 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 Walters abusive conduct outweighed his wifes Divorce Order o For Betty: alimony, allowance for health insurance o No provision for distribution of marital assets o Court denied Bettys 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 Walters name Betty signed away house originally in Bettys 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 spouses 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