One of the most hotly contested issues in many Oregon divorces is how the couple’s assets should be split up. If a couple can agree on how to divide their assets, they are free to do so, and the courts will usually respect a couple’s decision. However, in the event of a disagreement, the court must use its judgment to distribute the couple’s assets, which can leave one spouse feeling as though the division wasn’t fair. This is exactly what happened in a recent Oregon divorce opinion released by the Court of Appeals of Oregon.
The Facts of the Case
The husband and wife were married in Mexico and then came to the United States in 1982. The Husband worked as a groundskeeper and, for the last ten years, operated a landscaping business. The Wife raised the couple’s children and, for the last ten years, ran a housekeeping business. The couple owned five rental properties, all of which they owned outright.
The Wife filed for divorce, initially seeking spousal support. However, she later modified her request to receive a greater share of the couple’s assets in lieu of spousal support. She claims she modified her request because she feared her Husband would not fulfill his spousal support obligations.
After hearing the evidence, the court awarded three of the couple’s five rental properties to the Wife, explaining that the unequal distribution was “equitable, just, and proper” because the court did not award the Wife spousal maintenance. The husband, unsatisfied with the court’s ruling, filed an appeal challenging how the court divided the couple’s assets.
The Appellate Decision
On appeal, the Court of Appeals of Oregon affirmed the trial court’s ruling. As a preliminary matter, the court explained that a trial judge is bound to divide a couple’s property in a manner that is “just and proper in all the circumstances.” However, the court went on to note that when property is acquired during a marriage, it is typically considered a marital asset and there is a presumption that it should be divided equally between spouses.
However, the court then explained that, even when the presumption of equal distribution applied, there are situations where the court can elect to award unequal assets to each spouse based on “the social and financial objectives of the dissolution, as well as any other considerations that bear upon the question of what division of the marital property is equitable.” Finally, the Court of Appeals stated that, in these cases, trial judges have the discretion to do what they think is “just and proper” given the circumstances.
Ultimately, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court, finding that the court did not abuse its discretion in dividing the couple’s property. The court held that property might be used to offset the need for an award of spousal support or to provide a family home to one of the spouses. Here, the Court of Appeals found that the trial court’s decision to award the Wife more of the couple’s property instead of awarding her spousal support was a reasonable decision that it would not overturn.
Avoiding the Uncertainty of a Divorce Trial
The reality of going through a divorce is that neither party is likely to get everything they want. While this makes sense from an outsider’s perspective, it’s often hard to wrestle with the idea when you’re in the moment. Thus, spouses too often focus on the things they disagree about and overlook the possibility of finding any common ground.
While taking this approach is necessary in some divorces, it can also lead to a tremendous amount of uncertainty because couples end up giving a judge the ability to make the decision for them. Couples who want to avoid this uncertainty in the event of a divorce can create a post-nuptial agreement that clarifies which spouse gets which assets. Alternatively, spouses who find themselves agreeing on some but not all issues can give divorce arbitration or mediation a try in hopes of coming to a solution that works for both parties.