Grossly disproportionate division of property and debts in a divorce proceeding reversed

In a recent ruling by the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Southern District, a division of property and debt where the Wife received 93% of the assets and 27% of the debts, and the Husband received 7% of the assets and 73% of the debt was reversed and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.

It is typical in a majority of cases for the trial court to divide property and debt equally. However, the Court is not required to follow a rigid formula for property division and is not required to divide the property equally. The division must be “fair and equitable” to the parties. This means that the court has a great deal of discretion when dividing property and debts, but there must be sufficient evidence to support a disproportionate division as being fair and equitable. In determining the property division, the court must consider the economic circumstances of the parties, contributions during the marriage, the value of non-marital property, conduct during the marriage, the custodial arrangement for the children, and other factors.

In the recent case, the Court looked primarily at the conduct during the marriage, and the trial court had found that physical abuse and verbal threats had occurred which supported the disproportionate division. However, there must be evidence to show the additional financial, emotional, or other burdens placed on the aggrieved spouse due to the conduct. It is not appropriate to “punish” a spouse’s marital conduct by way of disproportionate property division, and conduct is the only factor that must be considered.

In this case, there was evidence of the misconduct, but no evidence as to how it caused additional burdens or stress on the other spouse or the marriage, financial or otherwise to support the grossly disproportionate division. The case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings to make those findings.

SD29991- Missouri Court of Appeals for the Southern District of Missouri