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Wife can’t recoup marital home funds

A divorce court could not ignore a couple’s prenuptial agreement and allow a wife to recoup her $135,000 contribution to building the marital home, the Virginia Court of Appeals said on May 7.

The panel reversed an award to the wife in Tsoucalas v. Markopoulos (VLW 013-7-140(UP)).

When the couple met, George Tsoucalas was already building a house in Williamsburg. His prenuptial agreement with Dimitra Markopoulos identified the home as the husband’s separate property, and said he would be entitled to any appreciation of the home, if the parties divorced.

The husband said payments by the wife — $70,000 before marriage and $65,000 afterward – were meant to cover modifications the wife wanted. The trial court rejected her claims that the payments were loans, but awarded $135,000 to her under the commingling provisions of the equitable distribution statute, Va. Code § 20-107.3(A)(3)(g).

Under Virginia law, the contract controls, the Court of Appeals said. When the prenup became effective on July 1, 2006, there was no statutory authority by which the wife’s contributions to the home could retain their character as her separate property, wrote Judge William G. Petty.

By terms of the prenup, the house, and any increases in its value, were the husband’s separate property, the panel said in its unpublished opinion.

But the appellate court rejected the husband’s claim for reimbursement for household expenses, under a prenup provision that said the parties’ “Household Account” was community property. The parties did not actually establish a joint bank account, and there was no agreement or statute that would allow an accounting of the undefined “household expenses.”
–Deborah Elkins

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