The trial court did not abuse its discretion in the equitable distribution of the parties’ assets or by awarding wife support for a limited duration.
The parties were married in 1991 and separated in 2004. The Loudoun Circuit Court ordered husband to pay $4,000 per month in support.
In March 2005, the parties sent the mortgage company a letter stating that the marital home would be deeded to wife only. Wife moved the Loudoun Circuit Court to deem the letter a ‘marital agreement.” The court did so and further ordered proceeds from the home’s sale released to wife.
The court dismissed the case in 2009 due to inactivity. In 2019, wife petitioned for spousal support in the JDR court, which dismissed the petition. Husband stopped paying wife support.
Husband filed for divorce later in 2019.
“Wife filed an answer and counterclaim, in which she asked the circuit court to award her spousal support, equitably distribute all marital and hybrid property, and enforce the 2005 ‘Marital Agreement.’ Husband sought an alternate valuation date of October 2004, when the parties separated, for his retirement accounts and the marital home.
The trial court granted husband’s motion, awarded wife $268,000, which was the equity in the marital home and husband $208,832, which was the value of his retirement accounts as of October 2004. Wife was awarded $1,500 per month in support for five years. Wife appeals.
Valuation and distribution
“Wife argues that the circuit court ‘abused its discretion in valuing the marital assets at the date of separation, in lieu of the trial date 17 years later.’ … As the husband’s retirement accounts were classified as marital property, the circuit court was required to value the ownership interest. …
“We agree that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in finding good cause to grant husband’s motion for an alternate valuation date of October 2004, when the parties separated. The circuit court explained in detail its reasons for assigning valuation dates.
“As the circuit court noted, the parties had been separated for sixteen years before the hearing, during which time they both ‘invested, reinvested and used as separate property the funds/accounts/property from their agreed settlement.’ Notably, ‘wife sold the marital home, retained all proceeds and bought more than one house over the course of time.’
“Additionally, ‘husband continued to contribute to and consolidate retirement funds he retained.’ The circuit court found that the parties’ own actions ‘evidence[d] a division of all marital property from the date of separation,’ and, thus, the ‘[t]he most accurate evidence of the marital share of the retirement accounts [was] at time of separation, and the most accurate evidence of the marital home value [was] the net proceeds of sale.’
“Wife argues that the alternate valuation date was ‘employed as a vehicle to deprive [her] of the appreciation of the marital share of the retirement accounts.’
“This case presents an unusual situation, where the parties have been separated for more than sixteen years. Since that time, husband maintained possession of the retirement accounts, and wife maintained the equity of the former marital residence. Both parties had rolled their assets into other investments.
“There is no evidence in the record of the amount the marital share in the retirement accounts had appreciated or depreciated in value. Likewise, there is no evidence of the value wife gained or lost from the proceeds of the marital residence.
“Accordingly, because the circuit court’s reasons were cogent and proper, we conclude that the court did not abuse its discretion granting husband’s motion to set an alternate valuation date.”
“Wife next argues that the circuit court erred in failing to incorporate the marital agreement regarding the disposition of the marital residence into the divorce decree.
“Wife also asserts that the circuit court incorrectly determined that the parties had entered into an agreement regarding husband’s retirement accounts because, although testimony of both parties confirmed that they had discussed this possibility, there was no evidence of an agreement that was reduced to writing and signed by both parties. …
“In a letter dated March 26, 2005, the parties signed a letter to the mortgage company, advising it that as ‘a part of our Settlement Agreement in the Divorce proceedings,’ the parties had agreed that the former marital residence would be ‘deeded to [wife] alone’ and husband would ‘relinquish claim to the property.’
“The Loudoun County Circuit Court found that the parties’ letter to the mortgage company was a marital agreement and incorporated it into an order. The Loudoun County Circuit Court also awarded the sales proceeds from the former marital residence to wife and reserved the right to consider “adjustments in the disposition of other marital property” at the equitable distribution hearing.
“Neither party pursued the matter, and ultimately, the Loudoun County Circuit Court purged the case from its docket under Code § 8.01-335(A) due to inactivity.
“After the parties sought a divorce in Caroline County, wife raised the issue of the marital agreement and the distribution of husband’s retirement accounts. Husband countered that the parties had agreed that wife would receive the sales proceeds from the former marital residence and he would receive his retirement accounts.
“The circuit court correctly stated that it was ‘not bound to the agreement.’ Nevertheless, the circuit court awarded wife the value of the marital residence. Moreover, although the circuit court acknowledged that its decision aligned with what the parties had discussed at the time of separation, specifically that wife would retain the value of the marital residence and husband would retain the value of the retirement accounts, the circuit court did not incorporate a formal agreement into the decree.
“Rather, the circuit court simply noted that its conclusion matched the actions the parties had already taken at the time of separation.” There was no abuse of discretion.
“In fashioning the award of spousal support, the circuit court was clearly attuned to wife’s situation, specifically providing a larger award for two years, to give wife time to obtain training and employment, before reducing it for the remaining five years.
“As the circuit court noted, ‘[s]even years of support after a seventeen-year separation for a thirteen-year marriage is a duration approaching twice the length of the marriage.’
“The circuit court explained that the ‘limited duration [was] based on wife’s receipt of support for an extended period of time prior to filing and her ability to obtain employment.’
“The circuit court ‘specifically reject[ed] the request for lifetime support based on the wife’s ability to work.’ We conclude that the circuit court considered the relevant statutory factors, and thus did not abuse its discretion in its award of spousal support.”
Meyer v. Meyer, Record No. 0748-21-2, Aug. 23, 2022. CAV (Clemens) From the Circuit Court of Caroline County (Deneke). Steven Shareff for appellant. Brandy M. Poss for appellee. VLW 022-7-351, 15 pp.