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Third-party mortgage payments were marital contribution

Where a church, for a period of time when the parties were separated, paid the mortgage on the marital home, the trial court properly classified the payments as a marital contribution instead of crediting them as husband’s separate contribution.


The parties were married in 2005 and separated in March 2017. Wife filed for a divorce.

“The court awarded husband the marital residence (‘Overhill Trail home’), which husband and wife jointly owned. Husband requested that a portion of the reduction in mortgage principal since the parties’ separation be credited to him. The court denied this request.

“Husband had paid the mortgage at the Overhill Trail home between March 2017 through October 2018 and December 2019 through June 2020, but from November 2018 through November 2019, the Church of Latter-Day Saints (‘church’) paid the mortgage.

“The court found that ‘[s]ince the gifted funds from the church were used to make the mortgage payments on the residence that was jointly owned by the parties,’ the gift was for both parties and not husband individually.

“The trial court also ruled that husband and wife would each ‘pay and be solely responsible for the marital debt in his or her individual name.’ The trial court found that wife had marital debts in her name totaling $43,253 and husband had marital debts in his name totaling $493,027.

“The court found that it had ‘no authority to … order the division of marital debt that is not jointly owed.’

“Finally, the trial court awarded sole custody of the parties’ four children to wife.”

Marital residence

“Husband first contends that the trial court erred by classifying the church’s payments of the mortgage on the Overhill Trail home as a marital contribution to the property rather than husband’s separate contribution.

“He argues that these payments were gifts from the church intended for his benefit alone, so the court, in its equitable distribution determination, should have credited him for the reduction in the mortgage principal.

“However, we hold that the trial court did not err because the evidence supports its conclusion that the payments were marital property. …

“The trial court did not err in concluding that husband did not present sufficient credible evidence to show that the church intended the gift for him alone. Neither party disputes that they jointly owned the Overhill Trail home as marital property.

“The checks from the church were made payable to the jointly owned home’s mortgage holder, SunTrust Bank, rather than husband individually. Husband presented no testimony from the church that the church intended to give the gift to him alone. …

“Husband’s emphasis that the payments from the church resulted from his initiative – without wife’s involvement or knowledge – is not dispositive because he failed to establish how his actions revealed the church’s donative intent. …

“It was within the trial court’s discretion to conclude that husband’s independent engagement with the church did not overcome the evidence supporting that its payments were marital property. … [W]e affirm on this issue.”

Marital debt

“[H]usband argues that the trial court erred when it found it had no authority under Code § 20-107.3(C) to order the division of marital debt not jointly owned or in the parties’ joint names, and thus ruled each party was solely responsible for the debts in his or her own name. …

“Code § 20-107.3(C) provides in relevant part that ‘the court shall have no authority to order the division or transfer of … marital debt, which is not jointly owned or owed.’ …

“Code § 20-107.3(C) further provides that the ‘court shall also have the authority to apportion and order the payment of the debts of the parties, or either of them, that are incurred prior to the dissolution of the marriage, based upon the [equitable distribution] factors listed in subsection E.’

“Taking the provisions together, Code § 20-107.3(C) precludes courts from dividing or transferring marital debts in one individual spouse’s name, but still gives courts the option to account for those debts by ordering one spouse to pay debts in the other spouse’s name, after analyzing the equitable distribution factors listed later in subsection E.”

In making that analysis, “[t]he court found that ‘there appears little question that the cumulative effect of the extra-marital conduct of [husband] was devastating and that as a result, the conduct of [husband] constituted a significant negative nonmonetary contribution to the parties’ marriage and family.’ …

“[W]e find no error[.]”


“The guardian ad litem’s report recommended that it was in the children’s best interests for wife to have sole custody. The report explained that husband was ‘resistant to engage in a dialogue with [wife] about child-related decisions’ and lacked ‘willingness to collaborate with her over the past three years’ on childcare decisions.

“The report listed detailed examples of when ‘even if an agreement is reached in the moment, [husband] takes steps afterwards to frustrate the process and recharacterize the outcome.’

“The guardian ad litem recognized that husband was attending most school meetings for the child with autism and was ‘engaged in the discussion’ when she observed a meeting, but that ‘[w]hen confronted with the issues of external/out-of-school therapies for autism or assistance for developmental challenges, [husband] appears to be mostly resistant and uninvolved.’ …

“The report also included examples of husband’s ‘quick-to-anger temperament’ and other concerning behavior by husband around the children.

“The guardian ad litem contrasted husband’s behavior with evidence of wife’s fitness as parent, including her devotion to educating herself about autism and advocating for the educational needs of the child with autism even while working full-time and caring for four children with varying degrees of special needs.

“The trial court also heard extensive testimony about each party’s involvement and relationship with the children.

“The trial court credited the guardian ad litem report as ‘particularly insightful [and] thorough’ and found that ‘for the most part, the assessments and conclusions set out [in the report] coincide closely with those of th[e] Court.’

“The guardian ad litem report and trial testimony include evidence relevant to each of the four Code § 20-124.3 factors the court cited as the basis for its custody decision.”

The trial court correctly found “that the children’s best interests were served by wife having sole custody.”

Harrop II v. Harrop, Record No. 0158-22-3, March 7, 2023. CAV (unpublished opinion) (Causey). From the Circuit Court of Roanoke County (Swanson). Melanie Hubbard for appellant. Monica Taylor Monday, Guardian ad litem for the minor children; Gentry Locke for appellee. VLW 023-7-104, 13 pp.

VLW 023-7-104

Virginia Lawyers Weekly