Virginia Lawyers Weekly//August 6, 2023
Virginia Lawyers Weekly//August 6, 2023//
Where husband claimed the parties’ property settlement agreement was unconscionable but provided scant evidence of a gross disparity in the division, the trial court correctly included the settlement in the final divorce decree.
Marital assets unclear
“[I]t is entirely unclear whether a gross disparity exists between the parties’ division of marital assets.
“The PSA contains only three provisions enumerating the value of any debts, payments, or assets:
“1) the distribution of the entirety of husband’s John Hancock account with a balance of $24,000 to wife;
“2) spousal support in the amount of $750 per month to be paid by husband to wife after sale of the marital home; and
“3) that $12,000 of the John Hancock account would be used by wife to pay the mortgage at which point husband will take over responsibility of mortgage payments until the home could be sold.
“The portions related to the John Hancock account were changes that husband insisted upon during negotiations in the courthouse before the November 23, 2020 emergency hearing.
“Elsewhere, the PSA is devoid of any indication of the value of the marital assets and debts. Per the agreement, wife would be responsible for her student loans, a loan from her 401(k) account, and any debts created by her on or after October 25, 2020.
“Husband would be responsible for all other marital debts in addition to the remaining balance on their son’s car. There is no indication as to the amounts of these debts or what other debts were created during the marriage.
“Aside from the John Hancock account, all other accounts would be split evenly between the parties. Attached to the PSA, labeled Exhibit A, was a list of personal property husband had requested in a series of emails sent to Mr. Breimann [wife’s counsel].
“The rest, husband indicated in his emails, could be disposed of at wife’s discretion.”
Hearing and order
“During the hearing held April 14, 2021, no testimony or evidence was presented concerning the value of the assets or debts retained by either party.
“In spite of this, husband claims on brief and in oral argument that 80% of the marital assets went to wife and that he had retained most of the marital debt. However, the written statement of facts approved by the trial court and filed in this Court does not support that claim.
“The filing states ‘Defendant believes that the agreement is unfair and gives well over 80 percent of the parties’ assets and debts to the Defendant.’
“The filing states further that ‘[h]e testified that he gave up most assets and took on most debt and the PSA was skewed heavily to the wife.’
“Such conclusory statements do not provide the evidence of value sufficient to evaluate the disparity. The circuit court, in its letter opinion, in fact, noted the difficulty of determining whether a gross disparity existed given the scant evidence before it.
“Husband, as the challenger to the validity and incorporation of the PSA, bore the burden to prove by clear and convincing evidence that it was unconscionable. … Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to wife, it is unclear from the record whether a gross disparity existed in the property division between the parties. …
“Given that husband had to prove a gross disparity existed before we analyze any ‘overreaching or oppressive influences,’ his failure to do so ends our inquiry into the unconscionability of the PSA.”
“Husband failed to meet his burden showing, with clear and convincing evidence, that the PSA was unconscionable. Specifically, he failed to introduce into the record evidence showing a gross disparity resulted from the division of the parties’ marital assets and debt.
“Therefore, we affirm the circuit court’s incorporation of the PSA into the final divorce decree as a valid marital agreement.”
Williamson v. Williamson, Record No. 0805-22-3, July 18, 2023. CAV (unpublished opinion) (White). From the Circuit Court of Russell County (Moore). Robert M. Galumbeck for appellant. Nicholas B. Compton for appellee. VLW 023-7-273, 7 pp.