In re the Marriage of Parker

In re the Marriage of Parker, 2013 MT 194 (July 16, 2013) (5-0) (McKinnon, J.)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court properly excluded Jim’s interest in his mother’s trust from the marital estate; (2) whether the parties entered into a post-nuptial agreement; (3) whether the district court equitably distributed the marital estate; and (4) whether Jim is entitled to attorney’s fees and costs on appeal.

Short Answer: (1) Yes; (2) no; (3) yes; and (4) no.


Facts: Beth and Jim married in June 1999. At the time, Beth owned her own home and lived there with her two minor children from a previous marriage. No children were born to the parties during their marriage.

In December 2001, the parties sold Beth’s home and moved into a house Jim bought. The proceeds from the sale of Beth’s house were used to pay bills. Both parties worked throughout the marriage. Both parties contributed to Jim’s business over the course of their marriage. Both parties used their credit cards to take trips and pay marital expenses.

Jim received an inheritance from his godfather during the marriage, some of which he used to pay off credit card debt and the rest for household needs. Jim’s mother gave him money regularly, which was also used for household needs. Jim’s mother created a revocable trust, which will go to Jim and his brother upon her death.

The parties separated in June 2010, when Beth moved out. Jim continued living in the home, paying all expenses until September 2011 when they listed the home. In November 2011, Beth moved back in and told the realtor to take the house off of the market.

Beth moved the distroct court to include Jim’s mother’s trust in the marital estate. The district court denied her motion, reasoning Jim’s interest could be modified by his mother at any time.

The standing master held a hearing in April 2012, and issued written findings and conclusions in June 2012. She determined the marital home should be sold and the proceeds used to pay off the mortgage, realtors’ fees, the parties’ credit card debt, and back taxes. The parties would then split the remainder. Each party was to be responsible for their own student and business loans.

Procedural Posture & Holding: Beth objected, arguing the home should be awarded to her under § 40-4-202. MCA. She also contended that she was assuming a larger portion of the parties’ debt than Jim was. The court held a hearing at which Beth moved to reopen the evidentiary hearing to allow evidence of Jim’s interest in his mother’s trust. The court denied her motion and denied her objections, and upheld the findings and recommendations. Beth appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: (1) A spouse’s possible inheritance is never properly included in the marital estate. Jim’s mother retains the power to amend or revoke her trust; he will not know the extent of his inheritance, if any, until his mother’s death. The district court did not abuse its discretion.

(2) Beth contends the parties entered into a post-nuptial agreement that if Beth were to assume the parties’ credit card debt in her name for everyday expenses, Jim would repay her from the proceeds of his mother’s trust. Jim disputes this.Whether an agreement existed is irrelevant, as any such agreement was contingent on Jim inheriting under his mother’s trust, which has not occurred.

(3) A district court has broad discretion in equitably distributing the marital estate. Equity does not require a 50-50 split. The future acquisition of capital assets and income was carefully considered by both the standing master and the district court, and the district court is affirmed.

(4) Beth’s claims on appeal were not entirely frivolous or lacking in good faith. The Court declines to award Jim attorney’s fees and costs.