Saturday, January 10, 2009

she makes out okay

In this case, husband and wife were married for 18 months. Husband earned about 1 1/2 million dollars a year and had a net worth of about $20,000,000.00. When they married wife had a net worth of about $115,000.00 and earned about $50,000.00 yearly with prospects of increasing that. On separation under a marriage contract wife received a property settlement of $100,000.00. She then litigated and got custody of an infant and child support under the Guidelines of $11,173.00 monthly. The remaining issue was spousal support.

Husband argued the wife suffered no economic loss, in fact improved her life financially, that if there was to be an award it should be time limited periodic payments--which are tax deductible, while a lump sum is not--and that if there was to be a lump sum it should not be very high. The trial judge concluded that while the “condition, means, needs and other circumstances of Mr. Tauber remain fairly stable, those of Ms. Tauber did not”. She noted that the wife had impaired her earning cacacity by the marriage and by her parenting duties. The trial judge also noted that the wife's legal costs had exceeded $200,000.00. The trial judge wanted to fashion an order promoting the wife's self sufficiency, noting that she had resumed part time work and was looking to work full time.

The trial judge awarded the wife a $500,000.00 lump sum. The Court of Appeal could find no error in principle in the award, save for noting that it disagreed with the trial judge's statement that the brevity of the marriage was a neutral factor in assessing spousal support.

The standard of appellate review is mildly interesting here and clearly meaningful. The standard was "clearly wrong". So if the appellate judges might have come to a different decision but did not think the trial judge had made a clear error or an error in principle, they were obliged to uphold her decision, which they did. I suspect that on these facts, plenty of knowing folks could easily come to a different order without someone being right or wrong as such.

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