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When would the Court of Appeals reverse a 50/50 division of marital property?

Indiana follows the “marital pot” theory, which means that all assets and debts, owned by either Husband or Wife before and during the marriage, no matter how the property is titled, is jointly owned by the husband and wife equally and collectively.

The statutory presumption is that property will be divided equally (50/50) upon divorce.1 In some circumstances, there may be a reason to deviate from this presumed 50/50 division, and award a larger share to one or the other spouse.  The court may consider the following factors as a basis to deviate from the presumed 50/50 division:

  1. The contributions of each spouse in the acquisition of the property (i.e. did one spouse acquire large sums of credit card debt and purposely concealed it from the other, or did one spouse purchase a home several years prior to the marriage that he or she still owns?)
  1. Did one spouse acquire property through inheritance or a gift?
  1. The economic circumstances of each spouse (i.e. does one spouse have considerably higher income than the other?  Or, should the marital home go to the spouse who has primary care and custody of the children?)
  1. The conduct of the spouses during the marriage relating to the dissipation of income earned or income earning ability (i.e. did one spouse gamble away large

So what happens if the court hears all this evidence, and one spouse seeks a larger share of the marital estate, and deviation from the presumed 50/50 split, but the court divides in equal 50/50 portions anyway?

In a recently decided Indiana Court of Appeals case, Coleman v. Atchison, the Court of Appeals reversed a trial court’s order dividing the marital estate in equal portions, or 50/502. Generally, the Court of Appeals affords a great amount of deference to the trial court in domestic cases, including division of marital property.  Meaning, even if the trial court hears arguments from one or the other party that the property should not be divided equally and one party should get a larger share, the trial court has discretion to still award a 50/50 division.

In Coleman v. Atchison the trial court issued findings of fact, and repetitively discussed the various factors that would lead to a conclusion that the Wife should receive a larger share of the marital estate, including how and when property was acquired, the disparity of income between the parties, and the wife’s inability to sufficiently earn money and support herself due to health issues.  In fact, the trial court stated that an unequal division, with a larger share of the property to go to the wife, was appropriate in the case.  However, even after finding that the estate should be divided unequally and in the wife’s favor, the trial court divided the estate equally 50/50 to each spouse.

The Indiana Court of Appeals found that the final division being 50/50 when the trial court stated its intent was to do otherwise, was erroneous, and reversed.  Thus, what is key is not just how the trial court divided the estate, but that the division matches the stated intent.  For example, if the trial court states it will divide the estate equally, but then divides it in such a manner as to set over 70% of the estate to one party, and 30% to the other, this is erroneous and reversible.

We hope that you have found this information to be helpful in understanding property divisions in divorce proceedings.  This is not intended to be legal advice.  If you have questions or concerns about your specific case, CIYOU & DIXON, P.C. can help evaluate your specific case. This blog post was written by Attorney, Lori B. Schmeltzer.

  1. Ind. Code § 31-15-7-5
  2. Coleman v. Atchison, __ N.E.3d __ (Ind.Ct.App. May 13, 2014)

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Based in Indianapolis and founded in 1995, Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. is a niche law firm focused on successfully dealing with the complexities of divorce, high-conflict child custody and family law. Known for their ability to solve extremely complex situations with high quality work and responsiveness, Ciyou & Dixon will guide you every step of the way. The family law attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. will help you precisely identify your objectives and the means to reach your desired result. In addition, this practice focus is augmented by the firm's other three core areas, namely appellate advocacy, civil practice, and firearms law. Life is uncertain. Be certain of your counselSM.

Indianapolis Divorce Attorneys, Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. of Indianapolis, Indiana, offers legal services for Indianapolis, Zionsville, Noblesville, Carmel, Avon, Anderson, Danville, Greenwood, Brownsburg, Geist, Fortville, McCordsville, Muncie, Greenfield, Westfield, Fort Wayne, Fishers, Bloomington, Lafayette, Marion County, Hamilton County, Hendricks County, Allen County, Delaware County, Morgan County, Hendricks County, Boone County, Vigo County, Johnson County, Hancock County, and Tippecanoe County, Indiana.