Murphy v. Murphy
816 A.2d 814 (2003)

  • Michael and Stephanie lived together for 13 years without getting married, but after then had a child together they tied the knot. Seven years later they got a divorce.
  • The Trial Court divided marital property and awarded $60k in transitional spousal support to Stephanie to pay for medical expenses, as well as ongoing spousal support. Both Michael and Stephanie appealed.
    • Michael argued that transitional spousal support cannot be awarded for medical expenses.
    • Stephanie argued that the Court valued their home too low, and excluded Michael’s retirement account, and a $30k joint bank account from marital property. She also wanted her attorney’s fees paid.
  • The Maine Supreme Court affirmed.
    • The Maine Supreme Court noted that under Maine law, transitional spousal support is usually given for short-term financial needs and for rehabilitation into the workforce. However, the Statute has a clause saying “but not limited to…,” so they Court can award transitional spousal support for any need they deem appropriate.
      • The Court also found that $60k was a reasonable amount given the circumstances, and there is no specific upper bound that can be awarded.
    • The Court found that their estimation of the value of the house was reasonable.
    • The Court found that Michael’s retirement account was all from money he had earned prior to their marriage, so it was 100% his because it was separate property, not marital property.
      • Note that Stephanie was living with Michael during those years. She might have been able to get the money if she could show that they had a common-law marriage during that time because then the money would be considered marital property.
        • However, there is a presumption that the most recent marriage is valid. If they had been common-law married, they would not have needed to get a marriage license. Since they did, there is a presumption that they didn’t consider themselves common-law married.
    • The Court found that while the $30k had been briefly held in a joint account, the money was understood to be an inheritance from Michael’s mother. While it was in the account it was never accessed by Stephanie and she had made no claim to it.
      • All money held in joint accounts is presumed to be marital property, but that is a rebuttable presumption, and in this case, Michael had enough evidence to rebut the presumption that it was jointly-owned marital property.
        • In general, inheritance is considered separate property and is not included in combined marital assets.
        • Separate property can be transmuted into marital property if it is placed in a joint account, unless there is evidence to show that it was never intended to become marital property.
    • The Court found that the distribution of marital property and the non-payment of attorney’s fees were reasonable and within the discretion of the court to determine.
      • The Court partially based their $60k award on the fact that Stephanie would have to pay her own attorney’s fees.