Rice v. Rice
336 S.W.3d 66 (Kent. 2011)

Facts:

  • Jackie and Carolyn Rice divorced in 2008, after 42 years of marriage.
  • Over a four-year period during the marriage, Jackie accumulated $65,000 in credit card debt while trying to assist their 38-year-old son, Darrin, whose home in Florida suffered hurricane damage.
  • Jackie kept Carolyn in the dark about all of this.

History:

  • In the divorce decree, the trial court held that credit card debt in the amount of $65,000 was marital, and assigned half the debt to each party.
  • The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Issue:
Whether debt acquired for the benefit of an adult child, without the other parent’s knowledge or consent, is nonetheless a marital debt subject to equitable division because of the “implied” benefits a parent receives from helping his or her child.

Holding:
No. Case reversed.

Reasoning:

  • While there’s a presumption that property acquired during marriage is marital property, there’s no presumption debt.
  • In determining whether debt is marital or nonmarital, four factors must be considered:
    • (1) Was the debt incurred for the purchase of marital property?
    • (2) Was the debt necessary to maintain and support the family?
    • (3) What was the extent and participation of each party in incurring or benefitting from the debt?
    • (4) What are the economic circumstances of the parties after divorce to allow for payment of the debt?
    • Note: The burden of proving that a debt is marital is upon the party that incurred it.
  • Here, the only factor that could’ve theoretically applied to this case was family support, but the court held that doing so would improperly expand and broaden that concept.
  • Additionally, there is no legal obligation to support adult children – the law puts the burden of being self-supporting on them.
  • “Without some nexus to the debt other than being married to the person who made the debt, such as knowledge, consent, or receiving a direct benefit from the debt, there is no fairness in saddling Carolyn with this unanticipated debt after divorce, when there is no longer a marital purpose of any kind.”

Rule: Debt acquired during marriage for the benefit of an adult child, without the other parent’s knowledge or consent, is NOT a marital debt.