Judge not Required to Split Marital Debts 50/50
The court held that under Kessler, remand was required because the trial court failed to determine whether an ECE “existed with one or both parents before it altered the preexisting week-to-week parenting-time schedule.” However, it rejected the defendant-husband’s claim that the trial court erred in failing to evenly divide the parties’ credit card debt, concluding that leaving “them responsible for their own debts is an equitable decision under the circumstances.”
As to the trial court’s findings on the statutory best interest factors, defendant asserted that it “improperly referred to the opinion of various unidentified ‘experts’ who did not testify at trial. In fashioning a parenting-time schedule, the trial court stated, ‘And I also know from talking to experts in the 23 years I did divorces, listening to all the top psychiatrists and psychologists there are, that young children aren’t as much concerned with the length of visit as they are frequency.’ The trial court said that it was for this reason that it does not ‘like it when the child has to go seven days without seeing either parent.’” While it “may rely on its experience in addressing the issue of custody,” the trial court’s “decision should be based on the facts in evidence as applied to the law.” Further, “the trial court improperly relied on the possibility that defendant would abuse his prescription medications; even though there was no evidence that he was doing so.”
However, as to the marital debt, “a trial court has the discretion to consider marital property and spousal support together in fashioning a judgment of divorce.” Defendant “had approximately $20,000 in credit card debt in his name at the time of trial and plaintiff sought, in total, $24,000 in alimony ($1,000 per month for two years) and $3,000 in attorney fees. The trial court held that defendant was responsible to pay his credit card debt, but would not have to pay alimony or attorney fees.” Given that “each party had a stable income,” the trial court did not abuse its discretion in looking at their debt balance and trying “to fashion a property division that would leave them in equitable balance as they exited the marriage.” Affirmed in part and remanded in part.