Shared Ownership

4. Shared Ownership


An Introduction to Co-Ownership




Having now learned how people split ownership temporally, serially serving as owners, we will study the means by which people can own the same thing at the same time. Instead of “O to A and then to B,” let’s consider “O to A and B.”


It isn’t difficult to imagine the kinds of issues that will arise if we recognize two or more people as co-owners of Blackacre. What if they don’t get along, can’t agree on how to use the property, can’t agree on maintenance or remodeling or whether to sell or lease? What if one co-owner acts without the consent of the others? What happens when a co-owner dies? The law must have ways to answer such questions.


As with temporally divided ownership, concurrent co-ownership can come in one of several, fixed types. Knowing the type of co-ownership will answer many questions concerning the rights and obligations of the co-owners (often called cotenants). These forms are: the tenancy in common, the joint tenancy, and the tenancy by the entirety.1 Your first job when evaluating a situation involving co-owners is to determine whether the co-owners are tenants in common, joint tenants, or tenants by the entirety.


The major differences between the forms of co-ownership are in (1) how they are created, (2) how the interests in the property are distributed, (3) the effect of the death of a cotenant, (4) the alienability of interests, and (5) the availability of partition. Despite these differences, the forms of co-ownership share approaches to dividing income and expenses among cotenants.





Basic Co-Ownership Principles





Except for certain key differences between the forms of co-ownership, the rights and obligations of co-owners can be summarized succinctly:


  • Undivided interests. Each cotenant has an equal right to use and occupy the whole property. Though the cotenants may, by informal agreement or force of habit, have their own rooms or private areas, they may not bar each other from any part of the property. Cotenants have this right even if they have small fractional shares. I may have only a one-quarter interest in Blackacre to your three-quarters interest. If Blackacre were sold, we’d take the proceeds according to those shares. But, despite your greater share, we have equal rights to possess and use all of Blackacre.


  • Ouster. A cotenant is ousted when forcibly ejected or barred from the property. Courts will find constructive ouster if something about the property itself or something about the relationship between the cotenants makes co-occupancy impossible.


  • No duty to pay rent. Cotenants are not obligated to pay rent to each other, even if one or more of them are not in possession. Thus, if your cotenant has exclusive possession of Blackacre, and you live elsewhere, you have no right to any amount of rent from your cotenant. One important exception: an ousted cotenant is owed rent, usually calculated by taking the fair market rental value and giving to the ousted cotenant his or her share (according to his or her fractional interest).


  • Rent from third parties. Cotenants are however entitled to share in rents received from third parties. If cotenant A leases the property to X, then cotenant B is entitled to a portion of the rent (less expenses) according to B’s fractional share.


  • Expenses. Cotenants have a duty to pay their share of basic expenses, such as mortgage payments, insurance premiums, and taxes. Many courts include among such expenses amounts needed for basic maintenance. Other courts treat even basic maintenance like all courts treat major improvements: no duty to share costs absent an agreement among the cotenants.


  • Expense borne by in-possession cotenants. Cotenants in exclusive possession must pay all the expenses up to the value of the cotenants’ occupation. Thus, in the example above where you live elsewhere while your cotenant enjoys living at Blackacre, while you don’t get rent, you do get the benefit of not having to pay at least some of the expenses. If there are only two of you, each with a one-half interest, then you only become liable for basic expenses that exceed half of the fair rental value of Blackacre. You would bear half of the expenses that exceed such amount.


  • Accounting. An accounting is a cause of action to force a cotenant to pay for rents and basic maintenance.


  • Partitition. An action for partitition is the means through which to seek judicial division of the property. Partition can be either in kind, meaning that the property is physically divided with the divided pieces distributed to the cotenants as sole owners, or by sale, after which the cotenants receive the proceeds according to their fractional shares. Though there is a stated preference for in kind partitition, it is often impractical and sales are common.





The Tenancy in Common





This is now the default form of co-ownership across the United States. Thus, a grant in the form “O to A and B” will result in a transfer of the property to A and B as tenants in common. The fractional shares granted need not be equal, and there can be more than two co-owners. Consider: “O toA, B, and C as tenants in common, with a 1/4 undivided interest in A, a 1/4 undivided interest in B, and a 1/2 undivided interest in C.” Each of the cotenant is free to use the whole property, with C’s larger interest relevant only to any rent that is collected, expenses to be paid, efforts to partition, or proceeds from a sale. E.g., while A is free to wander on and enjoy the whole property, C would get half of the property in an in kind partition, half of the proceeds in a sale, and half of the bill for basic expenses.


The cotenants may sell or lease their interests, granting what they have: a fractional, undivided interest as a tenant in common. The recipient steps into the shoes of the cotenant, able to occupy the whole, but subject to the right of the other cotenants to do the same.





The Joint Tenancy





The basic difference between a joint tenancy and a tenancy in common is the effect given to the death of a cotenant. Joint tenants have a right of survivorship. Upon death, a joint tenant’s share is divided equally among the surviving joint tenants. In the case of two joint tenants, the one who outlives the other gets the whole property. It has been called the ultimate gamble.


What if the ultimate gamble ends in a “tie”? What if all cotenants die at exactly the same time? To this morbid possibility, the oddly titled Uniform Simultaneous Death Act provides an answer: they split the property.


These days, the intention to create a joint tenancy with right of survivorship must be clear in the grant. Not only that, but grants creating joint tenancies must be attended by the four unities:


  1. Time. The interests of the joint tenants must be created at the same time.


  1. Title. The interests must be created in the same instrument.


  1. Interest. The interests must be identical. The tenants must have the same fractional shares.


  1. Possession. The joint tenants must have an equal right to possess the whole. (Note that this is no different than the rule for tenants in common.)


Only if all four of these “unities” are met will a joint tenancy with right of survivorship be created. If the intent is lacking or if any of these unities is not met, a tenancy in common results.


A joint tenant can easily sever the joint tenancy, transforming his or her interest into a tenancy in common. A conveyance is universally held to sever the joint tenancy. (As we will see, sometimes lesser actions than sales will also sever.) So if A and B are joint tenants, and A conveys his interest to X, then the joint tenancy is severed. X and B are now tenants in common. When either dies, the decedent’s interest goes according to his or her will, not automatically to the surviving joint tenant.


Suppose that A, B, and C are joint tenants. Since they are joint tenants, we know that each has a 1/3 undivided interest. The death of any of them will result in an equal distribution of the decedent’s interest to the survivors, who will remain joint tenants, now each with a 1/2 undivided interest. The last survivor will take everything.2 If C sells her interest to X, the joint tenancy with respect to C is severed and X will take as a tenant in common with A and B. X has no right of survivorship and, similarly, will get nothing upon the deaths of A or B. When X dies, his interest goes according to his will. But the joint tenancy remains intact between A and B. So if A dies before B, B will obtain A’s share, remaining a tenant in common with X, but now possessing a 2/3 undivided interest.





The Tenancy by the Entirety





You can think of the tenancy by the entirety as a more restrictive joint tenancy that only applies to married couples. It only exists in about half the states. But where it does, it is sometimes the default form of co-ownership for property conveyed to married couples. (Recall that the usual default for transfers to more than one party is the tenancy in common.)


Spouses owning a piece of property in a tenancy by the entirety are essentially joint tenants, but they may not as easily sever the right of survivorship. Typically, conversion to a tenancy in common occurs only as a result of divorce proceedings. Further, most states require both spouses to consent to sale or encumbrance of such property. As a result it is difficult for creditors to reach the property to satisfy the debts of either spouse.3




Here is a chart summarizing the major differences between the forms of co-ownership:





Tenancy in common Joint tenancy Tenancy by the entirety
How created Default: O to A and B (as tenants in common). Four unities in order to create Sometimes default for married couples, where it exists.
Distribution of interests Co-Os may have differing shares All interests identical Interests identical
Right of survivorship? No Yes Yes
Alienable? Yes Alienation severs yielding tenancy in common. Only sold or burdened if both spouses agree.
Partition? Yes Yes Only in divorce



Marital Property


Marriage presents another complication for property ownership questions. While the three forms above exhaust the ways in which groups of individuals can choose to own particular pieces of property together, the marriage relationship carries with it sharing obligations that apply to any property owned by either spouse. In this sense, marriage is like a business enterprise in which multiple interests can be acquired and shared under the same rules. These sharing obligations are not uniform and may depend on when and under what circumstances the property was acquired.


In a well-functioning marriage, each spouse is made happy by the success and joy of the other. There is an expectation and willingness to share the fruits of each other’s hard work. Unwinding a marriage, on divorce, can be difficult, well for many reasons, but at least because the spouses typically no longer view their contributions to each other as generating their own reward. Each is likely to believe their sacrifices went uncompensated.


There are two primary divisions among states in dealing with marital property: separate property states and community property states.





Separate property



In a separate property state, the property of each spouse, whether acquired before or during the marriage is considered to be, well, the separate property of each spouse. That does not mean, however, that the spouses have no property-based obligations between them. These are the major features of separate property states:


  • Creditors of one spouse cannot seek satisfaction from the separate property of the other spouse.


  • Spouses do have a (rarely litigated outside of divorce) duty to support and maintain one another.


  • On divorce property is equitably distributed, a serious caveat to the notion that the property of either spouse is truly separate. What equitable means varies widely among states. What property is divided also varies, with some looking to all property on division and others looking only to what they define as “marital property.”


  • Alimony, if ordered at all, is usually temporary (less than two years). The states overwhelmingly prefer clean breaks and financial independence.


  • On death, while separate property is separate and can be freely devised, most separate property states have forced share statutes requiring a certain portion, from a third to a half of the decedent’s separate property, to be devised to the surviving spouse.





Community Property



There are relatively few community property states, but they include large segments of the population.4 What’s more, separate property states honor the community property status of property brought into them. Thus, it is worth knowing something about community property rules no matter where one practices.


Generally, community property is deemed to include all property acquired during the marriage, except property that is inherited or received as a gift. In some states, income derived from separate property (such as property acquired before marriage) is separate. Contracts to change the status of property are upheld in most states. Here are some general, though not universal rules:


  • Spouses have fiduciary duties to each other with respect to community property, but they may unilaterally convey and encumber property. There are exceptions: both spouses must consent to the conveyance of a business and to the conveyance or mortgaging of real property.



  • The states differ widely on whether creditors of individual spouses can reach community property.



  • On divorce, some states mechanically give to each spouse his or her own separate property and half of the community property, but most equitably divide like separate property states.



  • On death, a spouse can will away all of his or her separate property and half of the community property. There is generally no forced share beyond this.



  1. At common law, there was recognized a fourth form of concurrent ownership, the tenancy in partnership. It was used for joint ownership of business assets by business partners. Today, business ownership is almost entirely governed by state statutes, such as the Uniform Partnership Act and others defining and regulating partnerships and corporations.


  1. Students are typically tempted to assume that the last survivor will have a fee simple absolute. But we don’t know that. The joint tenants may only have been sharing a life estate or a fee simple determinable. The joint tenancy refers to how their interest, whatever it may be, is shared. Every present and future interest we learned about earlier can be held solely or with others. If with others, then it can be held in a tenancy in common or joint tenancy. In a joint tenancy, the last survivor becomes the sole owner of whatever interest was jointly owned.


  1. I will spare you the historical background of the tenancy by the entirety. It is based on the legal fiction that husband and wife are one person, and that person, originally, was the husband. The Married Women’s Property Acts of the nineteenth century permitted married women to control their own property, but they did not uniformly alter the interpretation of the tenancy by the entirety as vesting full control in the husband. The Sawada v. Endo case explores the ways courts have attempted to transition to a gender-neutral interpretation of this form of co-ownership.


  1. Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin



4.1. Tenancies in Common


Olivas v. Olivas,

108 N.M. 814 (1989)




Nancy Ann Meuchel, Sapello, for respondent-appellant.


Eugenio S. Mathis, Las Vegas, for petitioner-appellee.




Hartz, Judge.




Respondent Sam Olivas (husband) appeals the property division in a divorce action. Petitioner Carolina Olivas (wife) and husband were divorced by a partial decree entered December 18, 1984. The district court did not enter its final order dividing property until August 31, 1987. The issues in this appeal arise, for the most part, as a consequence of the unusually lengthy delay between the divorce decree and the property division.


… .










Husband and wife separated in June 1983, about two months before wife filed her petition for dissolution of marriage. The district court found that husband “chose to move out of the family home, and he then maintained another home where he also had his office for his business.” Husband contends that the district court erred in failing to find that he had been constructively ousted from the family home. He requested findings and conclusions that the constructive ouster by his wife entitled him to half of the reasonable rental value of the home from the time of the initial separation.


Husband and wife held the family home as community property during the marriage and as tenants in common after dissolution. See Phillips v. Wellborn, 89 N.M. 340, 552 P.2d 471 (1976); Hickson v. Herrmann, 77 N.M. 683, 427 P.2d 36 (1967). Although wife was the exclusive occupant of the house after the separation, ordinarily a cotenant incurs no obligation to fellow cotenants by being the exclusive occupant of the premises.



“[I]t is a well-settled principle of the common law that the mere occupation by a tenant of the entire estate does not render him liable to his co-tenant for the use and occupation of any part of the common property. The reason is easily found. The right of each to occupy the premises is one of the incidents of a tenancy in common. Neither tenant can lawfully exclude the other. The occupation of one, so long as he does not exclude the other, is but the exercise of a legal right. If, for any reason, one does not choose to assert the right of common enjoyment, the other is not obliged to stay out; and if the sole occupation of one could render him liable therefor to the other, his legal right to the occupation would be dependent upon the caprice or indolence of his co-tenant, and this the law would not tolerate.”



Williams v. Sinclair Refining Co., 39 N.M. 388, 392, 47 P.2d 910, 912 (1935) (quoting Hamby v. Wall, 48 Ark. 135, 137, 2 S.W. 705, 706 (1887)).


The result is otherwise, however, when the occupant has ousted the other cotenants. See Chance v. Kitchell, 99 N.M. 443, 659 P.2d 895 (1983). Although the term “ouster” suggests an affirmative physical act, even a reprehensible act, the obligation of the occupying cotenant to pay rent may arise in the absence of “actual” ouster when the realities of the situation, without there being any fault by either cotenant, prevent the cotenants from sharing occupancy. 4 G. Thompson, Real Property Section 1805, at 189 (J. Grimes Repl. 1979), states:



[B]efore a tenant in common can be liable to his cotenants for rent for the use and occupation of the common property, his occupancy must be such as amounts to a denial of the right of his cotenants to occupy the premises jointly with him, or the character of the property must be such as to make such joint occupancy impossible or impracticable. [Emphasis added.]



We believe that it was this latter type of situation – an “ouster” in effect, without any physical act and perhaps without any fault – to which the New Mexico Supreme Court was referring when it recognized the doctrine of “constructive ouster” in the marital context in Hertz v. Hertz, 99 N.M. 320, 657 P.2d 1169 (1983). The court wrote:



[I]f one of the parties in a divorce case remains in possession of the community residence between the date of the divorce and the date of the final judgment dividing the community assets, then there may be a form of constructive ouster, exclusion, or an equivalent act which is created as to the right of common enjoyment by the divorced spouse not in possession. See § 42-4-8, N.M.S.A. 1978. This exclusion may render the divorced spouse in possession of the community residence liable to the divorced spouse not in possession for the use and occupation of the residence between the date of the divorce and the date of the final judgment. See § 42-4-9, N.M.S.A. 1978. To hold otherwise would mean that both divorced spouses should have continued to live with each other during the eighteen month interim or that both should have abandoned the property. [Emphasis added.]



Id. at 330, 657 P.2d at 1179.


Applying the notion of constructive ouster in the marital context is simply another way of saying that when the emotions of a divorce make it impossible for spouses to continue to share the marital residence pending a property division, the spouse who – often through mutual agreement – therefore departs the residence may be entitled to rent from the remaining spouse. Although one can say that the departing spouse has been constructively “ousted,” the term should not suggest physical misconduct, or any fault whatsoever, on the part of the remaining spouse.


Common law precedents support the proposition that the remaining spouse should pay rent to the cotenant when both cannot be expected to live together on the property. For example, when it is impractical for all cotenants to occupy the premises jointly, it is unnecessary that those claiming rent from the cotenant in possession first demand the right to move in and occupy the premises. See Oechsner v. Courcier, 155 S.W.2d 963 (Tex.Civ.App. 1941) (applying that principle when five heirs, with separate families totalling twenty-two members, were cotenants of a five-room cottage being occupied by one of the families); Annotation, Accountability of Cotenants for Rents and Profits or Use and Occupation, 51 A.L.R.2d 388, § 15 (1957). The impracticality of joint occupancy by the cotenants may result from the relations between the cotenants becoming “so strained and bitter that they could not continue to reside together in peace and concord.” Maxwell v. Eckert, 109 A. 730, 731 (N.J. Eq. 1920). See Finley v. Keene, 136 N.J. Eq. 347, 42 A.2d 208 (1945); In re Marriage of Maxfield, 47 Wash. App. 699, 737 P.2d 671 (1987). If, however, hostility flows only from the cotenant out of possession, ordinarily there would be no constructive ouster. See O’Connell v. O’Connell, 93 N.J. Eq. 603, 117 A. 634 (1922) (wife left home and refused to return despite solicitation by husband). In that circumstance the departing spouse has “abandoned” his or her interest in possession, rather than being excluded. See 4 G. Thompson, supra, § 1805, at 192 (possessing cotenant not liable for his use and occupancy when other cotenant has abandoned property). Cf. Elsner v. Elsner, 425 S.W.2d 254 (Mo. Ct. App. 1967) (wife not required to pay rent to absent husband; husband apparently voluntarily abandoned home).


One jurisdiction has gone so far as to create a rebuttable presumption of ouster of the spouse who moves out of the former marital residence upon divorce. See Stylianopoulos v. Stylianopoulos, 17 Mass. App. 64, 455 N.E.2d 477 (1983). Cf. In re Marriage of Watts, 171 Cal. App.3d 366, 217 Cal. Rptr. 301 (1985) (court may order husband to reimburse community for exclusive use of residence after separation); Palmer v. Protrka, 257 Or. 23, 476 P.2d 185, 190 (1970) (En Banc) (when marital difficulties make co-occupancy impossible, requiring occupant to pay one-half of rental value seems closest to parties’ intentions when they took title); but cf. Kahnovsky v. Kahnovsky, 67 R.I. 208, 21 A.2d 569 (1941) (finding no ouster although “separation was the result of marital difference”); Barrow v. Barrow, 527 So.2d 1373 (Fla. 1988) (ex-spouses who own residence as co-tenants after final property distribution are treated just as any other co-tenants). We note that a comparable result has been achieved in New Mexico’s Second Judicial District Court through unpublished Interim Guidelines adopted in December 1984, which provide that, in the absence of a contrary order or agreement of the parties, the parties will share the costs of maintaining the households for both parties during the pendency of the divorce proceeding.


Husband had the burden of proving constructive ouster in this case. Therefore, we must sustain the district court’s ruling against husband unless the evidence at trial was such as to compel the district court to find ouster. Although the evidence of hostility between the spouses may have sustained a finding by the district court of constructive ouster, there was substantial evidence to support the inference that husband’s purpose in leaving the community residence was to live with a girl friend and his departure was the reason wife filed for divorce; he was not pushed out but pulled. Even if husband was entitled to a presumption of ouster (an issue we need not reach), that presumption would not require a finding in his favor once wife presented evidence that husband’s motive for departure was to live with another woman. See SCRA 1986, 11-301 (presumption shifts burden of production but not burden of proof). Also, the delay of several years before husband demanded any rent from wife supports an inference of abandonment of his interest in occupancy. In short, the evidence was conflicting and did not compel a finding of constructive ouster.


We recognize the ambiguity in the district court’s finding that defendant “chose to move out.” Such language could be consistent with husband’s departure being the result of marital friction, in which case there generally would be constructive ouster. On the other hand, the language could also be construed as referring to husband’s abandoning the home to live with another woman. We choose the second construction of the finding, because “[i]n the case of uncertain, doubtful or ambiguous findings, an appellate court is bound to indulge every presumption to sustain the judgment.” Ledbetter v. Webb, 103 N.M. 597, 602, 711 P.2d 874, 879 (1985). Moreover, it appeared from oral argument before this court that the issue of constructive ouster was framed in the district court in essentially the same manner as treated in this opinion. Therefore, we are comfortable in assuming that the district court applied the proper rule of law and in construing the district court’s finding compatibly with its rejection of husband’s proposed conclusion of law that there was a constructive ouster.


… .




Donnelly, Judge (specially concurring).




I concur in the result reached by the majority on each of the issues raised by appellant on appeal; I disagree, however, with the discussion concerning appellant’s claim of constructive ouster.


Appellant asserts that the trial court improperly rejected his requested finding of fact that he was constructively ousted or evicted from the family home and that he should be compensated for a portion of the reasonable monthly rental value of the residence from the time of the parties separation to the entry of the final judgment disposing of the community debts and assets. The trial court adopted a finding determining that appellant “chose to move out of the family home, and he then maintained another home where he also had his office for his business.” Appellant contends that the court’s finding is not supported by substantial evidence. Although the record contains conflicting testimony on this issue the trial court’s finding is supported by substantial evidence.


An “ouster” is a wrongful dispossession or exclusion of a party from real property and involves proof of intent of one party to exclude another. Hamilton v. MacDonald, 503 F.2d 1138 (9th Cir.1974); Mastbaum v. Mastbaum, 126 N.J. Eq. 366, 9 A.2d 51 (1939). A party seeking to establish the fact of ouster must prove that he has unequivocally been deprived of the right to the common and equal possession and enjoyment of the property. See Young v. Young, 37 Md. App. 211, 376 A.2d 1151 (1977). Generally, ouster may not be presumed solely from the fact that one party is in possession of the property. Barrow v. Barrow, 527 So.2d 1373 (Fla. 1988). Similarly, a cotenant in possession of property is not liable to another cotenant for a portion of the fair rental value of the occupied property, except where he has agreed to pay, deprived the other of possession, or has used the property so as to constructively exclude the other cotenant from its use or enjoyment. See Chance v. Kitchell, 99 N.M. 443, 659 P.2d 895 (1983); Keeler v. McNeir, 184 Okl. 244, 86 P.2d 1004 (1939); Roberts v. Roberts, 584 P.2d 378 (Utah 1978); In re Marriage of Maxfield, 47 Wash. App. 699, 737 P.2d 671 (1987). “Exclusive use,” which means no more than one cotenant using the entire property, requires either an act of exclusion or a use of such nature that it necessarily prevents another cotenant from exercising his rights in the property. Young v. Young. Generally there can be no holding adversely or ouster by one cotenant unless the fact of such exclusive holding is communicated or made known to the other. Barrow v. Barrow.


Where the parties have separated and one spouse retains exclusive possession of the community residence pending entry of the final decree of divorce, such occupancy, if tantamount to an ouster or constructive eviction, may render the spouse who retains possession of the property liable to the other for a portion of the reasonable rental value. Hertz v. Hertz, 99 N.M. 320, 657 P.2d 1169 (1983). If the evidence, however, supports a finding that one party elected to move out of the community residence, absent conduct and an intent on the part of the remaining party to exclude the other from the property, denial of a claim of ouster or constructive eviction is proper.


The term “constructive eviction” most commonly arises in the context of a landlord and tenant relationship. See Santrizos v. Public Drug Co., 143 Minn. 222, 173 N.W. 563 (1919). For the acts of one party to constitute a constructive eviction of another, there must be an injurious interference with one party’s possession, substantial deprivation of the party’s beneficial use of the premises, and such impairment of the party’s right to reasonable use of the premises that he is compelled to vacate the property. See Ben Har Holding Corp. v. Fox, 147 Misc. 300, 263 N.Y.S. 695 (1933). Where one party is forced to leave the home because of violent conduct of the other, such fact may give rise to a finding of ouster. See Young v. Young. In situations where the property is not adaptable to double occupancy, occupancy of the property by one party where rancor or hostility exists to the degree that one or the other must vacate the property may give rise to a basis for finding a constructive ouster. Newman v. Chase, 70 N.J. 254, 359 A.2d 474 (1976). See Cummings v. Anderson, 94 Wash.2d 135, 614 P.2d 1283 (1980); see also Annotation, Accountability of Cotenants for Rents and Profits or Use and Occupation, 51 A.L.R.2d 388, at § 15 (1957).


No presumption of constructive ouster or eviction arises from the mere fact that one spouse has left the marital residence and the other remains in possession. Proof of occupancy of realty by one party, without more, does not render a tenant liable to a cotenant for use of the property because each has a right to occupy the premises. In re Estate of Lopez, 106 N.M. 157, 740 P.2d 707 (Ct.App. 1987). See also NMSA 1978, § 40-3-3 (Repl. 1986); Oliver v. Oliver,710 S.W.2d 942 (Mo. App. 1986). Each case must be decided under the facts of that particular case.


The finding of the trial court determining that appellant was not ousted from the community residence is supported by substantial evidence; thus denial of appellant’s requested finding of fact seeking an award of the rental value of the community residence during the separation was proper. See Holloway v. New Mexico Office Furniture, 99 N.M. 525, 660 P.2d 615 (Ct.App. 1983).



Brewer v. Washingtn RSA No. 8 Limited Partnership,

184 P.3d 860 (Ida. 2008)




Clark & Feeney, Lewiston, for appellants. Paul Thomas Clark argued.


Creason, Moore, Dokken, PLLC, Lewiston, for respondents. Mark Moorer argued.




Burdick, Justice




Brothers William and Robert Brewer (the Brewers) are tenants in common with their aunt, Madlynn Kinzer, and other family members of property located on Moscow Mountain, Latah County. The Brewers each own a collective, undivided one-sixth interest in the property, and Kinzer owns an undivided, one-third interest in the property. The other family members own the remaining interests.


Since the late 1980s, before the Brewers acquired their interest, Kinzer has acted as manager of the property. Various companies, including Inland Cellular, entered into leases with Kinzer to operate microwave communication towers on the property. Inland Cellular’s lease is for the use of a specific fifty feet square portion of the property and an easement to access that parcel. The Brewers never authorized Kinzer to enter into any of the leases, and prior to signing the leases, Kinzer never spoke with her nephews regarding the leases. Kinzer sent the Brewers their share of the proceeds from many of the leases; however, Kinzer retained all of the proceeds from the lease with Inland Cellular as her fee for managing the property. Although the Brewers requested copies of the leases from Kinzer, she did not send them.


Subsequently, the Brewers brought this action against Kinzer, the other tenants in common and the various lease holders for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, constructive fraud, accounting, rescission of leases, and unjust enrichment. The district court granted Inland Cellular’s motion for summary judgment as to the Brewers’ claim for unjust enrichment. It also determined that the Brewers were not entitled to rescind the Inland Cellular lease, as partition was their exclusive remedy. The Brewers appealed.


… .


The Brewers assert that as a matter of law, in order to make a binding lease all tenants must act, and an unauthorized lease is without force and is invalid; co-tenants may void unauthorized leases and may regard the lessee as a trespasser. Therefore, they argue, it was error for the district court to determine partition was their sole remedy.


We hold the district court erred when it determined that partition was the sole remedy. When deciding the various motions for summary judgment, the district court noted that the Brewers had not ratified the lease with Inland Cellular, as they had done with other lessees. Nonetheless, it determined the Brewers were not entitled to rescission of that lease, as partition of the tenancy in common was their exclusive remedy. Since the Brewers had not sought partition of the property, the court granted summary judgment to Inland Cellular.


Although a co-tenant has the right to lease their individual interest in the common property, a co-tenant has no power to lease the entire estate or a specific portion of the entire estate without the consent of the other tenants. 20 Am.Jur.2d Cotenancy & Joint Ownership § 100 (2005). An ousted co-tenant has three available remedies under Idaho law. Such a contract may be voidable by the non-leasing tenants in common. See id. Excluded tenants in common may also seek the fair rental value of common property. See Cox v. Cox, 138 Idaho 881, 886, 71 P.3d 1028, 1033 (2003). Finally, co-tenants ousted by the lease of the common property (or some portion thereof) to another party by one co-tenant may seek partition of the property. See I.C. § 6-501 et seq.; Morga v. Friedlander, 140 Ariz. 206, 680 P.2d 1267, 1270 (1984); Jackson v. Low Cost Auto Parts, 25 Ariz.App. 515, 544 P.2d 1116, 1117-18 (1976); Quinlan Invest. Co. v. Meehan Cos., 171 Mich.App. 635, 430 N.W.2d 805, 808 (1988); Bangen v. Bartelson, 553 N.W.2d 754, 759 (N.D.1996); Carr v. Deking, 52 Wash.App. 880, 765 P.2d 40, 43 (1988); see also 20 Am.Jur.2d Cotenancy & Joint Ownership § 101 (2005). Each of these remedies is equitable in nature, and the district court must examine all the interests involved before determining which remedy is appropriate for the situation.


Here, the Inland Cellular lease was for a specific portion of the land to the exclusion of other co-tenants. Although the lease is binding between Kinzer, Inland Cellular and the co-tenants who ratified the lease, the Brewers may seek rescission of the lease as a potential remedy. However, because the district court determined that partition was the exclusive remedy, it failed to balance the equities to determine if rescission was the appropriate remedy. As such, we vacate the district court’s decision and remand the case for the district court to consider whether rescission is the appropriate remedy in this instance.




J. Jones, J., specially concurring.




I concur in the Court’s opinion but think it appropriate to mention an issue not particularly addressed by the parties – the timeliness of the Brewers’ action.


The Brewers acquired their interest in the real property at issue pursuant to a probate decree dated July 6, 1992. The Inland Cellular lease was entered into on January 27, 1995, with a five-year term and a five-year renewal option. The lease appears to have been twice renewed, because counsel notified the Court in oral argument that the lease was then in effect. The Brewers began raising questions about the various property leases after the summer of 2000. This lawsuit was filed on June 15, 2001, during the first renewal period of this lease. It does appear that the Brewers tried, without much success, to find out what was going on with the property prior to filing their suit. However, it would seem that they could have exercised substantially more diligence in their efforts. After all, Kinzer began entering into leases for the property in 1978 and continued without apparent question until the fall of 2000. After the Brewers acquired their interest in the property in 1992 and throughout the remainder of the 1990’s, inquiry would have shown that Kinzer had leased the property for a number of communication facilities. A visit to the property would likely have disclosed the existence of several communication facilities. There is no indication that Inland Cellular’s predecessor in interest attempted to conceal the construction of its facility on the property. Things that come to mind at this point are concepts such as laches or the weighing of equities.


While Inland Cellular’s predecessor should have obtained the approval of all tenants in common when it negotiated the lease for the property, the inordinate passage of time, combined with the construction and operation of the facility on the property, will make this a difficult situation to unwind. This is not an issue that can be determined on this appeal, but it is one that will hopefully be fully aired on remand.





4.2. Joint Tenancies


Riddle v. Harmon,

102 Cal.App.3d 524 (Cal. App. 1980).




Jack C. Hamson, Ukiah, for plaintiff and respondent.


Farella, Braun & Martel by Jon F. Hartung, Richard J. Hicks, San Francisco, for defendant and appellant.




Pochee, Associate Justice.


We must decide whether Frances Riddle, now deceased, unilaterally terminated a joint tenancy by conveying her interest from herself as joint tenant to herself as tenant in common. The trial court determined, via summary judgment quieting title to her widower, that she did not. The facts follow.


Mr. and Mrs. Riddle purchased a parcel of real estate, taking title as joint tenants. Several months before her death, Mrs. Riddle retained an attorney to plan her estate. After reviewing pertinent documents, he advised her that the property was held in joint tenancy and that, upon her death, the property would pass to her husband. Distressed upon learning this, she requested that the joint tenancy be terminated so that she could dispose of her interest by will. As a result, the attorney prepared a grant deed whereby Mrs. Riddle granted to herself an undivided one-half interest in the subject property. The document also provided that “The purpose of this Grant Deed is to terminate those joint tenancies formerly existing between the Grantor, FRANCES P. RIDDLE, and JACK C. RIDDLE, her husband. …” He also prepared a will disposing of Mrs. Riddle’s interest in the property. Both the grant deed and will were executed on December 8, 1975. Mrs. Riddle died 20 days later.


The court below refused to sanction her plan to sever the joint tenancy and quieted title to the property in her husband. The executrix of the will of Frances Riddle appeals from that judgment.


The basic concept of a joint tenancy is that it is one estate which is taken jointly. Under the common law, four unities were essential to the creation and existence of an estate in joint tenancy: interest, time, title and possession. (Tenhet v. Boswell (1976) 18 Cal.3d 150, 155, 133 Cal.Rptr. 10, 554 P.2d 330.)If one of the unities was destroyed, a tenancy in common remained.(Id.) Severance of the joint tenancy extinguishes the principal feature of that estate, the Jus accrescendi or right of survivorship. This “right” is a mere expectancy that arises “only upon success in the ultimate gamble survival and then only if the unity of the estate has not theretofore been destroyed by voluntary conveyance …, by partition proceedings …, by involuntary alienation under an execution …, or by any other action which operates to sever the joint tenancy.” (Id., at pp. 155-156, 133 Cal.Rptr. at p. 14, 554 P.2d at p. 334, citations omitted.)


An indisputable right of each joint tenant is the power to convey his or her separate estate by way of gift or otherwise without the knowledge or consent of the other joint tenant and to thereby terminate the joint tenancy. (Delanoy v. Delanoy (1932) 216 Cal. 23, 26, 13 P.2d 513; Estate of Harris (1937) 9 Cal.2d 649, 658, 72 P.2d 873; Wilk v. Vencill (1947) 30 Cal.2d 104, 108-109, 180 P.2d 351.)If a joint tenant conveys to a stranger and that person reconveys to the same tenant, then no revival of the joint tenancy occurs because the unities are destroyed. (Hammond v. McArthur (1947) 30 Cal.2d 512, 183 P.2d 1; Comments, Severance of Joint Tenancy in California (1957) 8 Hastings L.J. 290, 291.)The former joint tenants become tenants in common.


At common law, one could not create a joint tenancy in himself and another by a direct conveyance. It was necessary for joint tenants to acquire their interests at the same time (unity of time) and by the same conveyancing instrument (unity of title). So, in order to create a valid joint tenancy where one of the proposed joint tenants already owned an interest in the property, it was first necessary to convey the property to a disinterested third person, a “strawman,” who then conveyed the title to the ultimate grantees as joint tenants. This remains the prevailing practice in some jurisdictions. Other states, including California, have disregarded this application of the unities requirement “as one of the obsolete ‘subtle and arbitrary distinctions and niceties of the feudal common law,’ (and allow the creation of a valid joint tenancy without the use of a strawman).” (4 A. Powell on Real Property (1979) p. 616, p. 670, citation omitted.)


By amendment to its Civil Code,1 California became a pioneer in allowing the Creation of a joint tenancy by direct transfer. Under authority of Civil Code section 683, a joint tenancy conveyance may be made from a “sole owner to himself and others,” or from joint owners to themselves and others as specified in the code. (See Bowman, Real Estate Law in California (4th ed. 1975) p. 105.) The purpose of the amendment was to “avoid the necessity of making a conveyance through a dummy” in the statutorily enumerated situations. (Appendix to Journal of the Senate, California, Reg.Sess. 1955, Vol. 2, Third Progress Report to the Legislature, March 1955, p. 54.) Accordingly, in California, it is no longer necessary to use a strawman to Create A joint tenancy. (Donovan v. Donovan (1963) 223 Cal.App.2d 691, 697, 36 Cal.Rptr. 225.)This court is now asked to reexamine whether a strawman is required to terminate a joint tenancy.


Twelve years ago, in Clark v. Carter (1968) 265 Cal.App.2d 291, 295, 70 Cal.Rptr. 923, the Court of Appeal considered the same question and found the strawman to be indispensable. As in the instant case, the joint tenants in Clark were husband and wife. The day before Mrs. Clark died, she executed two documents without her husband’s knowledge or consent: (1) a quitclaim deed conveying her undivided half interest in certain real property from herself as joint tenant to herself as tenant in common, and (2) an assignment of her undivided half interest in a deed of trust from herself as joint tenant to herself as tenant in common. These documents were held insufficient to sever the joint tenancy.


After summarizing joint tenancy principles, the court reasoned that “(U)nder California law, a transfer of property presupposes participation by at least two parties, namely, a grantor and a grantee. Both are essential to the efficacy of a deed, and they cannot be the same person. A transfer of property requires that title be conveyed by one living person to another. (Civ.Code, s 1039.) … (P) Foreign authority also exists to the effect that a person cannot convey to himself alone, and if he does so, he still holds under the original title. (P) Similarly, it was the common law rule that in every property conveyance there be a grantor, a grantee, and a thing granted. Moreover, the grantor could not make himself the grantee by conveying an estate to himself.”(Clark, supra, at pp. 295-296, 70 Cal.Rptr. at pp. 926, 927, citations omitted.)


That “two-to-transfer” notion stems from the English common law feoffment ceremony with livery of seisin. (Swenson and Degnon, Severance of Joint Tenancies (1954) 33 Minn.L.Rev. 466, 467.)If the ceremony took place upon the land being conveyed, the grantor (feoffor) would hand a symbol of the land, such as a lump of earth or a twig, to the grantee (feoffee). (Burby, Real Property (3d ed. 1966) p. 281.) In order to complete the investiture of seisin it was necessary that the feoffor completely relinquish possession of the land to the feoffee. (Moynihan, Preliminary Survey of the Law of Real Property (1940) p. 86.) It is apparent from the requirement of livery of seisin that one could not enfeoff oneself that is, one could not be both grantor and grantee in a single transaction. Handing oneself a dirt clod is ungainly. Just as livery of seisin has become obsolete,2 so should ancient vestiges of that ceremony give way to modern conveyancing realities.


“We are given to justifying our tolerance for anachronistic precedents by rationalizing that they have engendered so much reliance as to preclude their liquidation. Sometimes, however, we assume reliance when in fact it has been dissipated by the patent weakness of the precedent. Those who plead reliance do not necessarily practice it.”(Traynor, No Magic Words Could Do It Justice (1961) 49 Cal.L.Rev. 615, 622-623.)Thus, undaunted by the Clark case, resourceful attorneys have worked out an inventory of methods to evade the rule that one cannot be both grantor and grantee simultaneously.


The most familiar technique for unilateral termination is use of an intermediary “strawman” blessed in the case of Burke v. Stevens (1968) 264 Cal.App.2d 30, 70 Cal.Rptr. 87. There, Mrs. Burke carried out a secret plan to terminate a joint tenancy that existed between her husband and herself in certain real property. The steps to accomplish this objective involved: (1) a letter written from Mrs. Burke to her attorney directing him to prepare a power of attorney naming him as her attorney in fact for the purpose of terminating the joint tenancy; (2) her execution and delivery of the power of attorney; (3) her attorney’s execution and delivery of a quitclaim deed conveying Mrs. Burke’s interest in the property to a third party, who was an office associate of the attorney in fact; (4) the third party’s execution and delivery of a quitclaim deed reconveying that interest to Mrs. Burke on the following day. The Burke court sanctioned this method of terminating the joint tenancy, noting at one point: “While the actions of the wife, from the standpoint of a theoretically perfect marriage, are subject to ethical criticism, and her stealthy approach to the solution of the problems facing her is not to be acclaimed, the question before this court is not what should have been done ideally in a perfect marriage, but whether the decedent and her attorneys acted in a legally permissible manner.”(Burke, supra, at p. 34, 70 Cal.Rptr. at p. 91.)


Another creative method of terminating a joint tenancy appears in Reiss v. Reiss (1941) 45 Cal.App.2d 740, 114 P.2d 718. There a trust was used. For the purpose of destroying the incident of survivorship, Mrs. Reiss transferred bare legal title to her son, as trustee of a trust for her use and benefit. The son promised to reconvey the property to his mother or to whomever she selected at any time upon her demand. (Id., at p. 746, 114 P.2d 718.)The court upheld this arrangement, stating, “(w)e are of the opinion that the clearly expressed desire of Rosa Reiss to terminate the joint tenancy arrangement was effectively accomplished by the transfer of the legal title to her son for her expressed specific purpose of having the control and the right of disposition of her half of the property.”(Id., at p. 747, 114 P.2d at p. 722.)


In view of the rituals that are available to unilaterally terminate a joint tenancy, there is little virtue in steadfastly adhering to cumbersome feudal law requirements. “It is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that so it was laid down in the time of Henry IV. It is still more revolting if the grounds upon which it was laid down have vanished long since, and the rule simply persists from blind imitation of the past.”(Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Collected Legal Papers (1920) p. 187.) Common sense as well as legal efficiency dictate that a joint tenant should be able to accomplish directly what he or she could otherwise achieve indirectly by use of elaborate legal fictions.


Moreover, this will not be the first time that a court has allowed a joint tenant to unilaterally sever a joint tenancy without the use of an intermediary. In Hendrickson v. Minneapolis Federal Sav. & L. Assn. (Minn.1968) 281 Minn. 462, 161 N.W.2d 688, decided one month after Clark, the Minnesota Supreme Court held that a tenancy in common resulted from one joint tenant’s execution of a “(D)eclaration of election to sever survivorship of joint tenancy.”No fictional transfer by conveyance and reconveyance through a strawman was required.3


Our decision does not create new powers for a joint tenant. A universal right of each joint tenant is the power to effect a severance and destroy the right of survivorship by conveyance of his or her joint tenancy interest to another “person.” (Swenson and Degnon, op. cit. supra, at p. 469.)”If an indestructible right of survivorship is desired that is, one which may not be destroyed by one tenant that may be accomplished by creating a joint life estate with a contingent remainder in fee to the survivor; a tenancy in common in simple fee with an executory interest in the survivor; or a fee simple to take effect in possession in the future.”(Swenson and Degnon, supra, at p. 469, fn. omitted.)


We discard the archaic rule that one cannot enfeoff oneself which, if applied would defeat the clear intention of the grantor. There is no question but that the decedent here could have accomplished her objective termination of the joint tenancy by one of a variety of circuitous processes. We reject the rationale of the Clark case because it rests on a common law notion whose reason for existence vanished about the time that grant deeds and title companies replaced colorful dirt clod ceremonies as the way to transfer title to real property. One joint tenant may unilaterally sever the joint tenancy without the use of an intermediary device.


The judgment is reversed.




Caldecott, P.J., and Rattigan, J., concur.


Mosk, J., and Manuel, J., are of the opinion that the petition should be granted.


  1. Civil Code section 683, as amended in 1955, provides in relevant part that:



    “A joint interest is one owned by two or more persons in equal shares, by a title created by a single will or transfer, when expressly declared in the will or transfer to be a joint tenancy, or by transfer from a sole owner to himself and others, or from tenants in common or joint tenants to themselves or some of them, or to themselves or any of them and others, or from a husband and wife, when holding title as community property or otherwise to themselves or to themselves and others or to one of them and to another or others, when expressly declared in the transfer to be a joint tenancy, or when granted or devised to executors or trustees as joint tenants.”



  1. It was not until 1845 that a statute was enacted in England making it possible for a freehold estate to be conveyed by grant deed. In America, livery of seisin was done away with long before legislative reforms were effected in the mother country. (Moynihan, op. cit, supra, at p. 87.) Maitland tells us that the physical acts involved in a feoffment grew out of a “mental incapacity, an inability to conceive that mere rights can be transferred.”(The Mystery of Seisin, 2 Law Quarterly Review 489 (1886).)


  1. In its reasoning the Hendrickson court recognized a policy disfavoring survivorship in Minnesota, noting that in modern times survivorship came to be regarded ” ‘as an “odious thing” that too often deprived a man’s heirs of their rightful inheritance (footnote omitted).’ “(Hendrickson, supra, at p. 670.)Construing the grant deed as effecting a termination of the joint tenancy will result in the concurrent estate becoming a tenancy in common. This outcome is consistent with California’s statutorily decreed preference for recognizing tenancies in common. (See Civ.Code, ss 683, 686; Tenhet v. Boswell, supra, 18 Cal.3d 150, 157, 133 Cal.Rptr. 10, 554 P.2d 330.)


    Contrary to the modern preference, at common law there was a presumption in favor of joint tenancy. This presumption was based on a desire to avoid the splitting of the feudal services due to the lord of the fee. (Moynihan, Preliminary Survey of the Law of Real Property (1940) p. 130.) Land was kept in larger tracts and thus facilitated the rendering of services to the lord. Tenancy in common, on the other hand, resulted in constant subdivision. (Swenson and Degnon, Severance of Joint Tenancies (1954) 38 Minn.L.R. 466, 503.)Another possible reason that joint tenancy was favored is that it is easier to rely on the loyalty of one man than two. (Id.) As the age of feudalism ended, the reasons for the presumption in favor of joint tenancies also ended.(Id.)




Tehnet v. Boswell,

554 P.2d 330 (Cal. 1976).




Stringham & Rogers and William J. Kadi, Tulare, for plaintiff and appellant.


James G. McCain, Corcoran, for defendant and respondent.




Mosk, Justice.


A joint tenant leases his interest in the joint tenancy property to a third person for a term of years, and dies during that term. We conclude that the lease does not sever the joint tenancy, but expires upon the death of the lessor joint tenant.


Raymond Johnson and plaintiff Hazel Tenhet owned a parcel of property as joint tenants.1 Assertedly without plaintiff’s knowledge or consent, Johnson leased the property to defendant Boswell for a period of 10 years at a rental of $150 per year with a provision granting the lessee an ‘option to purchase.’2 Johnson died some three months after execution of the lease, and plaintiff sought to establish her sole right to possession of the property as the surviving joint tenant. After an unsuccessful demand upon defendant to vacate the premises, plaintiff brought this action to have the lease declared invalid. The trial court sustained demurrers to the complaint, and plaintiff appealed from the ensuing judgment of dismissal.








Before addressing the primary issue, we must determine whether the appeal should be dismissed because of the ‘one final judgment’ rule. The problem arises from the trial court’s failure to dispose of all five causes of action set forth in the third amended complaint. The court granted a motion to strike the fourth and fifth causes and sustained demurrers to the second and third causes without leave to amend. But the court made no express ruling on the first cause of action, which sought declaratory relief and damages.


Generally, an appeal may be taken only from the final judgment in an entire action. (Gombos v. Ashe (1958) 158 Cal.App.2d 517, 520-523, 322 P.2d 933; 6 Witkin, Cal.Rpocedure (2d ed. 1971) Appeal, s 36, p. 4050.) A party may not normally appeal from a judgment on one of his causes of action if determination of any remaining cause is still pending. (U.S. Financial v. Sullivan (1974) 37 Cal.App.3d 5, 11, 112 Cal.Rptr. 18; Gombos v. Ashe, supra, 158 Cal.App.2d at pp. 520-523, 322 P.2d 933.)


However, the rule has been modified in cases in which the trial court’s failure to dispose of all causes of action results from inadvertence or mistake rather than an intention to retain the remaining causes of action for trial. The leading case of Gombos v. Ashe is a prime example. There, plaintiffs injured in an automobile accident filed a complaint setting forth two causes of action seeking compensatory damages and a third praying for punitive damages. The trial court sustained a demurrer on the punitive damage issue, and the case went to trial on the compensatory damage causes. Plaintiffs won a jury verdict, but the judgment failed to dispose of the punitive damage issue. On plaintiffs’ appeal from the ruling on that issue, the court, speaking through Justice Peters, observed that the order sustaining the demurrer was not a final judgment and thus not appealable. The normal procedure, noted the court, would be to dismiss the appeal with instructions to the trial court to amend its judgment by disposing of the punitive damage issue. However, the court continued, ‘That would then require the parties to rebrief the question as to whether the (punitive damage) cause of action stated a cause of action-the very point that is fully briefed in the briefs now on file. This seems to be an unnecessarily dilatory and circuitous method of reaching a proper result. It should not be adopted unless it is the only proper method of reaching a fair result.’(Id. at p. 524, 322 P.2d at p. 937.)


As an alternative, the Gombos appellate court itself amended the judgment on the compensatory damage verdict to include a paragraph dismissing the punitive damage cause of action. (Ibid.) The judgment on the jury verdict thus became final, and the court could properly hear the appeal. This method of preserving appeals has been routinely followed in subsequent cases. (See, e.g., Oakes v. Suelynn Corp. (1972) 24 Cal.App.3d 271, 281, 100 Cal.Rptr. 838 (where the trial court, in a damage action, properly struck a conversion count but inadvertently failed to dismiss that count in rendering judgment on a jury verdict on a separate count, judgment was amended to include such dismissal); Tsarnas v. Bailey (1960) 179 Cal.App.2d 332, 337, 3 Cal.Rptr. 629 (where the intention of the trial court was clear from its judgment on a complaint, judgment was amended to include disposition of a cross-complaint in the same action).)


The instant case also calls for application of the Gombos procedure. The trial court, apparently believing that a cause of action seeking declaratory relief could not be disposed of by judgment on the pleadings (but see 3 Witkin, Cal.Procedure (2d ed. 1971) Pleading, s 731, pp. 2351-2352), made no express ruling on the first cause of action. However, the court left no doubt that it considered plaintiff’s position insupportable. It sustained demurrers on the other causes of action based on identical facts, and stated, ‘The Court agrees with … defendant to the effect that a co-tenant may make a valid lease to the extent of his own interest even though the lease is to commence on the death of the lessor.’In these circumstances little would be gained by ordering the court to rule on the first cause of action, for the outcome is preordained. Not only is the position of the court clear, but both sides have briefed the primary issues, and both urge us to decide the case. We shall therefore amend the judgment by ruling in favor of defendant on the first cause of action seeking declaratory relief and damages. We now turn to the merits of the judgment as thus amended.








An understanding of the nature of a joint interest in this state is fundamental to a determination of the question whether the present lease severed the joint tenancy. Civil Code section 683 provides in part: ‘A joint interest is one owned by two or more persons in equal shares, by a title created by a single will or transfer, when expressly declared in the will or transfer to be a joint tenancy… .’ This statute, requiring an express declaration for the creation of joint interests, does not abrogate the common law rule that four unities are essential to an estate in joint tenancy: unity of interest, unity of time, unity of title, and unity of possession. (See Hammond v. McArthur (1947) 30 Cal.2d 512, 514, 183 P.2d 1; McDonald v. Morley (1940) 15 Cal.2d 409, 412, 101 P.2d 690; 2 Blackstone, Commentaries -182.)


The requirement of four unities reflects the basic concept that there is but one estate which is taken jointly; if an essential unity is destroyed the joint tenancy is severed and a tenancy in common results. (Swartzbaugh v. Sampson (1936) 11 Cal.App.2d 451, 454, 54 P.2d 73; 2 Am.Law of Prop. (1952) s 6.2, p. 9.) Accordingly, one of two joint tenants may unilaterally terminate the joint tenancy by conveying his interest to a third person. (Delanoy v. Delanoy (1932) 216 Cal. 23, 26, 13 P.2d 513; Green v. Skinner (1921) 185 Cal. 435, 438, 197 P. 60.)Severance of the joint tenancy, of course, extinguishes the principal feature of that estate-the Jus accrescendi or right of survivorship.3 Thus, a joint tenant’s right of survivorship is an expectancy that is not irrevocably fixed upon the creation of the estate (Gwinn v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue (1932) 287 U.S. 224, 228, 53 S.Ct. 157, 77 L.Ed. 270 (interpreting California law)); it arises only upon success in the ultimate gamble-survival-and then only if the unity of the estate has not theretofore been destroyed by voluntary conveyance (Delanoy v. Delanoy, supra), by partition proceedings (Code Civ.Proc., s 752; Teutenberg v. Schiller (1955) 138 Cal.App.2d 18, 22, 291 P.2d 53; cf. Lazzarevich v. Lazzarevich (1952) 39 Cal.2d 48, 50, 244 P.2d 1), by involuntary alienation under an execution (Young v. Hessler (1945) 72 Cal.App.2d 67, 69, 164 P.2d 65; Zeigler v. Bonnell (1942) 52 Cal.App.2d 217, 219, 126 P.2d 118), or by any other action which operates to sever the joint tenancy.


Our initial inquiry is whether the partial alienation of Johnson’s interest in the property effected a severance of the joint tenancy under these principles. It could be argued that a lease destroys the unities of interest and possession because the leasing joint tenant transfers to the lessee his present possessory interest and retains a mere reversion. (See Alexander v. Boyer (1969) 253 Md. 511, 253 A.2d 359, 365.) Moreover, the possibility that the term of the lease may continue beyond the lifetime of the lessor is inconsistent with a complete right of survivorship.


On the other hand, if the lease entered into here by Johnson and defendant is valid only during Johnson’s life, then the conveyance is more a variety of life estate Pur autre vie than a term of years. Such a result is inconsistent with Johnson’s freedom to alienate his interest during his lifetime.


We are mindful that the issue here presented is ‘an ancient controversy, going back to Coke and Littleton.’(2 Am.Law of Prop. (1952) s 6.2, p. 10.) Yet the problem is like a comet in our law: though its existence in theory has been frequently recognized, its observed passages are few.4 Some authorities support the view that a lease by a joint tenant to a third person effects a complete and final severance of the joint tenancy. (Alexander v. Boyer (Md.1969) supra, 253 Md. 511, 253 A.2d 359, 365; 2 Am.Law of Prop. (1952) s 6.2, p. 10; Freeman on Cotenancy and Partition (2d ed. 1886) s 30; Comment (1937) 25 Cal.L.Rev. 203, 208; Swenson & Degnan, Severance of Joint Tenancies (1954) 38 Minn.L.Rev. 466, 474.) Such a view is generally based upon what is thought to be the English common law rule. (See Napier v. Williams (1911) 1 Ch. 361; Cowper v. Fletcher (1865) 6 B. & S. 464, 472; Doe ex dem. Marsack v. Read (1810) 12 East 57; Gould v. Kemp (1834) 39 Eng.Rep. 959, 962; Clerk v. Clerk (1694) 23 Eng.Rep. 809; Littleton’s Tenures, s 289; Swartzbaugh v. Sampson (1936) supra, 11 Cal.App.2d 451, 454, 54 P.2d 73; Annot. (1959) 64 A.L.R.2d 918, 932; cf. Palmer v. Rich (1897) 1 Ch. 134, 142-143; but see 27 Halsbury’s Laws of England (2d ed. 1937) s 1144, p. 662, fn. (l); Co.Litt. a.)


Others adopt a position that there is a temporary severance during the term of the lease. If the lessor dies while the lease is in force, under this view the existence of the lease at the moment when the right of survivorship would otherwise take effect operates as a severance, extinguishing the joint tenancy. If, however, the term of the lease expires before the lessor, it is reasoned that the joint tenancy is undisturbed because the joint tenants resume their original relation. (See, e.g., 2 Reeves on Real Property (1909) s 680, p. 965; Comment (1937) 25 Cal.L.Rev. 203, 208-209; cf. 1 Platt on Leases (1847) pp. 130-131.) The single conclusion that can be drawn from centuries of academic speculation on the question is that its resolution is unclear.<</p>


As we shall explain, it is our opinion that a lease is not so inherently inconsistent with joint tenancy as to create a severance, either temporary or permanent. (See Hammond v. McArthur (1947) supra, 30 Cal.2d 512, 516, 183 P.2d 1 (dictum); Swartzbaugh v. Sampson (1936) supra, 11 Cal.App.2d 451, 454, 54 P.2d 73; 15 Cal.Jur.3d, Cotenancy and Joint Ownership, s 16, p. 736; 20 Am.Jur.2d, Cotenancy and Joint Ownership, s 17, p. 111; 1 Ogden’s Revised Cal. Real Property Law (1974) s 720; 1 Platt on Leases (1847) pp. 130-131; 27 Halsbury’s Laws of England (2d ed. 1937) s 1144, p. 662, fn. (l); Co.Litt. a.)


Under Civil Code sections 683 and 686 a joint tenancy must be expressly declared in the creating instrument, or a tenancy in common results. This is a statutory departure from the common law preference in favor of joint tenancy. (Abbey v. Lord (1959) 168 Cal.App.2d 499, 503, 336 P.2d 226; Reiss v. Reiss (1941) 45 Cal.App.2d 740, 747, 114 P.2d 718; Swartzbaugh v. Sampson (1936) supra, 11 Cal.App.2d 451, 454, 54 P.2d 73; see Frisbie v. Marques (1870) 39 Cal. 451, 453-454.)5 Inasmuch as the estate arises only upon express intent, and in many cases such intent will be the intent of the joint tenants themselves, we decline to find a severance in circumstances which do not clearly and unambiguously establish that either of the joint tenants desired to terminate the estate. (See Comment (1973) 61 Cal.L.Rev. 231, 248; Note (1948) 36 Cal.L.Rev. 133, 135.)


If plaintiff and Johnson did not choose to continue the joint tenancy, they might have converted it into a tenancy in common by written mutual agreement. (See, e.g., Smith v. Morton (1972) 29 Cal.App.3d 616, 621, 106 Cal.Rptr. 52; 15 Cal.Jur.3d, Cotenancy and Joint Ownership, s 15, p. 733; 20 Am.Jur.2d, Cotenancy and Joint Ownership, s 19, p. 112.) They might also have jointly conveyed the property to a third person and divided the proceeds. Even if they could not agree to act in concert, either plaintiff or Johnson might have severed the joint tenancy, with or without the consent of the other, by an act which was clearly indicative of an intent to terminate, such as a conveyance of her or his entire interest. Either might also have brought an action to partition the property, which, upon judgment, would have effected a severance. Because a joint tenancy may be created only by express intent, and because there are alternative and unambiguous means of altering the nature of that estate, we hold that the lease here in issue did not operate to sever the joint tenancy.








Having concluded that the joint tenancy was not severed by the lease and that sole ownership of the property therefore vested in plaintiff upon her joint tenant’s death by operation of her right of survivorship, we turn next to the issue whether she takes the property unencumbered by the lease.


In arguing that plaintiff takes subject to the lease, defendant relies on Swartzbaugh v. Sampson (1936) supra, 11 Cal.App.2d 451, 54 P.2d 73.In that case, one of two joint tenants entered into lease agreements over the objection of his joint tenant wife, who sought to cancel the leases. The court held in favor of the lessor joint tenant, concluding that the leases were valid.


But the suit to cancel the lease in Swartzbaugh was brought during the lifetime of both joint tenants, not as in the present case after the death of the lessor. Significantly, the court concluded that ‘a lease to all of the joint property by one joint tenant is not a nullity but is a valid and supportable contract In so far as the interest of the lessor in the joint property is concerned.’(Italics added; Id. at p. 458, 54 P.2d at p. 77.)During the lifetime of the lessor joint tenant, as the Swartzbaugh court perceived, her interest in the joint property was an undivided interest in fee simple that encompassed the right to lease the property.


By the very nature of joint tenancy, however, the interest of the nonsurviving joint tenant extinguishes upon his death. And as the lease is valid only ‘in so far as the interest of the lessor in the joint property is concerned,’ it follows that the lease of the joint tenancy property also expires when the lessor dies.


This conclusion is borne out by decisions in this state involving liens on and mortgages of joint tenancy property. In Zeigler v. Bonnell (1942) supra, 52 Cal.App.2d 217, 126 P.2d 118, the Court of Appeal ruled that a surviving joint tenant takes an estate free from a judgment lien on the interest of a deceased cotenant judgment debtor. The court reasoned that ‘The right of survivorship is the chief characteristic that distinguishes a joint tenancy from other interests in property… . The judgment lien of (the creditor) could attach only to the interest of his debtor …. That interest terminated upon (the debtor’s) death.’ (Id. at pp. 219-220, 126 P.2d at p. 119.)After his death ‘the deceased joint tenant had no interest in the property, and his judgment creditor has no greater rights.’(Id. at p. 220, 126 P.2d at p. 120.)


A similar analysis was followed in People v. Nogarr (1958) 164 Cal.App.2d 591, 330 P.2d 858, which held that upon the death of a joint tenant who had executed a mortgage on the tenancy property, the surviving joint tenant took the property free of the mortgage. The court reasoned (at p. 594, 330 P.2d at p. 861) that ‘as the mortgage lien attached only to such interest as (the deceased joint tenant) had in the real property(,) when his interest ceased to exist the lien of the mortgage expired with it.’(Accord, Hamel v. Gootkin (1962) 202 Cal.App.2d 27, 20 Cal.Rptr. 372 (applying the Nogarr holding to a trust deed).)


As these decisions demonstrate, a joint tenant may, during his lifetime, grant certain rights in the joint property without severing the tenancy. But when such a joint tenant dies his interest dies with him, and any encumbrances placed by him on the property become unenforceable against the surviving joint tenant. For the reasons stated a lease falls within this rule.


Any other result would defeat the justifiable expectations of the surviving joint tenant. Thus if A agrees to create a joint tenancy with B, A can reasonably anticipate that when B dies A will take an unencumbered interest in fee simple. During his lifetime, of course, B may sever the tenancy or lease his interest to a third party. But to allow B to lease for a term continuing After his death would indirectly defeat the very purposes of the joint tenancy. For example, for personal reasons B might execute a 99-year lease on valuable property for a consideration of one dollar a year. A would then take a fee simple on B’s death, but would find his right to use the property-and its market value-substantially impaired. This circumstance would effectively nullify the benefits of the right of survivorship, the basic attribute of the joint tenancy.


On the other hand, we are not insensitive to the potential injury that may be sustained by a person in good faith who leases from one joint tenant. In some circumstances a lessee might be unaware that his lessor is not a fee simple owner but merely a joint tenant, and could find himself unexpectedly evicted when the lessor dies prior to expiration of the lease. This result would be avoided by a prudent lessee who conducts a title search prior to leasing, but we appreciate that such a course would often be economically burdensome to the lessee of a residential dwelling or a modest parcel of property. Nevertheless, it must also be recognized that every lessee may one day face the unhappy revelation that his lessor’s estate in the leased property is less than a fee simple. For example, a lessee who innocently rents from the holder of a life estate is subject to risks comparable to those imposed upon a lessee of joint tenancy properly.


More significantly, we cannot allow extraneous factors to erode the functioning of joint tenancy. The estate of joint tenancy is firmly embedded in centuries of real property law and in the California statute books. Its crucial element is the right of survivorship, a right that would be more illusory than real if a joint tenant were permitted to lease for a term continuing after his death. Accordingly, we hold that under the facts alleged in the complaint the lease herein is no longer valid.


It is ordered that the judgment dated June 18, 1973, be and it is hereby amended to read as follows:



It is ordered, adjudged and decreed that Defendant, W. W. Boswell, Jr., have judgment against Plaintiff of dismissal of said First, Second and Third Causes of Action of said Third Amended Complaint and the Plaintiff, with respect to said defendant, take nothing by said First, Second and Third Causes of Action of said Third Amended Complaint.



As amended, the judgment is reversed.




Wright,, C.J., and McComb, Tobriner, Clark and Richardson, JJ., concur.


  1. An ‘Affidavit-Death of Joint Tenant,’ executed by plaintiff and appended as an exhibit to plaintiff’s third amended complaint, indicates that the property was acquired by a joint tenancy deed ‘executed by Jettie N. Johnson to Raymond Johnson and Hazel Johnson (now known as Hazel Tenhet) as joint tenants.’Plaintiff avers by the same document that the value of the property, which allegedly includes a dwelling house and lot, did not exceed $3,500 at the time of the death of the lessor in 1971.


  1. The lease did not disclose that the lessor possessed only a joint interest in the property. To the contrary, the ‘option to purchase’ granted to the lessee, which might more accurately be described as a right of first refusal, implied that the lessor possessed a fee simple. It provided in part: ‘Lessee is given a first exclusive right, privilege and option to purchase the house and lot covered by this lease… . ( ) If so purchased, Lessor will convey title by grant deed on the usual form subject only to easements or rights of way of record and liens or encumbrances specifically agreed to by and between Lessor and Lessee. ( ) Lessor shall furnish Lessee with a policy of title insurance at Lessor’s cost… .’


  1. The rule is, Nihil de re accrescit ei, qui nihil in re quando jus accrescerit habet. (2 Co.Litt.) Literally, no part of the estate accrues to him who has nothing in the estate when the right accrues. In modern parlance, what you have is what you get.


  1. For discussions of the question, see, e.g., Comment (1973) 61 Cal.L.Rev. 231; Comment (1937) 25 Cal.L.Rev. 203, 206-209; Swenson & Degnan, Severance of Joint Tenancies (1954) 38 Minn.L.Rev. 466, 472-474; Comment (1957) 8 Hastings L.J. 290, 293; Comment (1948) 21 So.Cal.L.Rev. 295, 297; 2 Tiffany, The Law of Real Property (3d ed. 1939) section 425, page 210.


  1. Because the feudal system was opposed to a division of tenures, estates in joint tenancy were favored at common law. Like the laws of primogeniture, joint tenancy was founded ‘on the principle of the aggregation of landed estates in the hands of a few, and opposed to their division among many persons.’(Siberell v. Siberell (1932) 214 Cal. 767, 771, 7 P.2d 1003, 1004 quoting DeWitt v. San Francisco (1852) 2 Cal. 289, 297.)Despite the obsolescence of its original purpose, the estate of joint tenancy remains a popular form of property ownership in California (see Griffith, Community Property in Joint Tenancy Form (1961) 14 Stan.L.Rev. 87, 88-89) on the ground that it avoids the delay and administrative expenses of probate.






4.3. Tenancies by the Entirety


Sawada v. Endo,

57 Haw. 608 (1977)




Andrew S. Hartnett, Honolulu, for plaintiffs-appellants.


George M. Takane, Eichi Oki, Honolulu, for defendants-appellees.


Before Richardson, C. J., and Kobayashi, Ogata, Menor and Kidwell, JJ.




Menor, Justice




This is a civil action brought by the plaintiffs-appellants, Masako Sawada and Helen Sawada, in aid of execution of money judgments in their favor, seeking to set aside a conveyance of real property from judgment debtor Kokichi Endo to Samuel H. Endo and Toru Endo, defendants-appellees herein, on the ground that the conveyance as to the Sawadas was fraudulent.


On November 30, 1968, the Sawadas were injured when struck by a motor vehicle operated by Kokichi Endo. On June 17, 1969, Helen Sawada filed her complaint for damages against Kokichi Endo. Masako Sawada Fied her suit against him on August 13, 1969. The complaint and summons in each case was served on Kokichi Endo on October 29, 1969.


On the date of the accident, Kokichi Endo was the owner, as a tenant by the entirety with his wife, Ume Endo, of a parcel of real property situate at Wahiawa, Oahu, Hawaii. By deed, dated July 26, 1969, Kokichi Endo and his wife conveyed the property to their sons, Samuel H. Endo and Toru Endo. This document was recorded in the Bureau of Conveyances on December 17, 1969. No consideration was paid by the grantees for the conveyance. Both were aware at the time of the conveyance that their father had been involved in an accident, and that he carried no liability insurance. Kokichi Endo and Ume Endo, while reserving no life interests therein, continued to reside on the premises.


On January 19, 1971, after a consolidated trial on the merits, judgment was entered in favor of Helen Sawada and against Kokichi Endo in the sum of $8,846.46. At the same time, Masako Sawada was awarded judgment on her complaint in the amount of $16,199.28. Ume Endo, wife of Kokichi Endo, on January 29, 1971. She was survived by her husband, Kokichi. Subsequently, after being frustrated in their attempts to obtain satisfaction of judgment from the personal property of Kokichi Endo, the Sawadas brought suit to set aside the conveyance which is the subject matter of this controversy. The trial court refused to set aside the conveyance, and the Sawadas appeal.








The determinative question in this case is, whether the interest of one spouse in real property, held in tenancy by the entireties, is subject to levy and execution by his or her individual creditors. This issue is one of first impression in this jurisdiction.


A brief review of the present state of the tenancy by the entirety might be helpful. Dean Phipps, writing in 1951,1 pointed out that only nineteen states and the District of Columbia continued to recognize it as a valid and subsisting institution in the field of property law. Phipps divided these jurisdictions into four groups. He made no mention of Alaska and Hawaii, both of which were then territories of the United States.


In the Group I states (Massachusetts, Michigan, and North Carolina) the estate is essentially the common law tenancy by the entireties, unaffected by the Married Women’s Property Acts. As at common law, the possession and profits of the estate are subject to the husband’s exclusive dominion and control. In all three states, as at common law, the husband may convey the entire estate subject only to the possibility that the wife may become entitled to the whole estate upon surviving him. As at common law, the obverse as to the wife does not hold true. Only in Massachusetts, however, is the estate in its entirety subject to levy by the husband’s creditors. In both Michigan and North Carolina, the use and income from the estate is not subject to levy during the marriage for the separate debts of either spouse.


In the Group II states (Alaska, Arkansas, New Jersey, New York, and Oregon) the interest of the debtor spouse in the estate may be sold or levide upon for his or her separate debts, subject to the other spouse’s contingent right of survivorship. Alaska, which has been added to this group, has provided by statute that the interest of a debtor spouse in any type of estate, except a homestead as defined and held in tenancy by the entirety, shall be subject to his or her separate debts.


In the Group III jurisdictions (Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming) an attempted conveyance by either spouse is wholly void, and the estate may not be subjected to the separate debts of one spouse only.


In Group IV, the two states of Kentucky and Tennessee hold that the contingent right of survivorship appertaining to either spouse is separately alienable by him and attachable by his creditiors during the marriage. The use and profits, however, may neither be alienated nor attached during coverture.


It appears, therefore, that Hawaii is the only jurisdiction still to be heard from on the question. Today we join that group of states and the District of Columbia which hold that under the Married Women’s Property Acts the interest of a husband or a wife in an estate by the entireties is not subject to the claims of his or her individual creditors during the joint lives of the spouses. In so doing, we are placing our stamp of approval upon what is apparently the prevailing view of the lower courts of this jurisdiction.


Hawaii has long recognized and continues to recoginized the tenancy in common, the joint tenancy, and the tenancy by the entirety, as separate and distinct estates. See Paahana v. Bila, 3 Haw. 725 (1876). That the Married Women’s Property Act of 1888 was not intended to abolish the tenancy by the entirety was made clear by the language of Act 19 of the Session Laws of Hawaii, 1903 (now HRS s 509-1). See also HRS s 509-2. The tenancy by the entirety is predicated upon the legal unity of husband and wife, and the estate is held by them in single ownership. They do not take by moieties, but both and each are seized of the whole estate. Lang v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, 289 U.S. 109 (1933).


A joint tenant has a specific, albeit undivided, interest in the property, and if he survives his cotenant he becomes the owner of a larger interest than he had prior to the death of the other joint tenant. But tenants by the entirety are each deemed to be seized of the entirety from the time of the creation of the estate. At common law, this taking of the ‘Whole estate’ did not have the real significance that it does today, insofar as the rights of the wife in the property were concerned. For all practical purposes, the wife had no right during coverture to the use and enjoyment and exercise of ownership in the marital estate. All she possessed was her contingent right of survivorship.


The effect of the Married Women’s Property Acts was to abrogate the husband’s common law dominance over the marital estate and to place the wife on a level of equality with him as regards the exercise of ownership over the whole estate. The tenancy was and still is predicated upon the legal unity of husband and wife, but the Acts converted it into a unity of equals and not of unequals as at common law.Otto F. Stifel’s Union Brewing Co. v. Saxy, supra;Lang v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, supra. No longer could the husband convey, lease, mortgage or otherwise encumber the property without her consent. The Acts confirmed her right to the use and enjoyment of the whole estate, and all the privileges that ownership of property confers, including the right to convey the property in its entirety, jointly with her husband, during the marriage relation. They also had the effect of insulating the wife’s interest in the estate from the separate debts of her husband.


Neither husband nor wife has a separate divisible interest in the property held by the entirety that can be conveyed or reached by execution. A joint tenancy may be destroyed by voluntary alienation, or by levy and execution, or by compulsory partition, but a tenancy by the entirety may not. The indivisibility of the estate, except by joint action of the spouses, is an indispensable feature of the tenancy by the entirety.


In Jordan v. Reynolds, the Maryland court held that no lien could attach against entirety property for the separate debts of the husband, for that would be in derogation of the entirety of title in the spouses and would be tantamount to a conversion of the tenancy into a joint tenancy or tenancy in common. In holding that the spouses could jointly convey the property, free of any judgment liens against the husband, the court said:



To hold the judgment to be a lien at all against this property, and the right of execution suspended during the life of the wife, and to be enforced on thee death of the wife, would, we think, likewise encumber her estate, and be in contravention of the constitutional provision heretofore mentioned, protecting the wife’s property from the husband’s debts.


It is clear, we think if the judgment here is declared a lien, but suspended during the life of the wife, and not enforceable until her death, if the husband should survive the wife, it will defeat the sale here made by the husband and wife to the purchaser, and thereby make the wife’s property liable for the debts of her husband.



105 Md. at 295, 296, 66 A. at 39.


In Hurd v. Hughes, the Delaware court, recognizing the peculiar nature of an estate by the entirety, in that the husband and wife are the owners, not merely of equal interests but of the whole estate, stated:



The estate (by the entireties) can be acquired or held only by a man and woman while married. Each spouse owns the whole while both live; neither can sell any interest except with the other’s consent, and by their joint act; anc at the death of either the other continues to own the whole, and does not acquire any new interest from the other. There can be no partition between them. From this is deduced the indivisibility and unseverability of the estate into two interests, and hence that the creditors of either spouse cannot during their joint lives reach by execution any interest which the debtor had in land so held… . One may have doubts as to whether the holding of land by entireties is advisable or in harmony with the spirit of the legislation in favor of married women; but when such an estate is created due effect must be given to its peculiar characteristics.



12 Del.Ch. at 190, 109 A. at 419.


In Frost v. Frost, the Missouri court said:



Under the facts of the case at bar it is not necessary for us to decide whether or not under our married women’s statutes the husband has been shorn of the exclusive right to the possession and control of the property held as an estate in entirety; it is sufficient to say, as we do say, that the title in such an estate is as it was at common law; neither husband nor wife has an interest in the property, to the exclusion of the other. Each owns the whole while both live and at the death of either the other continues to own the whole, freed from the claim of any one claiming under or through the deceased.



200 Mo. at 483, 98 S.W. at 528, 529.


We are not persuaded by the argument that it would be unfair to the creditors of either spouse to hold that the estate by the entirety may not, without the consent of both spouses, be levied upon for the separate debts of either spouse. No unfairness to the creditor in involved here. We agree with the court in Hurd v. Hughes:



But creditors are not entitled to special consideration. If the debt arose prior to the creation of the estate, the property was not a basis of credit, and if the debt arose subsequently the creditor presumably had notice of the characteristics of the estate which limited his right to reach the property.



12 Del.Ch. at 193, 109 A. at 420.


We might also add that there is obviously nothing to prevent the creditor from insisting upon the subjection of property held in tenancy by the entirety as a condition precedent to the extension of credit. Further, the creation of a tenancy by the entirety may not be used as a device to defraud existing creditors. In re Estate of Wall, 440 F.2d 215 (1971).


Were we to view the matter strictly from the standpoint of public policy, we would still be constrained to hold as we have done here today. In Fairclaw v. Forrest, the court makes this observation:



The interest in family solidarity retains some influence upon the institution (of tenancy by the entirety). It is available only to husband and wife. It is a convenient mode of protecting a surviving spouse from inconvenient administration of the decedent’s estate and from the other’s improvident debts. It is in that protection the estate finds its peculiar and justifiable function.



130 F.2d at 833.


It is a matter of common knowledge that the demand for single-family residential lots has increased rapidly in recent years, and the magnitude of the problem is emphasized by the concentration of the bulk of fee simple land in the hands of a few. The shortage of single-family residential fee simple property is critical and government has seen fit to attempt to alleviate the problem through legislation. When a family can afford to own real property, it becomes their single most important asset. Encumbered as it usually is by a first mortgage, the fact remains that so long as it remains whole during the joint lives of the spouses, it is always available in its entirety for the benefit and use of the entire family. Loans for education and other emergency expenses, for example, may be obtained on the security of the marital estate. This would not be possible where a third party has become a tenant in common or a joint tenant with one of the spouses, or where the ownership of the contingent right of survivorship of one of the spouses in a third party has cast a cloud upon the title of the marital estate, making it virtually impossible to utilize the estate for these purposes.


If we were to select between a public policy favoring the creditors of one of the spouses and one favoring the interests of the family unit, we would not hesitate to choose the latter. But we need not make this choice for, as we pointed out earlier, by the very nature of the estate by the entirety as we view it, and as other courts of our sister jurisdictions have viewed it, ‘(a) unilaterally indestructible right of survivorship, an inability of one spouse to alienate his interest, and, importantly for this case, a broad immunity from claims of separate creditors remain among its vital incidents.’ In re Estate of Wall, supra, 440 F.2d at 218.


Having determined that an estate by the entirety is not subject to the claims of the creditors of one of the spouses during their joint lives, we now hold that the conveyance of the marital property by Kokichi Endo and Ume Endo, husband and wife, to their sons, Samuel H. Endo and Toru Endo, was not in fraud of Kokichi Endo’s judgment creditors.






Kidwell, Justice, dissenting.




This case has been well briefed, and the arguments against the conclusions reached by the majority have been well presented. It will not materially assist the court in resolving the issues for me to engage in an extensive review of the conflicting views. Appellants’ position on the appeal was that tenancy by the entirety as it existed at common law, together with all of the rights which the husband had over the property of his wife by virtue of the common law doctrine of the unity of the person, was recognized by the early decisions; that the Married Women’s Act of 1888 (new Ch. 573, HRS) destroyed the fictional unity of husband and wife; that the legislature has recognized the continuing existence of the estate of tenancy by the entirety, but has not defined the nature or the incidents of that estate, HRS s 509-1, 509-2; that at common law the interest of the husband in an estate by the entireties could be taken by his separate creditors on execution against him, subject only to the wife’s right of survivorship; and that the Married Women’s Act merely eliminated any inequality in the positions of the spouses with respect to their interests in the property, thus depriving the husband of his former power over the wife’s interest, without thereby altering the nature and incidents of the husband’s interest.


I find the logic of Appellant’s analysis convincing. While the authorities are divided, I consider that the reasoning of the cases cited by Appellant best reconciles the Married Women’s Act with the common law. [Citations omitted.]


The majority reaches its conclusion by holding that the effect of the Married Women’s Act was to equalize the positions of the spouses by taking from the husband his common law right to transfer his interest, rather than by elevating the wife’s right of alienation of her interest to place it on a position of equality with the husband’s. I disagree. I believe that a better interpretation of the Married Women’s Acts is that offered by the Supreme Court of New Jersey in King v. Greene, 30 N.J. 395, 412 (1959):



It is clear that the Married Women’s Act created an equality between the spouses in New Jersey, insofar as tenancies by the entirety are concerned. If, as we have previously concluded, the husband could alienate his right of survivorship at common law, the wife, by virtue of the act, can alienate her right of survivorship. And it follows, that if the wife takes equal rights with the husband in the estate, she must take equal disabilities. Such are the dictates of common equality. Thus, the judgment creditors of either spouse may levy and execute upon their separate rights of survivorship.





One may speculate whether the courts which first chose the path to equality now followed by the majority might have felt an unexpressed aversion to entrusting a wife with as much control over her interest as had previously been granted to the husband with respect to his interest. Whatever may be the historical explanation for these decisions, I feel that the resultant restriction upon the freedom of the spouses to deal independently with their respective interests is both illogical and unnecessarily at odds with present policy trends. Accordingly, I would hold that the separate interest of the husband in entireties property, at least to the extent of his right of survivorship, is alienable by him and subject to attachment by his separate creditors, so that a voluntary conveyance of the husband’s interest should be set aside where it is fraudulent as to such creditors, under applicable principles of the law of fraudulent conveyances.


  1. Phipps, Tenancy by Entireties, 25 Temple L.Q. 24 (1951).




In re Susan Elaine Watford, Debtor.,

427 B.R. 552 (U.S. Bankr., S.D. Fl. 2010)




Erik P. Kimball, Bankruptcy Judge.




… .


Section 522(b)(3)(B) [of the Bankruptcy Code] provides that a debtor may exempt property “in which the debtor had, immediately before the commencement of the case, an interest as a tenant by the entirety or joint tenant to the extent that such interest as a tenant by the entirety or joint tenant is exempt from process under applicable nonbankruptcy law.” The Debtor claims that her interest in the Georgia Property is that of a tenant by the entirety, that such interest is exempt from process under Georgia law, and that it is exempt under section 522(b)(3)(B). The Trustee argues that under Georgia law the Debtor’s interest in the Georgia Property is that of a tenant in common, a severable interest subject to process, and that it is not exempt under section 522(b)(3)(B).


… . By statute, Georgia law provides that a deed conveying real property to two or more persons is presumed to create a tenancy in common unless the deed expressly states that the grantees take as “joint tenants,” “joint tenants and not as tenants in common,” “joint tenants with survivorship,” or “jointly with survivorship.”1 Georgia case law uniformly provides that an instrument granting an interest in property to two or more individuals creates a tenancy in common unless the instrument expressly states that the grantees take such interest subject to a right of survivorship. E.g., Williams v. Studstill, 251 Ga. 466, 306 S.E.2d 633, 634-35 (1983); Sams v. McDonald, 117 Ga.App. 336, 160 S.E.2d 594, 598 (1968).


The deed by which the Debtor obtained her interest in the Georgia Property shows the grantees as “William H. Watford & Susan E. Watford.” Under Georgia law, this deed created a tenancy in common. Such interest is not exempt under section 522(b)(3)(B).


By its terms, Section 44-6-190(a) of the Official Code of Georgia encompasses all deeds to two or more persons, whether or not married. In spite of this, the Debtor argues that Georgia recognizes the common law form of tenancy by the entirety. For this proposition, the Debtor cites Sams v. McDonald, 117 Ga.App. 336, 160 S.E.2d 594 (1968). In Sams v. McDonald, the court considered whether a bank account in the names of two unmarried individuals was held with right of survivorship. One account holder had died and the other claimed sole ownership. The account application was in “the joint names of the undersigned as tenants by the entireties.” Sams v. McDonald, 160 S.E.2d at 597. To define the term “tenants by the entireties” the Sams court reviewed case law in Tennessee, Mississippi, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and the District of Columbia, and treatises such as American Jurisprudence and Blackstone’s Commentaries. The Sams court did not cite a single Georgia case addressing tenancy by the entireties. The court concluded that tenancy by the entireties is a species of joint tenancy reserved for married couples, and that where a tenancy by the entireties is stated, and the parties are not married, a joint tenancy is created unless the evidence supports a contrary intent. Id. at 598. Noting that the account application before the court also stated that it was for a “membership of joint holders (with right of survivorship) of a share account,” the Sams court determined that the account in question was held with right of survivorship. Id. The court held that the surviving account holder was the sole owner of the account. Id. The Sams court addressed the concept of tenants by the entireties only to assist the court in determining the intent of the parties before it. There is nothing in Sams v. McDonald to suggest that Georgia then recognized, or now recognizes, tenancy by the entireties.


Other persuasive authority confirms that Georgia does not recognize the common law form of tenancy by the entirety. 1 Ga. Wills & Administration § 2:3 (7th ed.) (“Georgia does not authorize the creation of a tenancy by the entirety. Tenancy by the entirety has been referred to in Georgia case law as ‘a species of joint tenancy’ and the ‘nomenclature for a joint tenancy between husband and wife.’“) (citing Sams v. McDonald, 160 S.E.2d at 597-98); 1 Ga. Real Estate Law & Procedure § 7-80 (6th ed.) (“Entireties seem never to have been recognized in Georgia. Under our present Code, wherever two or more persons ‘from any cause’ are entitled to the possession simultaneously, a tenancy in common is created, and this is accepted as true equally of husband and wife as any other two grantees.”); 1 Ga. Jur. Property § 5:1 (“Georgia has referred to a tenancy by the entirety as a species of joint tenancy between husband and wife. An estate by the entirety is, at common law, one created by conveyance to a husband and wife jointly, the two holding as a unit title to the whole. However, this type of joint tenancy has largely lost its relevancy now that the husband and wife are no longer one person in the law.”).


Because the Debtor holds a severable interest in the Georgia Property as a tenant in common, the Debtor may not exempt her interest in the Georgia Property under section 522(b)(3)(B). The Debtor’s interest in the Georgia Property is property of the estate under section 541 and may be administered by the Trustee. The Trustee’s objection to the Debtor’s claimed exemption with regard to the Georgia Property will be sustained.


  1. Section 44-6-190(a) of the Official Code of Georgia provides: “Deeds and other instruments of title, including any instrument in which one person conveys to himself and one or more other persons, any instrument in which two or more persons convey to themselves or to themselves and another or others, and wills, taking effect after January 1, 1977, may create a joint interest with survivorship in two or more persons. Any instrument of title in favor of two or more persons shall be construed to create interests in common without survivorship between or among the owners unless the instrument expressly refers to the takers as ‘joint tenants,’ ‘joint tenants and not as tenants in common,’ or ‘joint tenants with survivorship’ or as taking ‘jointly with survivorship.’”






4.4. Relationships and Property


4.4.1. Marriage and Divorce


Wright v. Wright,

277 Ga. 133 (2003)




William R. Oliver, Cornelia, for appellant.


Browning & Tanksley, Thomas J. Browning, Marietta, for appellee.




Carley, Justice.




Linda (Wife) and Seaborn (Husband) Wright were married in 1985. It was a second marriage for both, and they had no children. Each brought assets and debts to the marriage, including Husband’s house which was mortgaged. In 1991, his mother died and left her estate to him. He used his inheritance to start a family business, in which he and Wife both worked and were salaried employees. In 2000, she filed for divorce. After conducting a hearing, the trial court entered an order granting a divorce and dividing the marital property. We granted Wife’s application for discretionary appeal pursuant to this Court’s pilot project, pursuant to which we grant all non-frivolous applications seeking discretionary appeal from a final divorce decree.


1. Wife contends that the trial court erred in determining which portions of the property were marital and non-marital assets.



What items of property can legally constitute a marital or non-marital asset is a question of law for the court. However, whether a particular item of property actually constitutes a marital or non-marital asset may be a question of fact for the trier of fact to determine from the evidence. [Cit.]



Bass v. Bass, 264 Ga. 506, 507, 448 S.E.2d 366 (1994). A review of the record shows that, in making the award, the trial court correctly applied the legal principle that “[o]nly property acquired as a direct result of the labor and investments of the parties during the marriage is subject to equitable division. [Cit.]” Payson v. Payson, 274 Ga. 231, 232(1), 552 S.E.2d 839 (2001). Because Husband brought the house to the marriage, only the subsequent increase in the net equity attributable to marital contributions was a marital asset. Hubby v. Hubby, 274 Ga. 525, 556 S.E.2d 127 (2001); Thomas v. Thomas, 259 Ga. 73, 76, 377 S.E.2d 666 (1989). Husband started the family business after the marriage, but used his own separate funds to do so. Bailey v. Bailey, 250 Ga. 15, 295 S.E.2d 304 (1982). Therefore, only the appreciation in the value of the business attributable either to his and Wife’s individual efforts or to their joint efforts was subject to an equitable division. >Bass v. Bass, supra.


2. Wife’s primary contention is that the trial court erroneously failed to award her an appropriate share of that portion of the equity in the house and the appreciation in the business which was a marital asset. According to her, she should receive one-half of the divisible equity and appreciation. However, an equitable division of marital property does not necessarily mean an equal division. Goldstein v. Goldstein, 262 Ga. 136(1), 414 S.E.2d 474 (1992). “The purpose behind the doctrine of equitable division of marital property is ‘to assure that property accumulated during the marriage be fairly distributed between the parties.’ [Cit.]”Payson v. Payson, supra at 232(1), 552 S.E.2d 839. Each spouse is entitled to an allocation of the marital property based upon his or her respective equitable interest therein. Byers v. Caldwell, 273 Ga. 228, 229, 539 S.E.2d 141 (2000). Thus, an award is not erroneous simply because one party receives a seemingly greater share of the marital property. See Mitchely v. Mitchely, 237 Ga. 138, 139, 227 S.E.2d 34 (1976). See also Clements v. Clements, 255 Ga. 714, 342 S.E.2d 463 (1986); Stokes v. Stokes, 246 Ga. 765, 273 S.E.2d 169 (1980) (trier of fact may award whole or part interest in property to one spouse or require the parties to sell property).


3. The fact finder has broad discretion to distribute marital property to assure that it is fairly divided between the divorcing spouses. Jones v. Jones, 264 Ga. 169, 441 S.E.2d 745 (1994). In the exercise of that discretion, the fact finder should consider “all the relevant factors, including each party’s contribution to the acquisition and maintenance of the property (which would include monetary contributions and contributions of a spouse as a homemaker), as well as the purpose and intent of the parties regarding the ownership of the property. (Cits.)”


Morrow v. Morrow, 272 Ga. 557, 558, 532 S.E.2d 672 (2000). Here, the record shows that the trial court, sitting as the trier of fact, considered all of the relevant factors and, in the exercise of its broad discretion, awarded each party what it considered to be a fair and equitable portion of the marital property.



[R]eviewing all the evidence adduced in this case we cannot say that the trial court treated [Wife] inequitably in its decision regarding what constituted a fair division between the parties of the marital property. Therefore, we hold that [she] failed to carry [her] burden of proving error in the trial court’s award to [Husband].



Morrow v. Morrow, supra at 559, 532 S.E.2d 672.


Judgment affirmed.



In Re Marriage of King,

700 P.2d 591 (Mont. 1985).




William Law Firm, Richard Ranney, Missoula, for respondent and appellant.


Goldman & Goldman, Joseph M. Goldman, Missoula, for petitioner and respondent.


Milodragovich, Dale & Dye, Karl Boehm, Missoula, for children.




Hunt, Justice.


Jack King appeals an order and an amended order of the Missoula County District Court which divided his and Pamela King’s marital property, and established custody and visitation rights, and the support obligations of the parties to their two minor children. Two issues are presented for review: first, whether substantial evidence supports the District Court’s award of nearly all the marital estate to the wife; and second, whether the District Court erred in awarding the parties’ real property to the wife in lieu of requiring the husband to make child support payments. We affirm the District Court.


Jack and Pamela King married in March 1971, in Mexico. Thereafter, they resided in California, where their two children were born, in 1971 and 1973. In 1977, they moved to Montana. They separated in June 1980, and the District Court dissolved their marriage in June 1981, reserving the issues of division of marital property, custody, visitation rights and child support until a later time. Maintenance was neither sought nor awarded, and custody and visitation rights are not in issue on this appeal.


On February 29, 1984, the District Court entered findings of fact, conclusions of law and its order deciding those reserved issues. All parties filed certain objections to the order, and thereafter, on April 16, 1984, the court entered its amended findings, conclusions and order. That amended order awarded each party the personal property then in their possession, and awarded the family residence to Pamela.


Jack asserts several of the court’s findings of fact are unsupported by substantial evidence. We will address them in order. In its finding no. 2, the court noted: “The distribution of the proceeds of the sale of the family home if it is ordered sold makes inadequate provision for the support of the minor children of the parties.”


Finding no. 3: “A substantial hardship would be imposed upon the children of the parties if they would be required to vacate the family home if it is ordered sold.”


Finding no. 4: “The expenses of sale, including realtors’ commissions, attorneys’ fees and potential capital gain tax liability would take a disproportionate amount of marital assets needed for child support.”


And no. 5: “It would be in the best interests of the minor children of the parties to continue to reside in the family home.”


Jack contends the division of property should be separate from and not contingent upon child support. However, a fair reading of s 40-4-202, MCA, shows that the District Court, in a proceeding for dissolution of marriage, may take into account support considerations, and may protect and promote the best interests of the children by setting aside a portion of the jointly and separately held estate of the parties for the support of their children. In reaching such a result, the court shall equitably apportion between the parties, the property or assets belonging to either or both. The court is neither required to divide each asset 50-50, nor to sell all the parties’ property and divide the proceeds 50-50. Equitable apportionment is the guideline under any or all of the many factors which apply. To order the sale of the family residence would subject the marital estate to realty fees, would lose a favorable interest rate, and would uproot the children from their home and possibly from their neighborhood. These findings are well supported in the record.


Finding no. 7 provided that if Pamela were awarded the residence, she would be able to devote sufficient monies from her earnings to support the children. Jack contends the finding is not supported by substantial evidence because she probably would be able to support the children without the award of the residence. His contention, even if correct, neither per se invalidates the finding, nor begs the conclusion that she would not be able to support them without the home. Rather, it is reasonable to view the finding in light of the court’s order relieving Jack of a financial support obligation. Viewing the record in its entirety, as we must, we cannot say the finding was erroneous.


Jack also attacks finding no. 8, wherein the court noted he had not presented satisfactory means of verifying his present or future income, given the nature of his occupation as a professional gambler. He did testify without objection that he earned approximately $1,000.00 per month in California from gambling winnings, and approximately $500.00 per month therefrom after the parties moved to Montana. Yet, when questioned further about his income, Jack was very evasive, and eventually conceded that there was no way of verifying his income. That makes it difficult to ascertain whether he would be able to make support payments. It is reasonable to conclude the court meant he did not have a regular paycheck as such. It is also reasonable to infer the court meant he had not presented sufficient income evidence to justify a different property division. In light of those considerations, we feel the finding is supported by record evidence.


Jack next contends finding no. 9, that he would not pay any portion of the childrens’ attorney fees, was based on the court’s “suspicions and distaste for Jack’s method of earning a living.” The Supreme Court, in reviewing evidence on appeal, is not concerned with the motives of the trial court. Nor may we express our opinion as to the wisdom of its decisions. Rather, we look to determine whether the result comports with the law. The District Court was in the best position to examine the demeanor of the parties, the witnesses and the evidence, and the District Court has broad discretion in arriving at its decisions. We will not substitute our judgment for the District Court absent a clear abuse of that discretion. We fail to see how the court’s finding that Jack would not pay the childrens’ attorney fees abused its discretion.


Finally, Jack assails finding no. 10: “Awarding the Petitioner the Respondent’s share of the equity in the family home is the only reasonable means to insure that the Respondent will contribute to the care and support of the minor children of the parties.”


Again, the District Court was in the best position to view the parties, the witnesses and the evidence, and to render a decision based on its view. Our role is not to examine other possible means of ensuring Jack will contribute to the care and support of his and Pamela’s children, but to determine whether the means chosen has a lawful basis of support in the record. The income earned from Jack’s chosen occupation as a professional gambler, is by its very nature, inadequate to ensure he will always or regularly or even predictably have that income. To accede to such speculation is a gamble that neither party nor the District Court is advised to undertake. We find substantial evidence supports the findings of the District Court.


The second issue Jack presents is whether the District Court erred in awarding the custodial spouse the family residence “in lieu of any child support obligation on the part of the [non-custodial spouse.]” He contends the award was erroneous because the issues of property and support are totally irrelevant to each other. Pamela, on the other hand, claims the award was proper because the issues of property, support, custody and visitation rights are “inextricably interwoven.” The record does not support a conclusion favoring either of those extremes. Rather, the District Court considered all the factors, and made a decision based on the extent to which they were interrelated. Custody and visitation rights are not issues raised on appeal. The property division and support findings, however, do call for a discussion.


We held in Perkins v. Perkins (1975), 168 Mont. 78, 540 P.2d 957, that where the husband was financially unable to contribute to the support of the minor children, it was not error to grant the wife a proportionally larger share of the marital property to offset her increased obligation. Similarly, in Bailey v. Bailey (1979), 184 Mont. 418, 603 P.2d 259, the trial court awarded the family residence to the wife, plus other property, for a total award of approximately 67% of the marital estate. After noting the District Court weighed all the applicable factors of s 40-4-202, MCA, we held a division of the marital estate which favors one party over the other may be acceptable if there is reason for it. Here, the District Court stated its reasons-the best interests of the children are served by allowing them to remain in the family home; forced sale of the family home would divert and dissipate assets needed for support; and the only reasonable means to protect and promote the best interests of the children is to award the home to Pamela. That award was made in lieu of a support obligation.


No reasonable purpose would be served by ordering the residence sold. Jack would not reside there in any event, the children would be uprooted, and the marital estate would be lessened because of realty fees attendant to the sale.


The District Court’s findings and conclusions are embodied in a ten-page summary attached to its order, delineating all the statutory criteria.


We believe the District Court did a thorough job of dividing the marital assets and resolving the respective support obligations of the parties. We hold there was no abuse of discretion.






Harrison, Weber, Sheehy, and Gulbrandson, JJ.



Behrens v. Behrens,

143 A.D.2d 617 (N.Y. App. Div. 1988)




… .


The plaintiff is contesting various provisions of the judgment of divorce with emphasis on that section which ordered the sale of the marital residence. In its memorandum decision dated March 10, 1987, the trial court determined that the home had to be sold to pay off debts incurred by the parties and because the upkeep of the home was more than the parties could afford. The plaintiff argues that a sale of the marital residence will force her and the children to leave their present community, with which the family has established strong ties, and relocate to an entirely new area without realizing a substantial decrease in housing expenses. The record reveals that the couple purchased the marital residence in Dix Hills, in 1982 for $153,000. It was stipulated that at the time of trial the house was worth $310,000. The mortgage payment, including real estate taxes, was $1,907 per month. The other expenses, including utilities, telephone, gardening and insurance, brought the total monthly cost up to $2,700. According to the plaintiff the cost of obtaining replacement housing in the Dix Hills area would be between $2,500 and $3,500 per month. The defendant testified that he had investigated the availability of housing in other “nice neighborhoods” on Long Island and found that a three-bedroom house could be rented for between $1,100 and $1,300 per month. While this court has generally favored allowing a custodial parent to remain in the marital residence at least until the youngest child reaches the age of 18 years or is sooner emancipated (see, Cassano v Cassano, 111 AD2d 208; Hillmann v Hillmann, 109 AD2d 777; Patti v Patti, 99 AD2d 772), in this case we agree with the finding of the trial court that the home must be sold. The parties are financially incapable of maintaining the marital residence and there is no doubt that replacement housing can be found at a substantial saving on Long Island. The children are young enough to make the necessary social adjustments that a move from Dix Hills will entail (see, Cassano v Cassano, supra; Patti v Patti, supra). Given the defendant’s testimony that the cost of alternative housing would be at least $1,100 to $1,300 per month, we direct that the housing allowance award be increased from $1,000 to $1,500 per month, which award is to be treated as a maintenance payment to the wife for income tax purposes. Furthermore the child support payments will be increased from $100 per week to $150 per week per child.


Even with the increases herein granted it will be necessary for the wife to return to work as soon as possible in order to supplement the family’s income. We therefore agree with the trial court’s award of maintenance in the amount of $100 per week. The wife expects to resume employment as a school teacher and her hours of work will correspond with the children’s school hours; therefore, her return to work in the near future will not significantly interfere with their care (see, Hillmann v Hillmann, supra). Since there may be a short delay until she begins to receive her salary, we are extending the maintenance payments for an additional month until the first Friday of October 1988.


… .




Weinstein, J., concurring




… .


In the instant case, the trial court ordered the sale of the marital residence based upon its belief that the parties could simply not afford to incur the costs of maintaining that particular residence. In the language of the court, “Quite simply, the parties could not afford the luxuries they gave to themselves”. Furthermore, the court viewed the residence as the only major salable asset of sufficient value to pay off the marital debts with sufficient funds remaining to allow for a substantial distribution to each party.


Although it appears, at first blush, that the cost of housing outside the Dix Hills area would be substantially below the cost of maintaining the marital residence, the projected savings may be somewhat illusory when certain factors are considered. While the defendant testified that his investigations had revealed that the plaintiff could rent a three-bedroom home in a “nice” area of Long Island for between $1,100 and $1,300 per month, the record is devoid of any indication that this sum includes any of the expenses necessarily associated with the upkeep of a home, i.e., utilities, telephone and insurance. Based on the ages of the three children, alternative housing of at least three bedrooms would be required for the next 10 years. Considering the increases in rent which could be expected during that period, it is reasonable to conclude that it would not be long before the cost of renting would exceed the present mortgage payment on the marital residence. In view of the ages of the children and their strong ties to the community, I believe that the wife should be permitted to retain possession of the marital residence until the youngest child becomes 18 or is sooner emancipated. Notwithstanding the defendant’s contention that he is in debt and unable to afford the maintenance of the marital residence, the record reveals that at the time of trial, his position in West Virginia guaranteed him an income of $100,000 per year and, based on his past income, he is readily capable of earning substantially more. There is no reason to doubt that once he settles into a new practice, his earnings will soon reach levels equalling or exceeding those of his New York practice. Consequently, he should be compelled to assume a substantial portion of the cost of maintaining his family in the marital residence.


Although the trial court believed that the sale of the marital residence was required in order to pay off what the court termed “marital debts”, the record reveals that the major portion of this marital debt was incurred by the defendant as a means of paying income taxes. The total debt computed by the court was $47,623. In light of the husband’s substantial income and in view of the fact that the trial court awarded him $50,000 worth of accounts receivable from the sale of his New York practice, equity dictates that the husband should be responsible for the payment of these debts.


In conclusion, I concur with the majority’s modifications of the judgment appealed from. However, consistent with my view that the immediate sale of the marital residence should not have been ordered, I would also further modify the judgment appealed from as set forth above.



Stolow v. Stolow,

149 A.D.2d 683 (1989)




The plaintiff and the defendant, who were married in 1970, have two children, Michael, born January 12, 1976, and Jordana, born February 9, 1979.


In 1976, the couple purchased a large residence located on a three-quarter-acre lot in Pelham Manor, New York, with five bedrooms, seven baths, four fireplaces, a butler’s pantry, two sunrooms, a den, a playroom, two maid’s quarters, and two living rooms, in addition to the kitchen and dining room. In order to properly maintain the house, the services of a housekeeper, cleaning person and gardener are required in addition to normal repair services such as those provided by plumbers and electricians. The parties stipulated that the fair market value of the marital residence was $960,000 at the time of trial.


The defendant is the chief executive officer in a closely held family philately corporation which sells stamps, both by mail and at public auction. The defendant’s salary during the marriage was supplemented by generous perquisites, such as Porsche automobiles, country club dues, garage space, insurance, and vacations which were considered corporate expenses and not charged to the defendant as earnings. He additionally supplemented his income by borrowing from an officer’s loan account to which he owed $222,879 in 1985.


The court, in distributing the marital assets, found that the plaintiff’s interest in the marital residence was $455,000 (50% of the $960,000 less an outstanding mortgage of $50,000), her 30% interest in the defendant’s business, for which she had worked part time, was $364,000, and her interest in the defendant’s current residence was $91,500.


Because the defendant did not have sufficient liquid assets to satisfy the plaintiff’s equitable award of the marital assets, the court allowed the plaintiff to accept title to the marital residence in lieu of a cash payment. The court directed joint custody of the children, who were to live with the plaintiff. In order to cover the expenses of the house and because the plaintiff’s equitable share was not in liquid form, the court awarded the plaintiff $1,000 per week maintenance until the youngest child was 14 years old or entered high school, and $375 per week in child support for each child, to be raised to $500 per week as each child entered high school.


Although it is a well-settled principle of matrimonial law that exclusive possession of a marital residence is generally awarded to a custodial spouse with minor children (see, e.g., Parris v Parris, 136 AD2d 685; Flanagan v Flanagan, 118 AD2d 681), we find that under the circumstances at bar, the immediate sale of the marital residence is indicated since the expenses involved in maintaining the property are wastefully extravagant. The sale of the marital residence will leave the plaintiff sufficient liquid assets to purchase a fine residence, albeit on a smaller scale, in the same neighborhood, thus obviating the need to continue the high maintenance and child support payments necessitated by the plaintiff’s living in what the court had termed a “mini-mansion”. While the record demonstrates that the defendant may be able to afford the substantial amounts directed to be paid for maintenance, child support and other expenses, it is unjust to require that he do so while an asset valued at nearly $1,000,000 sits idly by consuming income. In deciding whether to direct the sale of the marital residence, the court must weigh the need for the custodial parent to remain in it against the financial situation of the parties (see, Behrens v Behrens, 143 AD2d 617; Blackman v Blackman, 131 AD2d 801). In this case the financial circumstances of the parties dictate the sale of the marital residence.


… .


Accordingly, we direct the immediate sale of the marital residence and remit the matter to the Supreme Court, Westchester County, for a new determination as to the value of J & H Stolow, Inc., maintenance, child support and the share of the plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees to be paid by the defendant.


We have reviewed the parties’ remaining contentions and find them to be without merit.





4.4.2. Professional Degrees


Simmons v. Simmons,

244 Conn. 158 (1998)




Frank J. Kolb, with whom were David E. Crow and, on the brief, Louis A. Crisci, Jr., for the appellant (defendant).


Barbara J. Radlauer, with whom was Ralph P. Dupont, for the appellee (plaintiff).


Louis I. Parley and S. Deborah Eldrich filed a brief for the Connecticut Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers as amicus curiae.




Callahan, C.J.




The defendant, Aura R. Simmons, appeals from the judgment of the trial court in an action for dissolution of her marriage to the plaintiff, Duncan R. Simmons. She raises three issues: (1) whether the trial court properly concluded that a medical degree is not property subject to equitable distribution pursuant to General Statutes § 46b-811 upon dissolution of the marriage; (2) whether, if it is assumed that the medical degree is not property, the trial court abused its discretion in its distribution of the remaining marital property and in denying alimony to the defendant; and (3) whether a contract existed between the parties with regard to the medical degree, which affords the defendant a contractual remedy. We affirm the judgment of the trial court on the first issue and reverse its judgment, in part, on the second issue. We decline to address the third issue.


The trial court made the following findings of fact. The plaintiff and the defendant were married on September 23, 1983, in Fayetteville, North Carolina. At the time of their marriage, the plaintiff was twenty-three years of age and was a sergeant in the United States Army. The defendant was forty-three years of age and was working as a bartender. There are no children of the marriage. The defendant, however, had six children of her own prior to her marriage to the plaintiff.


During the course of the marriage, both the plaintiff and the defendant pursued their individual educational goals. The defendant obtained two associates degrees, one as a surgical technician and one in nursing, culminating in her becoming a registered nurse in 1991. The plaintiff received his undergraduate degree in 1990 and entered medical school. He completed medical school in 1994 and entered a surgical residency program at St. Raphael’s Hospital in New Haven, causing the family to relocate to Connecticut from North Carolina. The defendant and the plaintiff both paid their own educational expenses and both were employed and jointly supporting the family unit until the plaintiff entered medical school, when he was prohibited from maintaining outside employment. The plaintiff received loans and grants to pay for medical school and to defray some of the household expenses. The defendant worked and supported the family while the plaintiff attended medical school. She provided financial and emotional support as well as her services as a homemaker. She did not, however, make any direct financial contribution toward the cost of the plaintiffs medical school education.


In the third year of his five year surgical residency, the plaintiff filed an action for dissolution of marriage. At trial, the defendant argued that the plaintiffs medical degree was property subject to equitable distribution pursuant to § 46b-81 upon dissolution of the marriage. She presented an expert witness, Steven Shapiro, an economist, who testified regarding the present value of the plaintiff’s medical degree. Shapiro testified that the plaintiffs future earning potential, reduced to present value, was approximately $3.4 million as a plastic surgeon and $2.8 million as a general surgeon. He concluded that the average of the two, $3.1 million, represents the appropriate value to be assigned to the plaintiffs medical degree.2 The defendant claimed that the degree’s present value should be equitably distributed between the parties and demanded in excess of $1.5 million as a property settlement. In its memorandum of decision analyzing the state of the law of this and other jurisdictions, the trial court concluded that the plaintiff’s medical degree was not property subject to equitable distribution pursuant to § 46b-81. The court then issued an order dissolving the marriage, denying alimony to both parties and ordering distribution of the parties’ debts and assets. The defendant appealed from the judgment of the trial court to the Appellate Court, and we transferred the appeal to this court pursuant to Practice Book § 4023 and General Statutes § 51-199 (c).










The first issue raised by the defendant is whether the plaintiffs medical degree is property subject to equitable distribution pursuant to § 46b-81 upon dissolution of the marriage. This is a question of first impression for Connecticut. It is not, however, a new question nationwide. At least thirty-five states have addressed the issue and substantial ink has been expended by academicians and practitioners on this subject. It has been labeled with a number of appellations, the most common of which is the “working spouse/student spouse syndrome,” apparently so called because it represents an unfortunate circumstance that too often arises in family courts. In its most basic form, it is typified by one spouse who works to provide primary support for the family unit while the other spouse obtains an education, meanwhile earning either nothing or substantially less than he or she otherwise might have earned. Typically, it is also characterized by a relatively short marriage3 and a working spouse who has made significant sacrifices, for example, forgoing or delaying educational or childrearing opportunities and the current enjoyment of income that could have been produced by the student spouse. The expectation that the future benefit of increased earning capacity would be the reward shared by both is dashed when the marriage disintegrates and one of the parties files an action for dissolution before the anticipated benefits are realized. The critical problem in these situations is that the couple usually has few, if any, assets to be distributed at the time of the dissolution of the marriage. The degree, with its potential for increased earning power, is, therefore, the only thing of real economic value to the parties. See, e.g., Haugan v. Haugan, 117 Wis. 2d 200, 206-207, 343 N.W.2d 796 (1984), and cases cited there; B. Herring, “Divisibility of Advanced Degrees in Equitable Distribution States,” 19 J. Marshall L. Rev. 1, 1-2 (1985).


The defendant argues that she fits within this paradigm and is entitled to share in the benefits of the plaintiffs medical degree by way of a distribution pursuant to § 46b-81 conferring on her an equitable portion of the value of the plaintiffs medical degree.4 In support of this argument, the defendant asserts that § 46b-81 adopts an “‘all property,’ equitable distribution scheme”; Krafick v. Krafick, 234 Conn. 783, 792, 663 A.2d 365 (1995); pursuant to which this court has given an expansive definition of property that necessarily includes an advanced degree obtained during the marriage.5 The crux of the defendant’s argument rests upon selected language from our opinion in Krafick. The plaintiff counters that a medical degree cannot be distributed as property because it has no inherent value independent of the holder and does not fit within the statutory definition of property. We conclude that the plaintiff’s medical degree is not property subject to distribution pursuant to § 46b-81.


We are supported in this conclusion by what we deem to be the intent of the legislature, the overwhelming weight of authority in other jurisdictions that have addressed this issue; see footnote 7 of this opinion; and sound public policy considerations. We begin our analysis with the relevant statute, § 46b-81. “We approach this question according to well established principles of statutory construction designed to further our fundamental objective of ascertaining and giving effect to the apparent intent of the legislature…. In seeking to discern that intent, we look to the words of the statute itself, to the legislative history and circumstances surrounding its enactment, to the legislative policy it was designed to implement, and to its relationship to existing legislation and common law principles governing the same general subject matter….” (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Krafick v. Krafick, supra, 234 Conn. 793-94.


In Krafick, we were called upon to determine whether the term property in § 46b-81, which is not defined by the statute or clarified by its legislative history, was broad enough to include vested, though unmatured, pension rights. To that end, we concluded that the legislature intended to adopt the commonly accepted legal definition of property as set forth in Black’s Law Dictionary (6th Ed. 1990) p. 1095, which “defines ‘property’ as the term ‘commonly used to denote everything which is the subject of ownership, corporeal or incorporeal, tangible or intangible, visible or invisible, real or personal; everything that has an exchangeable value or which goes to make up wealth or estate. It extends to every species of valuable right and interest, and includes real and personal property, easements, franchises, and incorporeal hereditament.’” Krafick v. Krafick, supra, 234 Conn. 794. By adopting that definition, we acknowledged that the legislature intended the term to be broad in scope. Id., 793-94. While we do not retreat from the definition of property espoused in Krafick, we also recognize that it is not without limits. We conclude that the plaintiffs medical degree falls outside those limits.


Whether the interest of a party to a dissolution is subject to distribution pursuant to § 46b-81,6 depends on whether that interest is: (1) a presently existing property interest or (2) a mere expectancy. See id., 797. “[Section] 46b-81 applies only to presently existing property interests, not ‘mere expectancies.’” Id. Therefore, the former interest is subject to equitable distribution upon dissolution, while the latter is not. The prototypical nonproperty interest is an anticipated inheritance, which we consistently have deemed to be a mere expectancy that is precluded from equitable distribution under § 46b-81. See Rubin v. Rubin, 204 Conn. 224, 236-39, 527 A.2d 1184 (1987); Krause v. Krause, 174 Conn. 361, 387 A.2d 548 (1978). In Krafick, we stated that unlike a property interest, an “expectancy may never be realized …. The term expectancy describes the interest of a person who merely foresees that he might receive a future beneficence…. [T]he defining characteristic of an expectancy is that its holder has no enforceable right to his beneficence.” (Citations omitted; emphasis altered; internal quotation marks omitted.) Krafick v. Krafick, supra, 234 Conn. 797.


By contrast, a vested pension benefit is property within the meaning of § 46b-81 and, thus, is subject to equitable distribution because it represents a presently existing, enforceable contract right. Id., 795. We reasoned that “vested pension benefits represent an employee’s right to receive payment in the future, subject ordinarily to his or her living until the age of retirement. The fact that a contractual right is contingent upon future events does not degrade that right to an expectancy.” (Emphasis altered; internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., 797. Consequently, the defining characteristic of property for purposes of § 46b-81 is the present existence of the right and the ability to enforce that right. Id.


The defendant first argues, by analogy, that a medical degree is substantially similar to pension benefits because both are a means to obtain deferred compensation. In both circumstances, she argues, the marital unit forgoes current income and invests those resources to acquire the benefit of future income. The defendant misconstrues the import of our analysis in Krafick.


There, we acknowledged in dicta that a vested pension represents deferred compensation and is often the only substantial asset of the marital unit. Id., 796. Relying on the law of contracts, however, we went on to conclude that “[a]s contractual rights, pension benefits are ‘a type of intangible property,’ and, as such, are encompassed in Black’s definition of ‘property.’” (Emphasis altered.) Id., 795. We repeatedly emphasized the fact that the owner of the pension has a presently existing, enforceable contract right attendant to a vested pension. Id., 795. In conclusion, we stated “that ‘property’ as used in § 46b-81, includes the right, contractual in nature, to receive vested pension benefits in the future.” (Emphasis added.) Id., 798. Thus, it is not the pension’s character as deferred compensation that makes it property subject to equitable distribution pursuant to § 46b-81, but the presently existing, enforceable contract right to receive the benefits that does so.


The defendant’s argument is, therefore, unpersuasive because an advanced degree entails no presently existing, enforceable right to receive any particular income in the future. It represents nothing more than an opportunity for the degree holder, through his or her own efforts, in the absence of any contingency that might limit or frustrate those efforts, to earn income in the future. See Mahoney v. Mahoney, 91 N.J. 488, 496, 453 A.2d 527 (1982) (concluding that professional degree or license is not analogous to vested pension benefits).


The defendant next relies on our statement in Krafick that “[t]he fact that a contractual right is contingent upon future events does not degrade that right to an expectancy.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Krafick v. Krafick, supra, 234 Conn. 797. She argues, again by analogy, that the fact that an advanced degree is also subject to contingencies in the future should not prevent its classification as property. This argument misses the crucial prerequisite that the interest must first qualify as an existing right before it qualifies as property subject to distribution pursuant to § 46b-81. The enforceable rights inherent in a vested pension make it distinctly different from the expectation of possible benefits afforded by an advanced degree. Additionally, the right to a vested pension benefit has already accrued prior to the action for dissolution. It is presently existing and enforceable, notwithstanding that it is contingent on certain factors such as survival of the pensioner until maturity.


By contrast, the benefits attendant on a newly acquired professional degree have not vested at the time of dissolution, and any benefits derived will accrue only after the dissolution of the marriage. These benefits may never accrue for any number of reasons because the holder has no enforceable right to earn any particular income in his or her chosen profession. Consequently, we conclude that an advanced degree is properly classified as an expectancy rather than a presently existing property interest. It is not, therefore, subject to equitable distribution upon dissolution pursuant to § 46b-81.


The great weight of authority supports this conclusion.7 The oft-cited rationale for concluding that a degree is not property subject to distribution is found in Graham v. Graham, 194 Colo. 429, 574 P.2d 75 (1978). There, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded that “[a]n educational degree … is simply not encompassed even by the broad views of the concept of ‘property.’ It does not have an exchange value or any objective transferable value on an open market. It is personal to the holder. It terminates on death of the holder and is not inheritable. It cannot be assigned, sold, transferred, conveyed or pledged. An advanced degree is a cumulative product of many years of previous education, combined with diligence and hard work. It may not be acquired by mere expenditure of money. It is simply an intellectual achievement that may potentially assist in future acquisition of property. In our view, it has none of the attributes of property in the usual sense of the term.” Id., 432.


We agree that an advanced degree has no inherent value extrinsic to the recipient. Its only value rests in the possibility of the enhanced earning capacity that it might afford sometime in the future. The possibility of future earnings, however, represents a mere expectancy, not a present right. We previously have concluded that “[t]he terms ‘estate’ and ‘property,’ as used in the statute [§ 46b-81] connote presently existing interests. ‘Property’ entails ‘interests that a person has already acquired in specific benefits.’” (Emphasis added.) Rubin v. Rubin, supra, 204 Conn. 230-31. In Rubin, we declined to allow a property division in contemplation of an anticipated inheritance. We concluded that “the relevance of probable future income in determining the fair and equitable division of existing property … does not establish jurisdiction to make allowances from … property other than that held at the time.” (Emphasis added; internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., 231. “Until our legislature amends § 46b-81 to authorize contingent transfers of expected property, we shall not read such an intent into the statute.” Id., 232.


In this regard, we find the rationale of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania persuasive. In Hodge v. Hodge, 513 Pa. 264, 520 A.2d 15 (1986), the court denied a professional degree the status of property, concluding that “[i]n instances such as the one now before the Court, the real value being sought is not the diploma but the future earned income of the former spouse which will be attained as a result of the advanced degree. The property being sought is actually acquired subsequent to the parties’ separation. Thus, the future income sought cannot be ‘marital property’ because it has not been earned. If it has not been earned, it has not been acquired during the marriage.” (Emphasis in original.) Id., 269.


The court in Hodge went on to note that “the contribution made by one spouse to another spouse’s advanced degree plays only a small part in the overall achievement.” Id. In the same vein, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, concluded that “[o]n the whole, a degree of any kind results primarily from the efforts of the student who earns it. Financial and emotional support are important, as are homemaker services, but they bear no logical relation to the value of the resulting degree.”Hoak v. Hoak, 179 W. Va. 509, 513, 370 S.E.2d 473 (1988). The defendant maintains in her reply brief that this assertion “reflects a paleolithic view of marriage” that is inconsistent with the partnership theory of marriage embraced in Connecticut. We disagree.


The defendant reminds us that “the primary aim of property distribution is to recognize that marriage is, among other things, ‘a shared enterprise or joint undertaking in the nature of a partnership to which both spouses contribute–directly and indirectly, financially and nonfinancially–the fruits of which are distributable at divorce.’” (Emphasis added.) Krafick v. Krafick, supra, 234 Conn. 795. She argues that the only way to effectuate this purpose in these circumstances is to conclude that the plaintiffs medical degree is marital property. We disagree.


There are other ways to compensate the defendant for her contribution to the plaintiffs degree without subjecting it to classification as property subject to equitable distribution. See B. Herring, supra, 19 J. Marshall L. Rev. 1 (analyzing variety of solutions adopted by courts). Furthermore, while we have acknowledged that the marital union is akin to a partnership, we have never held that it is an actual economic partnership. The parties to a marriage do not enter into the relationship with a set of ledgers and make yearly adjustments to their capital accounts. “Marriage is not a business arrangement, and this Court would be loathe to promote any more tallying of respective debits and credits than already occurs in the average household.” Hoak v. Hoak, supra, 179 W. Va. 514; accord Mahoney v. Mahoney, supra, 91 N.J. 500. Reducing the relationship, even when it has broken down, to such base terms serves only to degrade and undermine that relationship and the parties.


Of the numerous states that have passed on this question, only one has concluded that an advanced degree is distributable as marital property. The New York Court of Appeals, in O’Brien v. O’Brien, 66 N.Y.2d 576, 583-84, 489 N.E.2d 712, 498 N.Y.S.2d 743 (1985), concluded that a professional license is “marital property” within the context of the governing New York statute. The New York Appellate Division, relying on the rationale of O’Brien, subsequently also concluded, in McGowan v. McGowan, 136 Misc. 2d 225, 518 N.Y.S.2d 346 (1987), that a professional degree is marital property. In O’Brien, the working wife supported the student husband through medical school only to have the husband file for divorce two months after obtaining a medical license. The court concluded that New York’s unique statutory scheme was broader than those of other states that had declined to consider degrees and licenses marital property, and that, unlike other states, “our statute recognizes that spouses have an equitable claim to things of value arising out of the marital relationship and classifies them as subject to distribution by focusing on the marital status of the parties at the time of acquisition…. [T]hey hardly fall within the traditional property concepts because there is no common-law property interest remotely resembling marital property.” (Emphasis added; internal quotation marks omitted.) O’Brien v. O’Brien, supra, 583. The court further acknowledged that “the New York Legislature deliberately went beyond traditional concepts when it formulated the Equitable Distribution Law….” (Citation omitted.) Id.


By contrast, we have interpreted our equitable distribution scheme under § 46b-81 as embracing the traditional, albeit broad, legal concept of property as defined in Black’s Law Dictionary. Krafick v. Krafick, supra, 234 Conn. 794. In Krafick, we concluded that this definition represents the “common understanding” of the term. Id. Furthermore, the New York statute specifically states that the court must consider the contribution and expenditures of each spouse to the career of the other spouse when making a property distribution. O’Brien v. O’Brien, supra, 66 N.Y.2d 583. There is no concomitant directive in § 46b-81 (c), which requires only that courts consider various factors including “occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities and needs of each of the parties and the opportunity of each for future acquisition of capital assets and income … [and] the contribution of each of the parties in the acquisition, preservation or appreciation in value of their respective estates.” Accordingly, we are not persuaded that we should follow New York’s minority approach, which is based exclusively on its unique statute and the statute’s illustrative legislative history. We conclude that the plaintiff’s medical degree is not property subject to equitable distribution pursuant to § 46b-81 upon dissolution of the parties’ marriage.










The second issue raised by the defendant is whether, if it is assumed that the plaintiffs degree is not property subject to distribution pursuant to § 46b-81, the trial court abused its discretion by failing to take proper account of the plaintiffs degree in structuring a property settlement and in denying her alimony. The following additional facts are relevant to this issue. When this case was decided by the trial court, the plaintiff was thirty-six years of age with an annual gross income of $45,660 from his residency position. The defendant was fifty-six years of age and employed part time as a registered nurse earning approximately $36,000 annually. She had earned approximately $67,000 in the previous year. The parties owned minimal assets, including their older automobiles,8 approximately $5800 in cash, some collectibles, including rare books and stamps, and other miscellaneous personalty. After concluding that neither party was solely responsible for the irretrievable breakdown, the trial court ordered the dissolution of the marriage; denied alimony to either party; allowed each party to retain the personal property currently in that party’s possession;9 made the plaintiff solely responsible for a joint debt to the Internal Revenue Service, but otherwise made each party responsible for that party’s own debts, which included the plaintiff’s medical school loans amounting to approximately $40,000; ordered the plaintiff to pay the defendant $5800, which was the total amount of cash in the joint accounts of the parties at the time of the parties’ separation and which the plaintiff unilaterally had withdrawn; and ordered both parties to be responsible for their own attorneys’ fees.


“The well settled standard of review in domestic relations cases is that this court will not disturb trial court orders unless the trial court has abused its legal discretion or its findings have no reasonable basis in the facts…. As has often been explained, the foundation for this standard is that the trial court is in a clearly advantageous position to assess the personal factors significant to a domestic relations case, such as demeanor and attitude of the parties at the hearing.” (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) McPhee v. McPhee, 186 Conn. 167, 177, 440 A.2d 274 (1982); see also Rostain v. Rostain, 213 Conn. 686, 693, 569 A.2d 1126 (1990). “In determining whether there has been an abuse of discretion, the ultimate issue is whether the court could reasonably conclude as it did.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Sands v. Sands, 188 Conn. 98, 101, 448 A.2d 822 (1982), cert. denied, 459 U.S. 1148, 103 S. Ct. 792, 74 L. Ed. 2d 997 (1983). Accordingly, “it is only in rare instances that the trial court’s decision will be disturbed.” Id.; accord Tutalo v. Tutalo, 187 Conn. 249, 252, 445 A.2d 598 (1982); McPhee v. McPhee, supra, 177. Our statutory scheme, specifically §§ 46b-81 and 46b-82,10 “set[s] forth the criteria that a trial court must consider when resolving property and alimony disputes in a dissolution of marriage action. The court must consider all of these criteria…. It need not, however, make explicit reference to the statutory criteria that it considered in making its decision or make express finding as to each statutory factor. A ritualistic rendition of each and every statutory element would serve no useful purpose…. [T]he trial court is free to weigh the relevant statutory criteria without having to detail what importance it has assigned to the various statutory factors.” (Citations omitted; emphasis in original; internal quotation marks omitted.) Caffe v. Caffe, 240 Conn. 79, 82-83, 689 A.2d 468 (1997). With this standard in mind, we turn to the defendant’s claims.










The defendant first argues that the trial court abused its discretion in distributing the property between the parties. She maintains in her brief that “[t]he court awarded the plaintiff-appellee the degree and subsequent training and left the defendant-appellant with $5800.” Additionally, she argues that the court failed to take account of the plaintiff’s collectibles, which she claims are worth between $70,000 and $80,000. Neither of the defendant’s arguments is persuasive. “It is often the case that the appellant, in arguing abuse of discretion, would in reality have this court vary either the weight placed upon specific statutory criteria or the weight placed upon documentary or testimonial evidence.Fucci v. Fucci, 179 Conn. 174, 183, 425 A.2d 592 (1979). Such an excursion by this court into the domain of the trier is unacceptable. Schaffer v. Schaffer, 187 Conn. 224, 227, 445 A.2d 589 (1982).” Carpenter v. Carpenter, 188 Conn. 736, 741-42, 453 A.2d 1151 (1982).


Section 46b-81 (c) directs that, “[i]n fixing the nature and value of the property, if any, to be assigned, the court … shall consider the length of the marriage, the causes for the annulment, dissolution of the marriage or legal separation, the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities and needs of each of the parties and the opportunity of each for future acquisition of capital assets and income. The court shall also consider the contribution of each of the parties in the acquisition, preservation or appreciation in value of their respective estates.” (Emphasis added.) The trial court’s comprehensive memorandum of decision demonstrates that it evaluated all of the statutory factors in making its decision concerning the property distribution. It acknowledged the need to consider the “vocational skills and employability of the parties” and,“‘the opportunity of each [party] for future acquisition of capital assets and income’ and … ‘the contribution of each of the parties in the acquisition, preservation or appreciation in value of their respective estates.’” We conclude that “the trial court made sufficient reference, [if] not in form [then] in substance, to the factors it considered so that an appellate court would have guidance as to whether the trial court’s discretion was properly exercised.” Caffe v. Caffe, supra, 240 Conn. 83.


The memorandum of decision reveals that the trial court did take account of the plaintiffs degree and the potential for enhanced earning capacity when it distributed property pursuant to § 46b-81. There appear to have been only four assets of any significance– $5800 in cash, two automobiles, and some collectibles, which included gifts to the plaintiff from his father. On the liabilities side of the ledger were two significant debts–the plaintiffs $40,000 in education loans and a debt to the Internal Revenue Service. The plaintiff was ordered to assume both of those debts. The plaintiff also was ordered to pay over the full amount of the parties’ cash assets to the defendant. Each was allowed to keep his or her own automobile and any other miscellaneous personalty already within his or her possession.


With respect to the collectibles, it appears that a substantial portion of their value was either destroyed or retained by the defendant after the plaintiff had left the marital home and that the defendant returned only a portion of the stamps to the plaintiff. In allowing each party to keep the personalty already within his or her possession, the court accounted for and distributed the collectibles. In light of the defendant’s possible misconduct with respect to these collectibles, which the trial court reasonably could have found, we cannot say that such a distribution was inequitable or an abuse of discretion. The purpose of a distribution of property upon dissolution of the marriage is to “giv[e] each spouse what is equitably his [or hers].” (Emphasis added.) McPhee v. McPhee, supra, 186 Conn. 170. Of the assets that did exist at the time of trial, all that were liquid went to the defendant and all the debt went to the plaintiff. We cannot say that this distribution is inequitable.


The defendant’s attempt to obfuscate this issue by claiming that the plaintiff was awarded the value of the degree is unavailing. As resolved under our consideration of the first issue, the court properly made no distribution of the value of the medical degree because it is not property. The degree, however, was taken into account in the distribution of what property the parties currently did possess. Accordingly, we find no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s distribution of the property of the parties pursuant to § 46b-81.










We do, however, find merit in the defendant’s second claim, that the trial court abused its discretion in failing to award her alimony. An award of alimony is governed by § 46b-82,11 which mandates that the court “shall consider the length of the marriage, the causes for the annulment, dissolution of the marriage or legal separation, the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employ ability, estate and needs of each of the parties and the award, if any, which the court may make pursuant to section 46b-81….” (Emphasis added.) We continue mindful of the substantial deference that this court affords the decisions of the trial court in a dissolution case. See, e.g., Caffe v. Caffe, supra, 240 Conn. 82-83. We consider this case, however, to present one of those rare situations in which we must conclude that there was an abuse of that discretion. See Sands v. Sands, supra, 188 Conn. 100; McPhee v. McPhee, supra, 186 Conn. 177.


The trial court, in its memorandum of decision, acknowledged the need to consider the plaintiff’s medical degree in determining an award of alimony. Further, the court specifically referred to the statutory factors related to the earning capacity of both parties as well as other economic factors in making that determination. It went on, however, to conclude that “consideration of the statutory factors in this case [does] not justify the award of alimony to the defendant.” In support of its conclusion, the court analyzed the facts, noting that “[t]he defendant provided no direct financial contributions to the plaintiff’s attainment of his medical degree. He paid for his own education costs and incurred large medical school loans, of which approximately $40,000 remains outstanding. The defendant also did not forgo educational and career opportunities in order to support her husband. Much to her credit, she was able to further her education and attain her career goal of becoming a licensed nurse during the marriage. She is presently employed as a nurse and is able to financially support herself at a standard of living to which she was accustomed during marriage.


“The economic condition in which a divorce decree leaves the parties is a paramount concern for the court in a dissolution proceeding. A severing of the marriage bond in this case will not result in just one party facing a rewarding professional future. Both parties will remain able to support themselves and able to pursue their chosen career[s].” We have three problems with respect to the trial court’s analysis.


First, we find no reference to the age of the defendant. This court does not mandate that any one factor should be given greater weight than other factors, nor do we require that the court recite every factor in its memorandum of decision. Caffe v. Caffe, supra, 240 Conn. 83. We believe, however, that this particular omission is significant in light of the substantial age disparity between the parties. The defendant was fifty-six years of age at the time of trial, while the plaintiff was thirty-six years of age. Although the defendant may be able to continue to pursue her chosen career, she is significantly limited in the duration of that career because of her age. Moreover, she currently has no significant assets and she is not likely to accumulate any prior to her retirement. Any savings she might have garnered in anticipation of her retirement were necessarily consumed during the years of the plaintiffs medical education because she was the sole support of the family unit. It is not unlikely or unreasonable to believe that the plaintiffs medical degree was the defendant’s retirement plan.


We also take exception to the trial court’s emphasis of the fact that the defendant did not contribute direct financial aid to the cost of the plaintiffs schooling. The absence of direct financial contribution is of little consequence in an award of alimony in these circumstances. The defendant provided emotional support and homemaker services during the years of the plaintiff’s medical education. Moreover, she was the primary financial support of the family unit and forsook earnings by her spouse during his years in medical school in anticipation of the future enhanced earning capacity of the family. Just prior to the time when she reasonably might have anticipated a return on her sacrifice, the breakdown of the marriage effectively prevented her from realizing anything for her efforts.


Finally, we are concerned by the trial court’s reference to the defendant’s ability to sustain herself at a level to which she had become accustomed during the marriage. While an absence of need may be a customary criterion for determining the propriety of an award of alimony, this is an atypical case. “Need is to be satisfied if it can be, but those cases and the authorities on which [this rule] rest[s] are not to be read as necessarily limiting alimony by the dependent spouse’s need.” Rosenberg v. Rosenberg, 33 Mass. App. 903, 904, 595 N.E.2d 792 (1992). The only reason the defendant was accustomed to a standard of living commensurate with her salary alone is that she had become the sole support of the family unit in order to allow the plaintiff an opportunity to attain his medical degree. In view of the foregoing factors, we conclude that the trial court abused its discretion by not awarding the defendant some alimony, thereby depriving her of any opportunity for future support.


In concluding that the trial court abused its discretion by failing to award the defendant any alimony, we are guided by the analysis of the Wisconsin Supreme Court in Haugan v. Haugan, supra, 117 Wis. 2d 215-23. In Haugan, the court faced the typical working spouse/ student spouse situation and concluded that it was an abuse of discretion to deny alimony to the working spouse. The court determined that notions of fairness demand that the working wife be compensated for her lost expectation of the enjoyment of her husband’s enhanced future earnings in light of her contributions to his education, particularly in view of the fact that there was inadequate property to distribute. Id., 207. The court concluded that it was an abuse of discretion to deny alimony because of a lack of need, that the trial court failed to provide an adequate articulation of its reason for the denial, and that the award was clearly inadequate under the circumstances. Id., 216. We are persuaded by this rationale and conclude, for the same reasons, that the trial court abused its discretion in denying alimony to the defendant.


In concluding that alimony is a proper means of sharing the future earning of a spouse’s advanced degree, we are supported by the conclusions of courts interpreting statutes similar to ours. Particularly, the Massachusetts12 and Rhode Island13 statutes use language parallel to that of §§ 46b-81 and 46b-82. The courts of both states have concluded that their respective statutes do not permit equitable distribution of an advanced degree as property, but that alimony is the proper means of compensating the working spouse. Drapek v. Drapek, 399 Mass. 240, 246-47, 503 N.E.2d 946 (1987); Becker v. Perkins-Becker, 669 A.2d 524, 531-32 (R.I. 1996). In Drapek, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court concluded that distribution of a degree as property would be improper in that it would not take into account the possibility of future events because property settlements are not subject to future modification.14Drapek v. Drapek, supra, 244. The court went on to conclude that in such circumstances, it is more appropriate to employ an award of alimony to account for the enhanced earning capacity engendered by an advanced degree. Id., 245-46. The Rhode Island Supreme Court, in Becker v. Perkins-Becker, supra, 531-32, adopted the rationale of Drapek.


The conclusions of both the Massachusetts and Rhode Island courts that the unmodifiable nature of a property settlement sometimes makes it an inappropriate method for sharing the wealth generated by the student spouse’s increased earning capacity is persuasive. The further conclusions of those courts that alimony is an appropriate vehicle by which to compensate the working spouse when there is inadequate property to distribute is equally compelling. We previously have concluded that “property distributions, unlike alimony awards, cannot be modified to alleviate hardships that may result from enforcement of the original dissolution decree in the face of changes in the situation of either party. See Connolly v. Connolly, [191 Conn. 468, 477, 464 A.2d 837 (1983)]; H. Clark, [Domestic Relations in the United States (1968)] § 14.8, p. 449, and § 14.9, p. 453.” (Emphasis added.) Rubin v. Rubin, supra, 204 Conn. 232; see also General Statutes § 46b-86.15 An alimony award, on the other hand, is an appropriate method to take into account future earning capacity because it can be modified whenever there is a change in the circumstances of the parties that justifies the modification. Bartlett v. Bartlett, 220 Conn. 372, 381, 599 A.2d 14 (1991);16Rubin v. Rubin, supra, 235-36; see General Statutes § 46b-86.


Sound public policy militates in favor of using an alimony award rather than a property settlement in these circumstances. To conclude that the plaintiffs medical degree is property and to distribute it to the defendant as such would, in effect, sentence the plaintiff to a life of involuntary servitude in order to achieve the financial value that has been attributed to his degree. The plaintiff may become disabled, die or fail his medical boards and be precluded from the practice of medicine. He may chose an alternative career either within medicine or in an unrelated field or a career as a medical missionary, earning only a subsistence income. An award of alimony will allow the court to consider these changes if and when they occur.


Because this case represents our first foray into this particular aspect of marriage dissolutions, we take this opportunity to clarify certain questions that may arise in interpreting the scope of this decision. First, we caution that we have not established a blanket rule that alimony must always be awarded to the working spouse.17 Nor do we conclude that enhanced earning capacity, and the contributions of the parties thereto, are necessarily factors of greater significance than other statutory factors. The trial courts continue to retain their traditional discretion in that regard. We do conclude, however, that a working spouse is normally entitled to some compensation for contributions made during the marriage and for the loss of enhanced future earnings, particularly when there are inadequate assets to distribute. The absence of need or direct financial contribution to a spouse’s education are not sufficient bases upon which to deny alimony when it is the only equitable compensation available to the working spouse.


Additionally, we are mindful that in ordering alimony or a property distribution in cases where there is an advanced degree obtained with the aid of a working spouse, the trial court also must take into account factors relating to the student spouse. The court must recognize the fact that the student spouse has worked and studied hard to obtain the degree and will have to continue to work hard in the future to realize the earning potential attributable to the degree. Haugan v. Haugan, supra, 117 Wis. 2d 215. “Granting equity to the supporting spouse should not result in inequity to the student spouse.” Id.


Finally, we recognize that a nominal alimony award may often be appropriate when the present circumstances will not support a substantial award. Nominal awards, however, are all that are necessary to afford the court continuing jurisdiction to make appropriate modifications. We have stated that “because some alimony was awarded, [one dollar per year] with no preclusion of modification, if the circumstances warrant, a change in the award can be obtained at some future date.” Ridgeway v. Ridgeway, 180 Conn. 533, 543, 429 A.2d 801 (1980); see also General Statutes § 46b-86; Ridolfi v. Ridolfi, 178 Conn. 377, 379-80, 423 A.2d 85 (1979). Concededly, in this case, no significant alimony appears to have been warranted at the time of trial. This was particularly true because, at the time of dissolution, the defendant’s salary was roughly equal to that of the plaintiff and, with further effort, could have been increased significantly. The failure to award any alimony at the time of trial, however, permanently precluded the defendant from seeking alimony at a future date should those circumstances change.18










The final issue presented for our consideration is the existence of an implied in fact contract between the parties with respect to the plaintiffs medical degree. There are two subparts to this issue articulated by the defendant. First, she asks this court to find that a contract did exist between the parties, and, second, she asks us to conclude that the trial court improperly failed to enforce that contract. Because these issues were not properly raised in the trial court, we decline to address them.


The existence of a contract is, at least initially, a question of fact; Fortier v. Newington Group, Inc., 30 Conn. App. 505, 509, 620 A.2d 1321, cert. denied, 225 Conn. 922, 625 A.2d 823 (1993); particularly with respect to the existence of an implied in fact contract as alleged here. Bolmer v. Kocet, 6 Conn. App. 595, 609, 507 A.2d 129 (1986). “It is the function of the trial court, not this court, to find facts.” State v. Lefferty, 189 Conn. 360, 363, 456 A.2d 272 (1983). Since a contractual claim was not properly raised at trial, it is not reviewable by this court. “[T]o review [a] claim, which has been articulated for the first time on appeal and not before the trial court, would result in a trial by ambuscade of the trial judge.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Robinson, 227 Conn. 711, 741, 631 A.2d 288 (1993). “We have repeatedly indicated our disfavor with the failure, whether because of a mistake of law, inattention or design, to object to errors occurring in the course of a trial until it is too late for them to be corrected, and thereafter, if the outcome of the trial proves unsatisfactory, with the assignment of such errors as grounds of appeal.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Knock v. Knock, 224 Conn. 776, 792, 621 A.2d 267 (1993).


The defendant contends that this issue was raised at trial because her attorney cited Boland v. Catalano, 202 Conn. 333, 521 A.2d 142 (1987) (unmarried, cohabiting couple may be found to have an implied contractual agreement regarding property distribution), in closing argument.19 Reference to Boland appears to have been made, however, solely for comparative purposes. It was an effort to highlight the inequity of the situation between the paucity of what the defendant would take from the marriage compared to the substantial benefits that the plaintiff would take from the marriage if his medical degree was not to be considered property available for distribution. At no point did the defendant suggest that the rationale of Boland, i.e., the existence of an implied contract, was applicable in this case. Furthermore, a claim sounding in contract was neither pleaded nor proved.20 Such a passing reference to Boland, without any analysis or explanation of its applicability to this case does not constitute sufficient raising of an issue at trial to warrant review by this court. See, e.g., Sicaras v. Hartford, 44 Conn. App. 771, 783-84, 692 A.2d 1290, cert. denied, 241 Conn. 916, 696 A.2d 340 (1997).


The judgment is reversed in part and the case is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


In this opinion the other justices concurred.


  1. General Statutes § 46b-81 provides in relevant part: “(a) At the time of entering a decree annulling or dissolving a marriage or for legal separation pursuant to a complaint under section 46b-45, the Superior Court may assign to either the husband or wife all or any part of the estate of the other. The court may pass title to real property to either party or to a third person or may order the sale of such real property, without any act by either the husband or the wife, when in the judgment of the court it is the proper mode to carry the decree into effect….


    “(c) In fixing the nature and value of the property, if any, to be assigned, the court, after hearing the witnesses, if any, of each party, except as provided in subsection (a) of section 46b-51, shall consider the length of the marriage, the causes for the annulment, dissolution of the marriage or legal separation, the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities and needs of each of the parties and the opportunity of each for future acquisition of capital assets and income. The court shall also consider the contribution of each of the parties in the acquisition, preservation or appreciation in value of their respective estates.”


  1. At the time of trial, the plaintiff had not yet decided which surgical specialty he intended to pursue. In point of fact, the plaintiff subsequently was not invited to return to the surgical residency program and, thus, apparently he will be unable to pursue either career.


  1. Although the short duration of the marriage is not an essential element, it is typical because in longer marriages the parties usually will have completed their education and entered the workforce before the end of the marriage. They are also more likely to have accumulated property in longer marriages.


  1. Although the present facts are not an exact fit with the more typical model, the relationship here generally falls within the basic framework of the paradigm. Unlike the typical working spouse who has forgone educational opportunities, the defendant here did attain a postsecondary education during the marriage and is currently working in her chosen field. Moreover, there is no allegation that the defendant has forgone childrearing opportunities as is often the case. The parties do, however, lack substantial assets, and the marriage was of only moderate duration.


  1. At oral argument, the defendant conceded that such a rule would have to apply to any degree, not simply an advanced degree.


  1. In interpreting § 46b-81, we have concluded that “[t]here are three stages of analysis regarding the equitable distribution of each resource: first, whether the resource is property within § 46b-81 to be equitably distributed (classification); second, what is the appropriate method for determining the value of the property (valuation); and third, what is the most equitable distribution of the property between the parties (distribution).” Krafick v. Krafick, supra, 234 Conn. 792-93. The issue presented in the instant case addresses exclusively the first stage, classification.


  1. Thirty-five states have addressed this issue. Of them, thirty-four have declined to consider an educational degree marital property subject to equitable distribution. See Jones v. Jones, 454 So. 2d 1006 (Ala. Civ. App. 1984); Nelson v. Nelson, 736 P.2d 1145 (Alaska 1987); Wisner v. Wisner, 129 Ariz. 333, 631 P.2d 115 (1981); In re Marriage of Sullivan, 37 Cal. 3d 762, 691 P.2d 1020, 209 Cal. Rptr. 354 (1984); Graham v. Graham, 194 Colo. 429, 574 P.2d 75 (1978); Hughes v. Hughes, 438 So. 2d 146 (Fla. App. 1983); Lowery v. Lowery, 262 Ga. 20, 413 S.E.2d 731 (1992); In re Marriage of Weinstein, 128 Ill. App. 3d 234, 470 N.E.2d 551 (1984); Roberts v. Roberts. 670 N.E.2d 72 (Ind. App. 1996); In re Marriage of Plasencia, 541 N.W.2d 923 (Iowa App. 1995); Inman v. Inman, 648 S.W.2d 847 (Ky. 1982); Sweeney v. Sweeney, 534 A.2d 1290 (Me. 1987); Archer v. Archer, 303 Md. 347, 493 A.2d 1074 (1985); Drapek v. Drapek, 399 Mass. 240, 503 N.E.2d 946 (1987); Krause v. Krause, 177 Mich. App. 184, 441 N.W.2d 66 (1989), but see Moss v. Moss, 80 Mich. App. 693, 264 N.W.2d 97 (1978) (representing conflict between Michigan appellate courts that is not yet resolved); Riaz v. Riaz, 789 S.W.2d 224 (Mo. App. 1990); Ruben v. Ruben, 123 N.H. 358, 461 A.2d 733 (1983); Mahoney v. Mahoney, supra, 91 N.J. 488; Muckleroy v. Muckleroy, 84 N.M. 14, 498 P.2d 1357 (1972); Haywood v. Haywood, 106 N.C. App. 91, 415 S.E.2d 565 (1992), rev’d on other grounds, 333 N.C. 342, 425 S.E.2d 696 (1993); Stevens v. Stevens, 23 Ohio St. 3d 115, 492 N.E.2d 131 (1986); Hubbard v. Hubbard, 603 P.2d 747 (Okla. 1979); Stuart and Stuart, 107 Or. App. 549, 813 P.2d 49 (1991); Hodge v. Hodge, 513 Pa. 264, 520 A.2d 15 (1986); Becker v. Perkins-Becker, 669 A.2d 524 (R.I. 1996); Helm v. Helm, 289 S.C. 169, 345 S.E.2d 720 (1986); Wehrkamp v. Wehrkamp, 357 N.W.2d 264 (S.D. 1984); Beeler v. Beeler, 715 S.W.2d 625 (Tenn. App. 1986); Frausto v. Frausto, 611 S.W.2d 656 (Tex. App. 1980); Martinez v. Martinez, 754 P.2d 69 (Utah 1988); Downs v. Downs, 154 Vt. 161, 574 A.2d 156 (1990); In re Marriage of Anglin, 52 Wash. App. 317, 759 P.2d 1224 (1988); Hoak v. Hoak, 370 S.E.2d 473 (W. Va. 1988); Grosskopf v. Grosskopf, 677 P.2d 814 (Wy. 1984); but see O’Brien v. O’Brien, 66 N.Y.2d 576, 489 N.E.2d 712, 498 N.Y.S.2d 743 (1985) (professional license is distributable as marital property); McGowan v. McGowan, 136 Misc. 2d 225, 518 N.Y.S.2d 346 (1987) (professional degree is distributable as marital property).


  1. The plaintiff owned a 1985 Subaru GL-10 Wagon and the plaintiff and the defendant jointly owned a 1979 Chevrolet K-5 Blazer. The Blazer was in the defendant’s possession, and the Subaru was in the plaintiff’s possession.


  1. The defendant alleges that the plaintiff owns $70,000 to $80,000 worth of collectibles including rare books and a stamp collection. This is the valuation listed on the plaintiffs answers to interrogatories. There is no specific reference to this property in the memorandum of decision. The plaintiff admits that he owned these items, but alleged that the defendant retained these items for a time after their separation. The defendant returned some of the stamp collection during the trial, but a significant number of stamps were missing. The plaintiff maintained that he is no longer in possession of the rare books and believes that the defendant destroyed them. The defendant admits that she left the books outside the house when she left the house permanently. No subsequent valuation of the reduced stamp collection was entered at trial. We have no reason to believe, and the defendant points to none, that the trial court failed to take this into account in distributing the personalty, allowing each to keep that which was already in his or her possession.


  1. Although § 46b-84, governing child support considerations in making property settlements and alimony awards, is usually also relevant, it is inapplicable in this case because the parties had no children of the marriage.


  1. General Statutes § 46b-82 provides: “At the time of entering the decree, the Superior Court may order either of the parties to pay alimony to the other, in addition to or in lieu of an award pursuant to section 46b-81. The order may direct that security be given therefor on such terms as the court may deem desirable, including an order to either party to contract with a third party for periodic payments or payments contingent on a life to the other party. In determining whether alimony shall be awarded, and the duration and amount of the award, the court shall hear the witnesses, if any, of each party, except as provided in subsection (a) of section 46b-51, shall consider the length of the marriage, the causes for the annulment, dissolution of the marriage or legal separation, the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate and needs of each of the parties and the award, if any, which the court may make pursuant to section 46b-81, and, in the case of a parent to whom the custody of minor children has been awarded, the desirability of such parent’s securing employment.”


  1. Massachusetts General Laws c. 208, § 34 provides in relevant part: “Upon divorce … the court of the commonwealth … may make a judgment for either of the parties to pay alimony to the other. In addition or in lieu of a judgment to pay alimony, the court may assign to either husband or wife all or any part of the estate of the other…. In determining the amount of alimony, if any, to be paid, or in fixing the nature and value of the property, if any, to be so assigned, the court … shall consider the length of the marriage, the conduct of the parties during the marriage, the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities and needs of each of the parties and the opportunity of each for future acquisition of capital assets and income…. The court may also consider the contribution of each of the parties in the acquisition, preservation or appreciation in value of their respective estates and the contributions of each of the parties as a homemaker to the family unit.” (Emphasis added.) Compare General Statutes § 46b-81 (c) as set forth in footnote 1 of this opinion.


  1. Rhode Island General Laws § 15-5-16.1 (1956, 1988 Reenactment) provides in relevant part: “In addition to or in lieu of an order to pay alimony made pursuant to a complaint for divorce, the court may assign to either the husband or wife a portion of the estate of the other. In determining the nature and value of the property, if any, to be assigned, the court … shall consider the length of the marriage, the conduct of the parties during the marriage, and the contribution of each of the parties in the acquisition, preservation, or appreciation in value of their respective estates, and the contribution and services of either party as a homemaker.” (Emphasis added.)


    This statute was amended in 1992 by 1992 Rhode Island Public Laws , c. 269, § 2, to include a provision for the courts to consider “[t]he contribution by one (1) party to the education, training, licensure, business, or, increased earning power of the other” when making property distributions. This directive was not part of the statute considered by the court in Becker v. Perkins-Becker, 669 A.2d 524, 530 n.4 (R.I. 1996).


  1. The court initially concluded that the degree was not property subject to equitable distribution because it represents future earned income, the value of which is too speculative and subject to too many variables. Drapek v. Drapek, supra, 399 Mass. 244.


  1. General Statutes § 46b-86 authorizes modification of alimony and child support payments “upon a showing of a substantial change in circumstances of either party….” It provides in relevant part: “This section shall not apply to assignments under § 46b-81 or to any assignment of the estate or a portion thereof of one party to the other party under prior law….”


  1. In Bartlett v. Bartlett, supra, 220 Conn. 381, we concluded that an inheritance, once vested in the heir upon death of the donor, constitutes changed circumstances and is properly considered in a request to modify alimony, notwithstanding the fact that the property was still pending probate and, thus, had not yet been distributed.


  1. We also note that our analysis and conclusion are limited to the circumstances presented in this case and should not be expanded beyond the context of the working spouse/student spouse paradigm. In future similar cases, if the trial court concludes that alimony is inappropriate, it should clearly set forth its reasoning. See Haugan v. Haugan, supra, 117 Wis. 2d 215.


  1. We are also mindful of our prior holdings recognizing that”’[t]he rendering of a judgment in a complicated dissolution case is a carefully crafted mosaic, each element of which may be dependent on the other.’” Sunbury v. Sunbury, 210 Conn. 170, 175, 553 A.2d 612 (1989). In light of that truism, we concluded in Sunbury that “[t]o limit the remand in this case to the issue of periodic alimony would impede the trial court’s ability to weigh the statutory criteria for financial orders to achieve an equitable result [because t]he issues involving financial orders are entirely interwoven.” Id., 174-75. Accordingly, notwithstanding our conclusion that the property distribution pursuant to § 46b-81 was fair and within the discretion of the trial court, it is necessary on remand for the trial court to reevaluate its prior order distributing the marital property in light of our conclusion that an award of alimony should be granted. This case presents unique circumstances and we leave the decision whether to alter the prior property distribution to the sound discretion of the trial court.


  1. The relevant portion of the defendant’s summation is as follows: “I would suggest to the Court that the Court can recognize that this degree, this medical degree, has a current value. That he also has a current earning capacity higher than what he’s doing, if he chooses to exercise it, and we are not asking him to exercise it. I will, however, ask the Court to recognize that this marriage was a partnership, and I refer the Court to the case Boland [v.] Catalano, which is a Connecticut case. That case was not a marriage case. That case was a case where two parties lived together, and everything ended up in the fellow’s name and nothing ended up in the lady’s name. And it was their game plan that they live as husband and wife, acted as husband and wife, and were planning their future. Well, I think we have a bit of a parallel here. We have a Doctor with a medical degree…. [H]e is getting the benefit of her income and education [in the form of reduced requests for alimony]. He, on the other hand, if allowed to walk out and never look back, she worked those three jobs while he was in medical school.”


  1. Although there was some testimony by both parties that there was an understanding between them, particularly the plaintiffs acknowledgment that the defendant could “take it easy” after the plaintiff obtained his degree, this is hardly adequate proof of an implied contract, especially when such a legal theory was never placed before the court. The plaintiff refused to characterize this as an agreement, but rather thought that it might be viewed as a “plan.”




Lowery v. Lowery,

262 Ga. 20 (1992)




Stone, Christian & Raymond, Philip T. Raymond III, Susan L. Dalton, for appellant.


Harrison & Willis, Randall P. Harrison, J. Stephen Clifford, for appellee.




Hunt, Justice.




We granted this application to appeal to determine whether the husband’s medical school education and license may be considered “marital property,” subject to equitable division. We agree with the trial court, and the majority of jurisdictions that have decided this issue, that they are not. See generally Annot. Spouse’s Professional Degree or License as Marital Property for Purposes of Alimony, Support, or Property Settlement, 4 ALR 4th 1294; see, e.g., Hughes v. Hughes, 438 S2d 146 (Fla. 1983); In re Marriage of Goldstein, 423 NE2d 1201 (Ill. 1981). These “assets” bear no similarity to even the broadest view of property for purposes of equitable division. Their value is too speculative to calculate, being simply the possibility of enhanced earnings they provide. That potential may never be realized for any number of reasons. The husband’s education and license have no exchange value or transferrable value on an open market, are personal to him, terminate on his death, and cannot be assigned, sold, transferred or pledged. In re Marriage of Graham, 574 P2d 75 (Colo. 1978).1


However, on the issue of alimony, we disagree with the trial court that the wife’s expert’s testimony regarding the husband’s earnings must be limited to the husband’s actual present income. The expert may testify regarding the husband’s earning capacity, to the extent the wife contends that differs from his present income. OCGA § 19-6-5 (4) and (7). Worrell v. Worrell, 242 Ga. 44, 45 (2) (247 SE2d 847) (1978).


  1. Of course, the wife’s contributions to the marriage during the time the husband earned his degree and license, including her contributions to the husband to help him attain the degree and license, may be considered relative to alimony, OCGA § 19-6-5 (5), (6) and (7), and the division of marital property. Stokes v. Stokes, 246 Ga. 765, 772 (273 SE2d 169) (1980) (Hill, J., concurring).






4.4.3. Unmarried Partners


Watts v. Watts,

137 Wis.2d 506 (1987)




For the plaintiff-appellant there was an appellant’s brief (in the court of appeals) by David G. Walsh, Margaret A. Satterthwaite, and Walsh, Walsh, Sweeney and Whitney, S.C., Madison, and a reply brief by David G. Walsh. The cause was argued by David G. Walsh.


For the defendant-respondent there was a brief (in the court of appeals) and oral argument by Daniel G. Sandell, Madison.



Shirley S. Abrahamson, J.



This is an appeal from a judgment of the circuit court for Dane County, William D. Byrne, Judge, dismissing Sue Ann Watts’ amended complaint, pursuant to sec. 802.06(2)(f), Stats. 1985-86, for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. This court took jurisdiction of the appeal upon certification by the court of appeals under sec. (Rule) 809.61, Stats. 1985-86. For the reasons set forth, we hold that the complaint states a claim upon which relief may be granted. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the circuit court and remand the cause to the circuit court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


The case involves a dispute between Sue Ann Evans Watts, the plaintiff, and James Watts, the defendant, over their respective interests in property accumulated during their nonmarital cohabitation relationship which spanned 12 years and produced two children. The case presents an issue of first impression and comes to this court at the pleading stage of the case, before trial and before the facts have been determined.


The plaintiff asked the circuit court to order an accounting of the defendant’s personal and business assets accumulated between June 1969 through December 1981 (the duration of the parties’ cohabitation) and to determine plaintiff’s share of this property. The circuit court’s dismissal of plaintiff’s amended complaint is the subject of this appeal. The plaintiff rests her claim for an accounting and a share in the accumulated property on the following legal theories: (1) she is entitled to an equitable division of property under sec. 767.255, Stats. 1985-86; (2) the defendant is estopped to assert as a defense to plaintiff’s claim under sec. 767.255, that the parties are not married; (3) the plaintiff is entitled to damages for defendant’s breach of an express contract or an implied-in-fact contract between the parties; (4) the defendant holds the accumulated property under a constructive trust based upon unjust enrichment; and (5) the plaintiff is entitled to partition of the parties’ real and personal property pursuant to the partition statutes, secs. 820.01 and 842.02(1), 1985-86, and common law principles of partition.1


The circuit court dismissed the amended complaint, concluding that sec. 767.255, Stats. 1985-86, authorizing a court to divide property, does not apply to the division of property between unmarried persons. Without analyzing the four other legal theories upon which the plaintiff rests her claim, the circuit court simply concluded that the legislature, not the court, should provide relief to parties who have accumulated property in nonmarital cohabitation relationships. The circuit court gave no further explanation for its decision.


We agree with the circuit court that the legislature did not intend sec. 767.255 to apply to an unmarried couple. We disagree with the circuit court’s implicit conclusion that courts cannot or should not, without express authorization from the legislature, divide property between persons who have engaged in nonmarital cohabitation. Courts traditionally have settled contract and property disputes between unmarried persons, some of whom have cohabited. Nonmarital cohabitation does not render every agreement between the cohabiting parties illegal and does not automatically preclude one of the parties from seeking judicial relief, such as statutory or common law partition, damages for breach of express or implied contract, constructive trust and quantum merit where the party alleges, and later proves, facts supporting the legal theory. The issue for the court in each case is whether the complaining party has set forth any legally cognizable claim.


A motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. All facts pleaded and all reasonable inferences therefrom are admitted as true, but only for the purpose of testing the legal sufficiency of the claim, not for trial. Scarpaci v. Milwaukee County, 96 Wis. 2d 663, 669, 292 N.W.2d 816, 18 A.L.R.4th 829 (1980). A complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears certain that no relief can be granted under any set of facts that a plaintiff can prove in support of his or her allegations. Kranzush v. Badger State Mutual Cas. Co., 103 Wis. 2d 56, 82, 307 N.W.2d 256 (1981). The pleadings are to be liberally construed to do substantial justice to the parties. Sec. 802.02(6), Stats. 1985-86; Scarpaci, supra, 96 Wis. 2d at 669. Whether a complaint states a claim upon which relief may be granted is a question of law and this court need not defer to the circuit court’s determination.


We test the sufficiency of the plaintiff’s amended complaint by first setting forth the facts asserted in the complaint and then analyzing each of the five legal theories upon which the plaintiff rests her claim for relief.










The plaintiff commenced this action in 1982. The plaintiff’s amended complaint alleges the following facts, which for purposes of this appeal must be accepted as true. The plaintiff and the defendant met in 1967, when she was 19 years old, was living with her parents and was working full time as a nurse’s aide in preparation for a nursing career. Shortly after the parties met, the defendant persuaded the plaintiff to move into an apartment paid for by him and to quit her job. According to the amended complaint, the defendant “indicated” to the plaintiff that he would provide for her.


Early in 1969, the parties began living together in a “marriage-like” relationship, holding themselves out to the public as husband and wife. The plaintiff assumed the defendant’s surname as her own. Subsequently, she gave birth to two children who were also given the defendant’s surname. The parties filed joint income tax returns and maintained joint bank accounts asserting that they were husband and wife. The defendant insured the plaintiff as his wife on his medical insurance policy. He also took out a life insurance policy on her as his wife, naming himself as the beneficiary. The parties purchased real and personal property as husband and wife. The plaintiff executed documents and obligated herself on promissory notes to lending institutions as the defendant’s wife.


During their relationship, the plaintiff contributed childcare and homemaking services, including cleaning, cooking, laundering, shopping, running errands, and maintaining the grounds surrounding the parties’ home. Additionally, the plaintiff contributed personal property to the relationship which she owned at the beginning of the relationship or acquired through gifts or purchases during the relationship. She served as hostess for the defendant for social and business-related events. The amended complaint further asserts that periodically, between 1969 and 1975, the plaintiff cooked and cleaned for the defendant and his employees while his business, a landscaping service, was building and landscaping a golf course.


From 1973 to 1976, the plaintiff worked 20-25 hours per week at the defendant’s office, performing duties as a receptionist, typist, and assistant bookkeeper. From 1976 to 1981, the plaintiff worked 40-60 hours per week at a business she started with the defendant’s sister-in-law, then continued and managed herself after the dissolution of that partnership. The plaintiff further alleges that in 1981 the defendant made their relationship so intolerable that she was forced to move from their home and their relationship was irretrievably broken. Subsequently, the defendant barred the plaintiff from returning to her business.


The plaintiff alleges that during the parties’ relationship, and because of her domestic and business contributions, the business and personal wealth of the couple increased. Furthermore, the plaintiff alleges that she never received any compensation for these contributions to the relationship and that the defendant indicated to the plaintiff both orally and through his conduct that he considered her to be his wife and that she would share equally in the increased wealth.


The plaintiff asserts that since the breakdown of the relationship the defendant has refused to share equally with her the wealth accumulated through their joint efforts or to compensate her in any way for her contributions to the relationship.










The plaintiff’s first legal theory to support her claim against the property accumulated during the cohabitation is that the plaintiff, defendant, and their children constitute a “family,” thus entitling the plaintiff to bring an action for property division under sec. 767.02(1)(h), Stats. 1985-86,2 and to have the court “divide the property of the parties and divest and transfer the title of any such property” pursuant to sec. 767.255, 1985-86.3


The plaintiff asserts that the legislature intended secs. 767.02(1)(h) and 767.255, which usually govern division of property between married persons in divorce or legal separation proceedings, to govern a property division action between unmarried cohabitants who constitute a family. The plaintiff points out that secs. 767.02(1)(h) and 767.255 are part of chapter 767, which is entitled “Actions Affecting the Family,” and that in 1979 the legislature deliberately changed the title of the chapter from “Actions Affecting Marriage” to “Actions Affecting the Family.”4 The legislature has failed to provide any definition for “family” under ch. 767, or for that matter under any chapter of the Family Code.5


The plaintiff relies on Warden v. Warden, 36 Wash. App. 693, 676 P.2d 1037 (1984), to support her claim for relief under secs. 767.02(1)(h) and 767.255. In Warden, the Washington court of appeals held that the statute providing guidelines for property division upon dissolution of marriage, legal separation, etc., could also be applied to divide property acquired by unmarried cohabitants in what was “tantamount to a marital family except for a legal marriage.” Warden, 36 Wash. App. at 698, 676 P.2d at 1039. Warden is remarkably similar on its facts to the instant case. The parties in Warden had lived together for 11 years, had two children, held themselves out as husband and wife, acquired property together, and filed joint tax returns. On those facts, the Washington court of appeals held that the trial court correctly treated the parties as a “family” within the meaning of the Washington marriage dissolution statute. In addition, the trial court had considered such statutory factors as the length and purpose of the parties’ relationship, their two children, and the contributions and future prospects of each in determining their respective shares of the property.


Although the Warden case provides support for the plaintiff’s argument, most courts which have addressed the issue of whether marriage dissolution statutes provide relief to unmarried cohabitants have either rejected or avoided application of a marriage dissolution statute to unmarried cohabitants. See, e.g., Marvin v. Marvin, 18 Cal. 3d 660, 681, 134 Cal. Rptr. 815, 557 P.2d 106 (1976); Metten v. Benge, 366 N.W.2d 577, 579-80 (Iowa 1985); Glasgo v. Glasgo, 410 N.E.2d 1325, 1331 (Ind. Ct. App. 1980); Kozlowski v. Kozlowski, 80 N.J. 378, 383, 403 A.2d 902, 905 (1979).6


The purpose of statutory construction is to ascertain the intent of the legislature and give effect to that intent. If the language of the statute is unclear, the court will endeavor to discover the legislature’s intent as disclosed by the scope, history, context, subject matter and purpose of the statute. Ball v. District No. 4, Area Bd., 117 Wis. 2d 529, 538, 345 N.W.2d 389 (1984).


While we agree with the plaintiff that some provisions in ch. 767 govern a mother, father, and their children, regardless of marriage,7 upon our analysis of sec. 767.255 and the Family Code, we conclude that the legislature did not intend sec. 767.255 to extend to unmarried cohabitants.


When the legislature added what is now sec. 767.255 in 1977 as part of the no fault divorce bill, it stated that its “sole purpose” was “to promote an equitable and reasonable adjudication of the economic and custodial issues involved in marriage relationships.”8 (Emphasis supplied.) Moreover, the unambiguous language of sec. 767.255 and the criteria for property division listed in sec. 767.255 plainly contemplate that the parties who are governed by that section are or have been married.9 Finally, secs. 767.02(1)(h) and 767.255 were both in existence before the 1979 legislature changed the title of ch. 767 from “Marriage” to “Family.” A change in the title of the chapter would not change the import of these statutory provisions.


Furthermore, the Family Code emphasizes marriage. The entire Family Code, of which ch. 767 is an integral part, is governed generally by the provisions of sec. 765.001(2), which states in part that “[i]t is the intent of chs. 765 to 768 to promote the stability and best interests of marriage and the family. … Marriage is the institution that is the foundation of family and of society. Its stability is basic to morality and civilization, and of vital interest to society and the state.” (Emphasis supplied.) Section 765.001(3) further states that “[c]hapters 765 to 768 shall be liberally construed to effect the objectives of sub. (2).” The conclusion is almost inescapable from this language in sec. 765.001 (2), (3) that the legislature not only intended chs. 765-768 to protect and promote the “family,” but also intended “family” to be within the “marriage” context.10


The statutory prohibition of marriages which do not conform to statutory requirements, sec. 765.21, Stats. 1985-86,11 further suggests that the legislature intended that the Family Code applies, for the most part, to those couples who have been joined in marriage according to law.


On the basis of our analysis of sec. 767.255 and the Family Code which revealed no clear evidence that the legislature intended sec. 767.255 to apply to unmarried persons, we decline the invitation to extend the application of sec. 767.255 to unmarried cohabitants. We therefore hold that the plaintiff has not stated a claim for property division under sec. 767.255.










The plaintiff urges that the defendant, as a result of his own words and conduct, be estopped from asserting the lack of a legal marriage as a defense against the plaintiff’s claim for property division under sec. 767.255. As support for her position, the plaintiff cites a 1905 Tennessee case and two law review articles that do no more than cite to the Tennessee case law.12


Although the defendant has not discussed this legal theory, we conclude that the doctrine of “marriage by estoppel” should not be applied in this case. We reach this result primarily because we have already concluded that the legislature did not intend sec. 767.255 to govern property division between unmarried cohabitants.13 We do not think the parties’ conduct should place them within the ambit of a statute which the legislature did not intend to govern them.










The plaintiffs third legal theory on which her claim rests is that she and the defendant had a contract to share equally the property accumulated during their relationship. The essence of the complaint is that the parties had a contract, either an express or implied in fact contract, which the defendant breached.


Wisconsin courts have long recognized the importance of freedom of contract and have endeavored to protect the right to contract. A contract will not be enforced, however, if it violates public policy. A declaration that the contract is against public policy should be made only after a careful balancing, in the light of all the circumstances, of the interest in enforcing a particular promise against the policy against enforcement. Courts should be reluctant to frustrate a party’s reasonable expectations without a corresponding benefit to be gained in deterring “misconduct” or avoiding inappropriate use of the judicial system. Merten v. Nathan, 108 Wis. 2d 205, 211, 321 N.W.2d 173, 177 (1982); Continental Ins. Co. v. Daily Express, Inc., 68 Wis. 2d 581, 589, 229 N.W.2d 617 (1975); Schaal v. Great Lakes Mutual Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 6 Wis. 2d 350, 356, 94 N.W.2d 646, 649 (1959); Trumpf v. Shoudy, 166 Wis. 353, 359, 164 N.W. 454, 456 (1917); Restatement (Second) of Contracts sec. 178 comments b and e (1981).


The defendant appears to attack the plaintiff’s contract theory on three grounds. First, the defendant apparently asserts that the court’s recognition of plaintiff’s contract claim for a share of the parties’ property contravenes the Wisconsin Family Code. Second, the defendant asserts that the legislature, not the courts, should determine the property and contract rights of unmarried cohabitating parties. Third, the defendant intimates that the parties’ relationship was immoral and illegal and that any recognition of a contract between the parties or plaintiff’s claim for a share of the property accumulated during the cohabitation contravenes public policy.


The defendant rests his argument that judicial recognition of a contract between unmarried cohabitants for property division violates the Wisconsin Family Code on Hewitt v. Hewitt, 77 Ill. 2d 49, 31 Ill. Dec. 827, 394 N.E.2d 1204, 3 A.L.R.4th 1 (1979). In Hewitt the Illinois Supreme Court concluded that judicial recognition of mutual property rights between unmarried cohabitants would violate the policy of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution Act because enhancing the attractiveness of a private arrangement contravenes the Act’s policy of strengthening and preserving the integrity of marriage. The Illinois court concluded that allowing such a contract claim would weaken the sanctity of marriage, put in doubt the rights of inheritance, and open the door to false pretenses of marriage. Hewitt, 77 Ill. 2d at 65, 394 N.E.2d at 1211.


We agree with Professor Prince and other commentators that the Hewitt court made an unsupportable inferential leap when it found that cohabitation agreements run contrary to statutory policy and that the Hewitt court’s approach is patently inconsistent with the principle that public policy limits are to be narrowly and exactly applied.14


Furthermore, the Illinois statutes upon which the Illinois supreme court rested its decision are distinguishable from the Wisconsin statutes. The Illinois supreme court relied on the fact that Illinois still retained “fault” divorce and that cohabitation was unlawful. By contrast, Wisconsin abolished “fault” in divorce in 1977 and abolished criminal sanctions for nonmarital cohabitation in 1983.15


The defendant has failed to persuade this court that enforcing an express or implied in fact contract between these parties would in fact violate the Wisconsin Family Code. The Family Code, chs. 765-768, Stats. 1985-86, is intended to promote the institution of marriage and the family. We find no indication, however, that the Wisconsin legislature intended the Family Code to restrict in any way a court’s resolution of property or contract disputes between unmarried cohabitants.


The defendant also urges that if the court is not willing to say that the Family Code proscribes contracts between unmarried cohabiting parties, then the court should refuse to resolve the contract and property rights of unmarried cohabitants without legislative guidance. The defendant asserts that this court should conclude, as the Hewitt court did, that the task of determining the rights of cohabiting parties is too complex and difficult for the court and should be left to the legislature. We are not persuaded by the defendant’s argument. Courts have traditionally developed principles of contract and property law through the case-by-case method of the common law. While ultimately the legislature may resolve the problems raised by unmarried cohabiting parties, we are not persuaded that the court should refrain from resolving such disputes until the legislature gives us direction.16 Our survey of the cases in other jurisdictions reveals that Hewitt is not widely followed.


We turn to the defendant’s third point, namely, that any contract between the parties regarding property division contravenes public policy because the contract is based on immoral or illegal sexual activity. The defendant does not appear to make this argument directly. It is not well developed in the brief, and at oral argument defendant’s attorney indicated that he did not find this argument persuasive in light of the current community mores, the substantial number of unmarried people who cohabit, and the legislature’s abolition of criminal sanctions for cohabitation. Although the parties in the instant case cohabited at a time when cohabitation was illegal, the defendant’s counsel at oral argument thought that the present law should govern this aspect of the case. Because illegal sexual activity has posed a problem for courts in contract actions, we discuss this issue even though the defendant did not emphasize it.


Courts have generally refused to enforce contracts for which the sole consideration is sexual relations, sometimes referred to as “meretricious” relationships. See In Matter of Estate of Steffes, 95 Wis. 2d 490, 514, 290 N.W.2d 697 (1980), citing Restatement of Contracts sec. 589 (1932). Courts distinguish, however, between contracts that are explicitly and inseparably founded on sexual services and those that are not. This court, and numerous other courts,17 have concluded that “a bargain between two people is not illegal merely because there is an illicit relationship between the two so long as the bargain is independent of the illicit relationship and the illicit relationship does not constitute any part of the consideration bargained for and is not a condition of the bargain.” Steffes, supra, 95 Wis. 2d at 514.


While not condoning the illicit sexual relationship of the parties, many courts have recognized that the result of a court’s refusal to enforce contract and property rights between unmarried cohabitants is that one party keeps all or most of the assets accumulated during the relationship, while the other party, no more or less “guilty,” is deprived of property which he or she has helped to accumulate. See e.g., Glasgo v. Glasgo, 410 N.E.2d 1325, 1330 (Ind. App. 1980); Latham v. Latham, 274 Or. 421, 426, 547 P.2d 144 (Or. 1976); Marvin v. Marvin, supra, 18 Cal. 3d at 682, 134 Cal. Rptr at 830, 557 P.2d at 121; West v. Knowles, 50 Wash. 2d 311, 315-16, 311 P.2d 689 (1957).


The Hewitt decision, which leaves one party to the relationship enriched at the expense of the other party who had contributed to the acquisition of the property, has often been criticized by courts and commentators as being unduly harsh.18 Moreover, courts recognize that their refusal to enforce what are in other contexts clearly lawful promises will not undo the parties’ relationship and may not discourage others from entering into such relationships. Tyranski v. Piggins, 44 Mich. App. 570, 577, 205 N.W.2d 595 (1973). A harsh, per se rule that the contract and property rights of unmarried cohabitating parties will not be recognized might actually encourage a partner with greater income potential to avoid marriage in order to retain all accumulated assets, leaving the other party with nothing. See Marvin v. Marvin, supra, 18 Cal. 3d at 683, 134 Cal. Rptr. at 831, 557 P.2d at 122.


[The court distinguishes an earlier case disapproving of equitable division on “divorce” of unmarried couples.]


The plaintiff has alleged that she quit her job and abandoned her career training upon the defendant’s promise to take care of her. A change in one party’s circumstances in performance of the agreement may imply an agreement between the parties. Steffes, supra, 95 Wis. 2d at 504; Tyranski, supra, 44 Mich. App. at 574, 205 N.W.2d at 597.


In addition, the plaintiff alleges that she performed housekeeping, childbearing, childbearing, and other services related to the maintenance of the parties’ home, in addition to various services for the defendant’s business and her own business, for which she received no compensation. Courts have recognized that money, property, or services (including housekeeping or childbearing) may constitute adequate consideration independent of the parties’ sexual relationship to support an agreement to share or transfer property. See Tyranski, supra, 44 Mich. App. at 574, 205 N.W.2d at 597; Carlson v. Olson, 256 N.W.2d 249, 253-254 (Minn. 1977); Carroll v. Lee, 148 Ariz. 10, 14, 712 P.2d 923, 927 (1986); Steffes, supra 95 Wis. 2d at 501.19


According to the plaintiff’s complaint, the parties cohabited for more than twelve years, held joint bank accounts, made joint purchases, filed joint income tax returns, and were listed as husband and wife on other legal documents. Courts have held that such a relationship and “joint acts of a financial nature can give rise to an inference that the parties intended to share equally.” Beal v. Beal, 282 Or. 115, 122, 577 P.2d 507, 510 (1978). The joint ownership of property and the filing of joint income tax returns strongly implies that the parties intended their relationship to be in the nature of a joint enterprise, financially as well as personally. See Beal, 282 Or. at 122, 577 P.2d at 510; Warden v. Warden, supra, 36 Wash. App. at 696-97, 676 P.2d at 1038.


Having reviewed the complaint and surveyed the law in this and other jurisdictions, we hold that the Family Code does not preclude an unmarried cohabitant from asserting contract and property claims against the other party to the cohabitation. We further conclude that public policy does not necessarily preclude an unmarried cohabitant from asserting a contract claim against the other party to the cohabitation so long as the claim exists independently of the sexual relationship and is supported by separate consideration. Accordingly, we conclude that the plaintiff in this case has pleaded the facts necessary to state a claim for damages resulting from the defendant’s breach of an express or an implied in fact contract to share with the plaintiff the property accumulated through the efforts of both parties during their relationship. Once again, we do not judge the merits of the plaintiff’s claim; we merely hold that she be given her day in court to prove her claim.










The plaintiff’s fourth theory of recovery involves unjust enrichment. Essentially, she alleges that the defendant accepted and retained the benefit of services she provided knowing that she expected to share equally in the wealth accumulated during their relationship. She argues that it is unfair for the defendant to retain all the assets they accumulated under these circumstances and that a constructive trust should be imposed on the property as a result of the defendant’s unjust enrichment. In his brief, the defendant does not attack specifically either the legal theory or the factual allegations made by the plaintiff.


Unlike claims for breach of an express or implied in fact contract, a claim of unjust enrichment does not arise out of an agreement entered into by the parties. Rather, an action for recovery based upon unjust enrichment is grounded on the moral principle that one who has received a benefit has a duty to make restitution where retaining such a benefit would be unjust.Puttkammer v. Minth, 83 Wis. 2d 686, 689, 266 N.W.2d 361, 363 (1978).


Because no express or implied in fact agreement exists between the parties, recovery based upon unjust enrichment is sometimes referred to as “quasi contract,” or contract “implied in law” rather than “implied in fact.” Quasi contracts are obligations created by law to prevent injustice. Shellse v. City of Mayville, 223 Wis. 624, 632, 271 N.W.2d 643 (1937).20


In Wisconsin, an action for unjust enrichment, or quasi contract, is based upon proof of three elements: (1) a benefit conferred on the defendant by the plaintiff, (2) appreciation or knowledge by the defendant of the benefit, and (3) acceptance or retention of the benefit by the defendant under circumstances making it inequitable for the defendant to retain the benefit. Puttkammer, supra, 83 Wis. 2d at 689; Wis. J.I. Civil No. 3028 (1981).


The plaintiff has cited no cases directly supporting actions in unjust enrichment by unmarried cohabitants, and the defendant provides no authority against it.


[The court reviews cases that provide some support for an unjust enrichment cause of action.]


[A]llowing no relief at all to one party in a so-called “illicit” relationship effectively provides total relief to the other, by leaving that party owner of all the assets acquired through the efforts of both. Yet it cannot seriously be argued that the party retaining all the assets is less “guilty” than the other. Such a result is contrary to the principles of equity. Many courts have held, and we now so hold, that unmarried cohabitants may raise claims based upon unjust enrichment following the termination of their relationships where one of the parties attempts to retain an unreasonable amount of the property acquired through the efforts of both.21


In this case, the plaintiff alleges that she contributed both property and services to the parties’ relationship. She claims that because of these contributions the parties’ assets increased, but that she was never compensated for her contributions. She further alleges that the defendant, knowing that the plaintiff expected to share in the property accumulated, “accepted the services rendered to him by the plaintiff” and that it would be unfair under the circumstances to allow him to retain everything while she receives nothing. We conclude that the facts alleged are sufficient to state a claim for recovery based upon unjust enrichment.


As part of the plaintiff’s unjust enrichment claim, she has asked that a constructive trust be imposed on the assets that the defendant acquired during their relationship. A constructive trust is an equitable device created by law to prevent unjust enrichment. Wilharms v. Wilharms, 93 Wis. 2d 671, 678, 287 N.W.2d 779, 783 (1980). To state a claim on the theory of constructive trust the complaint must state facts sufficient to show (1) unjust enrichment and (2) abuse of a confidential relationship or some other form of unconscionable conduct. The latter element can be inferred from allegations in the complaint which show, for example, a family relationship, a close personal relationship, or the parties’ mutual trust. These facts are alleged in this complaint or may be inferred. Gorski v. Gorski, 82 Wis. 2d 248, 254-55, 262 N.W.2d 120 (1978). Therefore, we hold that if the plaintiff can prove the elements of unjust enrichment to the satisfaction of the circuit court, she will be entitled to demonstrate further that a constructive trust should be imposed as a remedy.










The plaintiff’s last alternative legal theory on which her claim rests is the doctrine of partition. The plaintiff has asserted in her complaint a claim for partition of “all real and personal property accumulated by the couple during their relationship according to the plaintiff’s interest therein and pursuant to Chapters 820 and 842, Wis. Stats.”


Chapter 820, Stats. 1985-86, provides for partition of personal property. Sec. 820.01 states in part: “When any of the owners of personal property in common shall desire to have a division and they are unable to agree upon the same an action may be commenced for that purpose.” Sec. 820.01 thus states on its face that anyone owning property “in common” with someone else can maintain an action for partition of personal property held by the parties. This section codifies a remedy long recognized at common law. See Laing v. Williams, 135 Wis. 253, 257, 115 N.W. 821, 128 Am. St. R. 1025 (1908) (courts of equity have general jurisdiction to maintain actions for partition of personalty and to provide any kind of relief necessary to do justice).


Ch. 842, Stats. 1985-86, provides for partition of interests in real property. Sec. 842.02(1) states in relevant part: “A person having an interest in real property jointly or in common with others may sue for judgment partitioning such interest unless an action for partition is prohibited elsewhere in the statutes ….” (Emphasis supplied.) Sec. 842.02(1) also codifies an action well known at common law. See Kubina v. Nichols, 241 Wis. 644, 648, 6 N.W.2d 657 (1943), cert. denied, Nichols v. Kubina, 318 U.S. 784, 63 S. Ct. 852, 87 L.Ed. 2d 1151 (1943) (partition of real property is an equitable action).


In Wisconsin partition is a remedy under both the statutes and common law. Partition applies generally to all disputes over property held by more than one party. This court has already held, in Jezo v. Jezo, 19 Wis. 2d 78, 81, 119 N.W.2d 471 (1964), that the principles of partition could be applied to determine the respective property interests of a husband and wife in jointly owned property where the divorce law governing property division did not apply. Because the action was not incident to divorce, separation, or annulment, the Jezo court rejected the parties’ claim for property division under the divorce law, but did hold that a circuit court should apply the principles of partition to settle the parties’ property dispute. The court stated that the “determination of the issues relating to the property of the parties to this action is to be made … on the basis of those legal and equitable principles which would govern the rights to property between strangers.” Id. Thus, Jezo appears to say that persons, regardless of their marital status, may sue for partition of property.


… .


In this case, the plaintiff has alleged that she and the defendant were engaged in a joint venture or partnership, that they purchased real and personal property as husband and wife, and that they intended to share all the property acquired during their relationship. In our opinion, these allegations, together with other facts alleged in the plaintiff’s complaint (e.g., the plaintiff’s contributions to the acquisition of their property) and reasonable inferences therefrom, are sufficient under Wisconsin’s liberal notice pleading rule to state a claim for an accounting of the property acquired during the parties’ relationship and partition. We do not, of course, presume to judge the merits of the plaintiff’s claim. Proof of her allegations must be made to the circuit court. We merely hold that the plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts in her complaint to state a claim for relief statutory or common law partition.


In summary, we hold that the plaintiff’s complaint has stated a claim upon which relief may be granted. We conclude that her claim may not rest on sec. 767.255, Stats. 1985-86, or the doctrine of “marriage by estoppel,” but that it may rest on contract, unjust enrichment or partition. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the circuit court, and remand the cause to the circuit court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


By the Court.—The judgment of the circuit court is reversed and the cause remanded.


  1. The complaint also includes five tort claims based on allegations regarding the defendant’s conduct after the termination of their relationship. The parties stipulated to the dismissal of the tort claims and they are not the subject of the appeals.


  1. Sec. 767.02(1)(h), Stats. 1985-86, provides that “Actions affecting the family are: … (h) For property division.”


  1. Sec. 767.255, Stats. 1985-86, provides in relevant part:


    “Upon every judgment of annulment, divorce or legal separation, or in rendering a judgment in an action under s. 767.02(1)(h), the court shall divide the property of the parties and divest and transfer the title of any such property accordingly.” (Emphasis supplied.)


  1. Laws of 1979, ch. 352, sec. 19.


    In a supplemental submission, and at oral argument, the plaintiff analogized its interpretation of sec. 767.255 to this court’s adoption of a broad definition of “family” in the context of zoning and land use. See, e.g. Crowley v. Knapp, 94 Wis. 2d 421, 437, 288 N.W.2d 815 (1980), in which this court stated that a “family” in that context “may mean a group of people who live, sleep, cook, and eat upon the premises as a single housekeeping unit.” In Crowley, the court adopted a definition of “family” serving that public policy favoring the free and unrestricted use of property.


    By contrast, the plaintiff here has failed to convince us that extending the definition of “family” in this case to include unmarried cohabitants will further in any way the expressed public policy of ch. 767 to promote marriage and the family.


  1. The “Family Code” is comprised of ch. 765, Marriage; ch. 766, Marital Property; ch. 767, Actions Affecting the Family; and ch. 768, Actions Abolished.


  1. For a discussion of whether cohabitation should be viewed as analogous to marriage, see Fineman, Law and Changing Patterns of Behavior: Sanctions on Non-Marital Cohabitation, 1981 Wis. L. Rev. 275, 316-32.


  1. The plaintiff correctly points out that ch. 767 includes actions for determining paternity, which are not dependent upon the marital status of the parents. See, secs. 767.45-767.53, Stats. 1985-86.


  1. 1977 Wis. Laws ch. 105, sec. 1(4).


  1. Some of the criteria listed under sec. 767.255, Stats. (1985-86), are as follows:


    “(1) The length of the marriage.


    “(2) The property brought to the marriage by each party.



    “(3) The contribution of each party to the marriage, giving appropriate economic value to each party’s contribution in homemaking and child care services.



    “(11) Any written agreement made by the parties before or during the marriage concerning any arrangement for property distribution; …” (Emphasis supplied.)


  1. When the legislature abolished criminal sanctions for cohabitation in 1983, it nevertheless added a section to the criminal code stating that while the state does not regulate private sexual activity of consenting adults, the state does not condone or encourage sexual conduct outside the institution of marriage. The legislature adopted the language of sec. 765.001 that “[m]arriage is the foundation of family and society. Its stability is basic to morality and civilization, and of vital interest to society and this state.” Sec. 944.01, Stats. 1985-86.


  1. Common law marriages were abolished in 1917. Laws of 1917, ch. 218, sec. 21. Sec. 765.21, Stats. 1985-86, provides that marriages contracted in violation of specified provisions of ch. 765 are void.


  1. Plaintiff cites to Smith v. North Memphis Savings Bank, 89 S.W. 392 (Tenn. 1905), which is one of the more “recent” in a series of Tennessee cases to apply “marriage by estoppel.” The plaintiff also cites Comment, Property Rights Upon Termination of Unmarried Cohabitation: Marvin v. Marvin, 90 Harv. L. Rev. 1708, 1711-12 (1977); and Weyrauch, Informal and Formal Marriage— An Appraisal of Trends in Family Organization, 28 U. Chi. L. Rev. 88, 105 (1960). Weyrauch cites to Tennessee law, and the comment cites to Weyrauch.


  1. This court has previously rejected application of the “marriage by estoppel” doctrine in certain cases. In Eliot v. Eliot, 81 Wis. 295, 299, 51 N.W. 81, 82, 15 L.R.A. 259 (1892), a man was held not estopped from pleading that he was under age to be married in an annulment action he brought, even though he fraudulently induced the defendant into marriage. Accord Swenson v. Swenson, 179 Wis. 536, 540-41, 192 N.W. 70, 72 (1923).


  1. Prince, Public Policy Limitations in Cohabitation Agreements: Unruly Horse or Circus Pony, 70 Minn. L. Rev. 163, 189-205 (1985).


  1. Both Illinois and Wisconsin have abolished common law marriages. In our view this abolition does not invalidate a private cohabitation contract. Cohabitation agreements differ in effect from common law marriage. There is a significant difference between the consequences of achieving common law marriage status and of having an enforceable cohabitation agreement.


    In Latham v. Latham, 274 Or. 421, 426-27, 547 P.2d 144, 147 (1976), the Oregon supreme court found that the Legislature’s decriminalization of cohabitation represented strong evidence that enforcing agreements made by parties during cohabitation relationships would not be contrary to Oregon public policy.


  1. We have previously acted in the absence of express legislative direction. See Estate of Fox, 178 Wis. 369, 190 N.W. 90 (1922), in which the court allowed relief under the doctrine of unjust enrichment to a woman who in good faith believed that she was married when she actually was not, discussed infra. See also Smith v. Smith, 255 Wis. 96, 38 N.W.2d 12 (1949), in which the court refused equitable property division to one party to an illegal common law marriage, discussed infra; and Steffes.


  1. See, e.g., Glasgo v. Glasgo, 410 N.E.2d 1325, 1331 (Ind. App. 1980); Tyranski v. Piggins, 44 Mich. App. 570, 573-74, 205 N.W.2d 595, 598-99 (1973); Kozlowski v. Kozlowski, 80 N.J. 378, 387, 403 A.2d 902, 907 (1979); Latham v. Latham, 274 Or. 421, 426-27, 547 P.2d 144, 147 (Or. 1976); Marvin v. Marvin, 18 Cal. 3d 660, 670-71, 134 Cal. Rptr. 815, 822, 557 P.2d 106, 113 (1976).


  1. See Prince, Public Policy Limitations on Cohabitation Agreements: Unruly Horse or Circus Pony, 70 Minn. L. Rev. 163, 189-205 (1985); Oldham & Caudill, A Reconnaissance of Public Policy Restrictions upon Enforcement of Contracts between Cohabitants, 18 Fam. L.Q. 93, 132 (Spring 1984); Comment, Marvin v. Marvin: Five Years Later, 65 Marq. L. Rev. 389, 414 (1982).


  1. Until recently, the prevailing view was that services performed in the context of a “family or marriage relationship” were presumed gratuitous. However, that presumption was rebuttable. See Steffes, 95 Wis. 2d at 501, 290 N.W.2d at 703-704. In Steffes, we held the presumption to be irrelevant where the plaintiff can show either an express or implied agreement to pay for those services, even where the plaintiff has rendered them “with a sense of affection, devotion and duty.” Id. 95 Wis. 2d at 503, 290 N.W.2d at 703-704. For a discussion of the evolution of thought regarding the economic value of homemaking service by cohabitants, see Brush, Property Rights of De Facto Spouses Including Thoughts on the Value of Homemakers’ Services, 10 Fam. L.Q. 101, 110-14 (Summer 1976).


  1. For a discussion regarding the relationship between express, implied-in-fact, and implied-in-law contracts, see Steffes, supra, 95 Wis. 2d at 497 & n.4.


  1. See, e.g., Harman v. Rogers, 147 Vt. 11, 510 A.2d 161, 164-65 (1986); Collins v. Davis, 68 N.C. App. 588, 315 S.E.2d 759, 761-62 (1984), aff’d, 312 N.C. 324, 321 S.E.2d 892; Mason v. Rostad, 476 A.2d 662 (D.C. 1984); Coney v. Coney, 207 N.J. Super. 63, 503 A.2d 912, 918 (1985); In re Estate of Eriksen, 337 N.W.2d 671 (Minn. 1983).




Grant v. Butt,

198 S.C. 298 (1941)




A. R. McGowan, of Charleston, for appellant.


J. D. E. Meyer and George H. Momeier, both of Charleston, for respondents.




Order of Special Judge Timmerman follows:




This case is before me on a demurrer to the complaint, the grounds of which will be adverted to later. Oral arguments were made in open Court, the case was marked “Heard” and, by agreement of counsel, decision on the issues raised was reserved to be entered nunc pro tunc.


The complaint alleges a most extraordinary state of facts dealing with the lives of two individuals, one a negro woman, or part negro and part Indian, and the other a white man, now deceased. The plaintiff alleges that she is a descendant of the American or Indian race; that prior to 1907, she had married a negro man by whom she had two children, only one of whom is now living; that her negro husband died prior to 1907 and after his death she met defendant’s intestate, a white man, who “became interested in, infatuated with, and fell desperately in love with this plaintiff”; that for a long time the intestate forced his attentions upon her, insisted on being in her company and in her home and repeatedly and insistently begged her “to marry him and live with him as his wife”; and that the plaintiff, “appreciating that under the laws of the State of South Carolina a negro could not legally contract marriage with a person of the Caucasian race,” refused the offer of marriage. The plaintiff then alleges that the intestate “insisted and entreated that this plaintiff should leave the State of South Carolina and go with him to some State where they could legally marry,” but that she “refused to either marry him in the State of South Carolina or move with him to any other State as his wife,” although she was fond of him and enjoyed his company and companionship.


Following the foregoing, the plaintiff alleges, in the fourth paragraph of the complaint, an oral contract between herself and the intestate as having been made on Thanksgiving Day in 1907. She says it was agreed on her part: (a) That she would not marry so long as the deceased lived; and (b) that she would give the deceased the full benefit of her presence, companionship, care and assistance, and the absolute freedom of her home.


She then alleges that the intestate agreed on his part: (a) To give plaintiff his undivided affection and companionship; (b) to furnish plaintiff money for the maintenance of herself, her home and her children; (c) to take out a life insurance policy, and make the plaintiff the beneficiary thereof; (d) to assign to the plaintiff certain of his assets; and (e) to make a will giving the plaintiff one-half of his estate if she survived him and kept her agreements.


The plaintiff claims to have fully performed her part of said contract and that the intestate had fully performed his part, except that he neglected to leave her one-half of his estate on his death.


The plaintiff specifically alleges, as evidence of her complete compliance with the terms of the contract, that she gave the intestate “her presence, companionship, care and assistance, and the absolute freedom of her home and table; and the deceased, regularly and without interruption, over the span of years, accepted her companionship, care, assistance, and the absolute freedom of her home and table”; that the intestate “entertained his white friends in her home,” that he “ate at her table,” that he “slept in her bed,” that he “treated her home *** as his home,” that he “acted there as though it were his home,” that he “kept at all times in his possession a key to her dresser drawer, her trunk, and her lock box,” and that he “exercised complete access to her every and most personal and intimate belonging.” In fact the plaintiff alleges that both she and the intestate fully performed every obligation assumed under the oral contract, except that the intestate had failed to will or leave her one-half of his property on his death.


The plaintiff then proceeds to allege certain acts on the part of the intestate in confirmation of the oral contract originally entered into, as the giving of a ring with one diamond after the contract had been in force for ten years, then a ring with two diamonds after the contract had been in force twenty years, and finally a ring with three diamonds after the contract had been in force for thirty years.


The plaintiff concludes by alleging that, after due diligence, she had been unable to find any will or other instrument in writing, left by the intestate, through which she could enforce her rights under the contract, and that by reason of the contract she is entitled to one-half of the net assets of the intestate’s estate. She fixes the value of the estate at $143,000.


The demurrer makes seven grounds of attack upon the complaint. They are as follows:



  1. In that it appears from the facts set forth on the face of complaint that the Court has no jurisdiction of the subject of the action, the principle of public policy being dolo malo non oritur actio.



  1. In that it appears upon the face of the complaint that the plaintiff has not the legal capacity to sue, in that no Court will lend its aid to one who founds his cause of action upon an illegal act.



  1. In that it appears upon the face of the complaint that the plaintiff has not the legal capacity to sue, in that the contract alleged in the complaint and the part performance alleged therein are repugnant to the public policy of the State of South Carolina, and no Court of this State will lend its aid to one who founds his cause of action upon a contract that contravenes the public policy of this State.



  1. In that it appears upon the face of the complaint that the complaint does not state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action in that it appears upon the face of the complaint that plaintiff’s cause of action is based upon a contract, and part performance thereof, which are repugnant to the public policy of the State of South Carolina, and the public policy of the State of South Carolina demands that plaintiff cannot benefit by virtue of her own wrong in entering into a contract which is void in its inception as being against the public policy of the State of South Carolina.



  1. In that it appears upon the face of the complaint that the complaint does not state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action, in that it appears upon the face of the complaint that the plaintiff’s cause of action is based upon an alleged contract, the consideration of which is illegal and against public policy.



  1. In that it appears upon the face of the complaint that the complaint does not state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action in that it appears upon the face of the complaint that the plaintiff’s cause of action is based upon an alleged contract which lacks mutuality and which could not be enforced by the deceased against the plaintiff.



  1. In that the complaint does not state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action in that there appears upon the face of the complaint no legal cause of action in favor of the plaintiff.






The defendant contends that the contract is inherently illegal, that it is against public policy, that it lacks proper legal consideration and mutuality, that it contemplates illicit relations between a man and woman as the primary consideration thereof, that it contravenes the statutes and the Constitution of the State of South Carolina relating to marriage between the races, that it attempts to accomplish by indirection what the law directly prohibits, that it is a contract in general restraint of marriage as to each of the parties for the life of the contract and for so long as both shall live; and that, therefore, it is unenforceable as against the public policy of the State.


Assuming all of the allegations of the Complaint to be true and drawing therefrom the inferences that reason would require one to draw from such a state of facts, it appears that the contracting parties agreed that they could not legally contract matrimony, or otherwise legally sustain the relationship toward each other of man and wife; that they desired to sustain that relationship to each other and did sustain it, the law to the contrary notwithstanding; that they agreed to maintain that illegal relationship with each other, and that each would refrain from entering into the legal status of marriage which the law so highly favors between persons legally entitled to enter into such a relationship.


Certainly the plaintiff could not have given to “the deceased the full benefit of her presence, her companionship, and the absolute freedom of her home and table” or have allowed him to sleep in her bed, if she had married another; nor could the intestate have given the plaintiff “his undivided affection and companionship” or “slept in her bed,” if he had contracted marriage with a woman legally competent to enter into such a relationship with him.


The conclusion seems inescapable that the parties really intended by their alleged contract to establish illicit sexual relations, to circumvent the Constitution and statutes of the State of South Carolina relating to the intermarriage of the races, and to set at defiance a sound public policy which gives to every person of age and discretion, white or black, male or female, the right of marriage to another of the same race and of the opposite sex. This contract strikes at the sanctity of the home, the security of family relationships, the legitimate propagation of the race to which one belongs, and at moral standards that have been recognized and enforced, voluntarily and by compulsion of law, since the foundation of this republic.


Article III, Section 33, of the State Constitution provides: “The marriage of a white person with a negro or mulatto, or person who shall have one-eighth or more negro blood shall be unlawful and void.”


Section 1438 of the Code 1932, provides:



It shall be unlawful for any white man to intermarry with any woman of either the Indian or negro races, or any mulatto, mestizo, or half-breed, or for any white woman to intermarry with any person other than a white man, or for any mulatto, half-breed, Indian, negro or mestizo to intermarry with a white woman; and any such marriage, or attempted marriage, shall be utterly null and void and of none effect; and any person who shall violate this section, or any one of the provisions thereof, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and, on conviction thereof, shall be punished by a fine of not less than five hundred dollars, or imprisonment for not less than twelve months, or both, in the discretion of the court. Any clergyman, minister of the gospel, magistrate, or other person authorized by law to perform the marriage ceremony, who shall knowingly and wilfully unite in the bonds of matrimony any persons of different races, as above prohibited, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction thereof, shall be liable to the same penalty or penalties as provided in this section.



(Emphasis added.)


Section 8571 of the Code 1932, provides:



It shall be unlawful for any white man to intermarry with any woman of either the Indian or negro races, or any mulatto, mestizo, or half-breed, or for any white woman to intermarry with any person other than a white man, or for any mulatto, half-breed, negro, Indian or mestizo to intermarry with a white woman; and any such marriage, or attempted marriage, shall be utterly null and void and of none effect.



(Emphasis added.)


Then there are the laws against adultery and fornication. Sections 1435, 1436 and 1437, Code of 1932.


The action here is based upon an alleged express contract. There is no claim that defendant is indebted to plaintiff on quantum meruit for services rendered, of a purely domestic nature or otherwise. The plaintiff simply says, in effect, that she agreed to live with the intestate in a state of concubinage, after the fashion of a married couple, and that the intestate in turn agreed, in consideration of plaintiff’s meretricious conduct, to do certain things for her, one of which was to leave her one-half of his estate on his death.


It appears from the allegations of the complaint, and I hold that the only logical conclusion to be drawn therefrom is, that the primary consideration of said contract, on the part of plaintiff, as contemplated by the parties, was that she would live with the intestate and submit herself completely to his adulterous embraces; and that, as secondary considerations therefor, the plaintiff would remain unmarried and maintain a home for the two of them, at the intestate’s expense, so that the illicit relations agreed upon could be conveniently consummated to the satisfaction of both parties.


This contract not only violates the law of the land the plaintiff now invokes for its enforcement, it defies the basic moral principles upon which family relationships exist and upon which the social order of the State must of necessity rest.


Mr. Justice McIver, writing the unanimous opinion in McConnell v. Kitchens, 20 S.C. 430, said: “The general rule, undoubtedly is, that a contract to do an act which is prohibited by statute, or which is contrary to public policy, is void, and cannot be enforced in a court of justice.”


In Wiggins vs. Postal Telegraph Co., 130 S.C. 292, 125 S.E. 568, 569, 44 A.L.R. 781, the Court said:



We know of no principle of law based upon comity or interstate commerce transactions, which would require a state court to recognize the validity of a contract which under its laws is declared to be against public policy, immoral and void. [Building & Loan] Association v. Rice, 68 S.C. , 241; 2 Kent Comm., 458; Thornton v. Dean, 19 S.C. 587; 3 A. & E. Enc. Law, 561.





It seems to be well established in this State that contracts having for their object anything that is obnoxious to the principles of the common law, or contrary to statutory enactments or constitutional provisions, or repugnant to justice and morality, are void; and that the Courts of this State will not lend aid to the enforcement of contracts that are in violation of law or opposed to sound public policy. Magwood v. Duggan, 1 Hill 182; Craig v. U.S. Health & Accident Ins. Co., 80 S.C. 151.


In Weeks v. New York Life Ins. Co., 128 S.C. 223, Mr. Justice Marion speaking for the Court said:



Public policy has been aptly described by one of our judges as “a wide domain of shifting sands.” Gage, J., in McKendree v. Southern States Life Insurance Co., 112 S.C. 335. The term in itself imports something that is uncertain and fluctuating, varying, with the changing economic needs, social customs, and moral aspirations of a people. Story on Contracts (5th Ed.) § 675; 23 A. & E. Ency. (2d Ed.) 456. For that reason it has frequently been said that the expressive public policy is not susceptible of exact definition. But for purposes of juridical application it may be regarded as well settled that a state has no public policy, properly cognizable by the courts, which is not derived or derivable by clear implication from the established law of the state, as found in its Constitution, statutes, and judicial decisions.



(Emphasis added.)


The Weeks case was cited with approval in Sandel v. Philadelphia Life Ins. Co., 128 S.C. 239, and in Temple v. McKay, 172 S.C. 305. See also Alderman v. Alderman, 178 S.C. 9; Tedder vTedder, 108 S.C. 271; 6 R.C.L. 689, Section 104, 701, Section 107, 707, Section 114, and 712, Section 120.


Among the early cases of this State, the following principles were announced: Bostick v. McClaren, 2 Brev. 275: “Where a note, under seal, was given for an illegal consideration, it was declared that, as both parties had acted illegally in the transaction, neither could be entitled to the countenance of a court of justice.” (Emphasis added.)


Lowe v. Moore, 1 McCord Eq. 243: “The general principle is correct that equity will not interfere to set aside an executed contract; as in case of an unlawful contract, both parties being in pari delicto.”


Wallace v. Lark, 12 S.C. 576: “There can be no recovery on a contract based upon an illegal transaction in which the prosecutor actually participated.” (Emphasis added.)


In the late case of Rountree v. Ingle, 94 S.C. 231, the Court said: “The authorities in this state are full to the effect that, where a plaintiff brings into court on a claim which has no other support than a contract forbidden by law, he cannot recover. McConnell v. Kitchens, 20 S.C. 430.” (Emphasis added.) Elder Harrison Co. v. Jervey, 97 S.C. 185; McMullen v. Hoffman, 174 U.S. 639.


The case of Prince v. Mathews, 159 S.Ct. 526, appears to be conclusive of this case. In that case Mr. Justice Cothran, speaking for the Court, said:



The authorities hold that a consideration of past cohabitation is good; but that for future cohabitation, or in part for past and in part for future, it is bad. Cusack v. White, 2 Mill Const. 284; Singleton v. Bremar, Harp. 213; Burton v. Belvin, 142 N.C. 151; Smith v. Du Bose, 78 Ga. 413; Sherman v. Barrett, 1 McMul. 147; McConnell v. Kitchens, 20 S.C. 430; Harlow v. Leclair, 82 N.H. 506; Bank [of United States] v. Owens, 2 Pet. 527; Gordon v. Gordon, 168 Ky. 409; Maybank [& Co.] v. Rodgers, 98 S.C. 279; Rountree v. Ingle, 94 S.C. 234; Groesbeck v. Marshall, 44 S.C. 538; Hall v. [James T.] Latimer [& Son], 81 S.C. 90; Denton v. English, 2 Nott & McC. 581.[Emphasis added.]


It is impossible, in the light of the circumstances surrounding the assignor, and of the letter to Mathews, set forth above, to conclude otherwise than that the consideration of the assignment was future as well as past cohabitation. That conclusion renders it impossible for the plaintiff to recover upon the assignment or upon a claim for breach of warranty in the assignment.



(Emphasis added.)


The prevailing rule in other jurisdictions is clearly stated in 12 American Jurisprudence 675, Section 176, as follows:



Where a woman lives with a man as his mistress and performs only such services as are incidental to such relationship she cannot recover compensation therefor, even though she alleges a separate agreement. Likewise, where a part of the consideration for the agreement is a continuance of the illicit relations, the agreement is for that reason wholly void and unenforceable. An agreement or understanding founded upon a consideration in whole or in part for the commencement or continuance of meretricious sexual intercourse if directly contrary to law or public policy and the best interests of society. Thus, a loan by a man to a woman on consideration that she serve as his mistress cannot be recovered.



(Emphasis added.)


Mr. Justice Holmes, speaking for the United States Supreme Court in Sage v. Hampe, 235 U.S. 99 said:



A contract that on its face requires an illegal act, either of the contractor or a third person, no more imposes a liability to damages for nonperformance than it creates an equity to compel the contractor to perform. A contract that invokes prohibited conduct makes the contractor a contributor to such conduct. Kalem Co. v. Harper Bros., 222 U.S. 55, 63. And more broadly, it long has been recognized that contracts that obviously and directly tend in a marked degree to bring about results that the law seeks to prevent cannot be made the ground of a successful suit.



It seems to be equally well settled that contracts in restraint of marriage are nonenforceable, for “as a general rule, restrictions on marriage are contrary to public policy, and therefore agreements or conditions creating or involving such restrictions are illegal and void.” 17 Corpus Juris Secundum, Contracts, p. 615, § 233.


Mr. Justice Field in delivering the opinion in the case of Maynard v. Hill, 125 U. S. 190, in referring to marriage, used this language: “It is an institution, in the maintenance of which in its purity the public is deeply interested, for it is the foundation of the family and of society, without which there would be neither civilization nor progress.”


In Strickland v. Anderson, 186 S.C. 482, Mr. Justice Fishburne, speaking for the Court, quoted from Noice vs. Brown, 38 N.J.L. 228, affirmed in 39 N.J.L. 133, as follows: “A contract is totally void, if, when it is made, it is opposed to morality or public policy. The institution of marriage is the first act of civilization, and the protection of the married state against all molestation or disturbance is a part of the policy of every people possessed of morals and laws.”


Suppose the intestate, prior to his death, had applied to the Court to require his paramour to specifically perform the obligation of the contract to permit him access to her bed and person for the satisfaction of his licentious appetite, would the Court have heard him, or, what is more, would the Court have granted the relief demanded? I think not.


I am of the opinion that the demurrer to the complaint should be sustained; and it is so ordered.




Stukes, Justice.


This Court is in full accord with the result of the judgment of the Circuit Court reached on several grounds in the order of Special Judge George Bell Timmerman sustaining the demurrer to the complaint. This order sufficiently states the pleadings and issues; it will be reported. Appellant’s exceptions thereto have been carefully considered and are overruled and the judgment below affirmed.




Bonham, C.J., Baker, and Fishburne, JJ., and G. Duncan Bellinger, A. A. J., concur.





4.4.4. Children’s Claims on Family Assets


Ex parte Bayliss,

550 So.2d 986 (Ala. 1989)




Frank M. Bainbridge of Porterfield, Scholl, Bainbridge, Mims & Harper, Birmingham, for petitioner.


Stephen R. Arnold of Durwood & Arnold, Birmingham, for respondent.




Houston, Justice.




We granted certiorari in this case to address the following issue: In Alabama, does a trial court have jurisdiction to require parents to provide post-minority support for college education to children of a marriage that has been terminated by divorce?


… .


Patrick Bayliss was born of the marriage of Cherry R. Bayliss and John Martin Bayliss III. This marriage was terminated by divorce when Patrick was 12 years old. When Patrick was 18, his mother filed a petition to modify the final judgment of divorce; that petition, as amended, alleged:



(5) That the child, Patrick Bayliss, completed high school at a private school in Birmingham, Alabama, The Altamont School, with an outstanding record and graduated with honors. That after graduation, said child sought admission to, and was accepted as a student at a four-year institution of higher learning, namely, Trinity College, located in Hartford, Connecticut. That the child, Patrick Bayliss, enrolled in Trinity College in the Fall of 1987, has successfully completed his first semester and as of the date hereof, is attending Trinity College. That the said minor child desires and deserves to be allowed to complete a four-year college education.




(6) That the child, Patrick Bayliss, is now and after he attains nineteen years of age will continue to be a ‘dependent’ child of John Martin Bayliss, III, and absent support from his said father, the said child will not be able to complete his college education. The said minor child was not self-supporting or self-sustaining at the time of the Final Decree of Divorce, is not self-supporting or self-sustaining as of the date hereof, and will not be self-supporting or self-sustaining until he has completed his college education. That the plaintiff lacks the funds to finance the college education for the child, Patrick Bayliss.




(7) That the defendant, John Martin Bayliss, III, the father of Patrick Bayliss, is an extremely wealthy individual, having a net worth in excess of $1,000,000.00). The defendant had total income in 1986, the last year for which a Federal Tax Return is available, in excess of $370,000.00, and in excess of $330,000.00 for 1985. That the defendant has no substantial debts and has sufficient estate, earning capacity, and income to enable him to pay the cost of a college education at Trinity College without undue hardship.




(8) That both the plaintiff and defendant attended colleges and universities and that but for the divorce in this cause, the defendant father, in all likelihood, would have paid and provided for a college education of the type and kind being pursued by Patrick Bayliss.




(9) That the defendant has failed and refused to contribute any sum toward the college expenses of the child, Patrick Bayliss….



… .


Alabama Code 1975, § 30-3-1, provides, in pertinent part:



Upon granting a divorce, the court may give the custody and education of the children of the marriage to either father or mother, as may seem right and proper….



(Emphasis supplied.)


… .


In Ex parte Brewington, 445 So.2d 294 (Ala.1983), this Court held that the term “children” in § 30-3-1 did not apply only to “minor” children. Mr. Justice Beatty, in overruling cases that had given the word “children” that limited definition, wrote, for a majority of the Court:



The statute, however, does not express such a limitation, and such a narrow interpretation is unacceptable. In the frame of reference of the present case, we believe the legislature intended that support be provided for dependent children, regardless of whether that dependency results from minority, or from physical and/or mental disabilities that continue to render them incapable of self-support beyond minority.



445 So.2d at 296.


Looking at the word “children,” “[i]n the frame of reference of the present case,” we note that the pertinent portions of § 30-3-1 have been part of the codified law of Alabama continuously since Alabama Code 1852, § 1977. From 1852 to 1975, the age of majority in Alabama was 21 years.


We have found no early Alabama appellate court cases that even discussed whether a college education was a “necessary” that a divorced parent had to provide a minor child. The earliest case that we have found involving the question of whether a college education is a necessary is Middlebury College v. Chandler, 16 Vt. 683, 42 Am.Dec. 537 (1844). In that case, which involved a suit brought by Middlebury College against the father of a minor college student for the student’s tuition and other college expenses, the Vermont Supreme Court refused to hold that a college education was a necessary, for the following reasons:



The practical meaning of the term [necessaries] has always been in some measure relative, having reference as well to what may be called the conventional necessities of others in the same walks of life with the infant, as to his own pecuniary condition and other circumstances. Hence a good common school education, at the least, is now fully recognized as one of the necessaries for an infant. Without it he would lack an acquisition which would be common among his associates, he would suffer in his subsequent influence and usefulness in society, and would ever be liable to suffer in his transactions of business. Such an education is moreover essential to the intelligent discharge of civil, political, and religious duties.


But it is obvious that the more extensive attainments in literature and science must be viewed in a light somewhat different. Though they tend greatly to elevate and adorn personal character, are a source of much private enjoyment, and may justly be expected to prove of public utility, yet in reference to men in general they are far from being necessary in a legal sense. The mass of our citizens pass through life without them. I would not be understood as making any allusion to professional studies, or to the education and training which is requisite to the knowledge and practice of mechanic arts. These partake of the nature of apprenticeships, and stand on peculiar grounds of reason and policy. I speak only of the regular and full course of collegiate study; for such was the course upon which the defendant professedly entered. Now it does not appear that extraneous circumstances existed in the defendant’s case, such as wealth, or station in society, or that he exhibited peculiar indications of genius or talent, which would suggest the fitness and expediency of a college education for him, more than for the generality of youth in community.”



16 Vt. at 538-39.


Beginning with the landmark case of Esteb v. Esteb, 138 Wash. 174, 244 P. 264 (1926), courts have increasingly recognized a college education as a legal necessary for minor children of divorced parents. Justice Askren wrote:



… .

“Applying the rule as stated by the courts and the text-writers, it will be seen that the question of what sort of an education is necessary, being a relative one, the court should determine this in a proper case from all the facts and circumstances. Nor should the court be restricted to the station of the minor in society, but should, in determining this fact, take into consideration the progress of society, and the attendant requirements upon the citizens of to-day. The rule in Middlebury College v. Chandler, supra, was clearly based upon conditions which existed at that time. An opportunity at that early date for a common school education was small, for a high school education less, and for a college education was almost impossible to the average family, and was generally considered as being only within the reach of the most affluent citizens. While there is no reported case, it is hardly to be doubted that the courts at that time would have even held that a high school education was not necessary, inasmuch as very few were able to avail themselves of it. But conditions have changed greatly in almost a century that has elapsed since that time. Where the college graduate of that day was the exception, to-day such a person may almost be said to be the rule. The law in an attempt to keep up with the progress of society has gradually placed minimum standards for attendance upon public schools, and even provides punishment for those parents who fail to see that their children receive at least such minimum education. That it is the public policy of the state that a college education should be had, if possible, by all its citizens, is made manifest by the fact that the state of Washington maintains so many institutions of higher learning at public expense. It cannot be doubted that the minor who is unable to secure a college education is generally handicapped in pursuing most of the trades or professions of life, for most of those with whom he is required to compete will be possessed of that greater skill and ability which comes from such an education.



138 Wash. at 181, 244 P. at 266-67.


This Court in deciding this issue in Ogle v. Ogle, 275 Ala. 483, 486, 156 So.2d 345, 348 (1963), wrote:



While there are divergent views on the question, it seems to us that the cases from other jurisdictions holding that a father may be required to contribute toward the college education of his minor child, who is in his mother’s custody pursuant to a divorce decree, are supported by the better reasoning.



Patrick was born March 5, 1969. If the age of majority had remained 21 years, as it was from 1852 to 1975, Patrick would have been entitled to have his father contribute toward his college education, at least until March 5, 1991. But in 1975, the age of majority was reduced to 19 years in Alabama, with certain exceptions. Alabama Code 1975, § 26-1-1; for exceptions see § 26-1-1(d) (youthful offenders) and § 28-1-5 (purchase of alcoholic beverages, since May 29, 1985).



It is ironic that legislatures reduced the age of majority in a period when college education was becoming available to all. In the past, when a college education was relatively uncommon, children were accustomed to supporting themselves at an earlier age. In contrast, ‘today, since children remain in school longer, they frequently do not mature or become self-sufficient until later in life.’ Thus, they are maturing later and assuming responsibility earlier.



Kathleen Conrey Horan, Postminority Support for College Education–A Legally Enforceable Obligation in Divorce Proceedings? 20 Family Law Quarterly (American Bar Association) 589, 604 (1987).


In Davenport v. Davenport, 356 So.2d 205, 208 (Ala.Civ.App.1978), the Court of Civil Appeals held that “minority is a status rather than a fixed or vested right and… the legislature has full power to fix and change the age of majority.” See, Hutchinson v. Till, 212 Ala. 64, 101 So. 676 (1924). In New Jersey St. Pol. Ben. Ass’n v. Town of Morristown, 65 N.J. 160, 320 A.2d 465, 470 (1974), Justice Pashman wrote of the pragmatic age of majority:



There is no magic to the age of 21. The 21-year age of maturity is derived only from historical accident. It is not a mystical figure whose importance as the age of majority has captured every civilization. While many societies have had laws or conventions regulating the age at which young people were considered adults, those ages have varied. Military service has frequently been a determining factor. Historians of the Roman empire indicate that the barbarians considered 15 as the proper age of majority because young people then became eligible for military service. The ability to bear arms and the age of majority were identical under Ripuarian tradition.


The male child of an Athenian citizen reached majority at 18 and was qualified for membership in the assembly at age 20; however, age 30 was a requirement for service on a jury. In ancient Sparta, males did not reach majority until 31. In Rome, increased emphasis on education led to a correlation of understanding of the law to the age of majority, which was eventually set at 14. This prevailed in northern parts of Europe and in England during the ninth, tenth and eleventh centuries. The expanding role of the mounted knight after the Norman Conquest led to heavier mail shirts and coifs, as well as shields and armor. With the advent of knighthood, the age of majority rose to 21; for at that time, young men were first capable of meeting its physical and mental demands. This age, however, did not initially apply to agricultural tenants, where one’s ability to complete husbandry and farming chores was paramount. Such commoners reached majority at age 15, although 21 later became the age of majority for all classes.


From this point on, the age of 21 [seemed] gradually to be accepted, even though the specific reasons for its appearance had long since passed. The province of Massachusetts Bay, in 1641, established 21 as the age for giving votes, verdicts or sentences.



Until Brewington, supra, our cases and the cases of the Court of Civil Appeals held that a trial court had no continuing equitable jurisdiction over the issues or parties to a divorce to require that a noncustodial parent provide support of any kind to any child that had reached the legislatively prescribed age of majority. See, Hutton v. Hutton, 284 Ala. 91, 222 So.2d 348 (1969); Davenport v. Davenport, supra. In Brewington, supra, we expanded our interpretation of the word “children” in the Alabama child support statute, to impose a duty on a divorced, noncustodial parent to support his children who continue to be disabled beyond the legislatively prescribed age of majority. We have previously interpreted the word “education” in the Alabama child support statute to include a college education as a necessary. (Ogle v. Ogle, supra). We now expand the exception to the general rule–i.e., the rule that a divorced, noncustodial parent has no duty to contribute to the support of his or her child after that child has reached the legislatively prescribed age of majority– beyond Brewington, supra (dealing with a physically or mentally disabled child) to include the college education exception.


… .


In the six years since Brewington was announced, the Legislature has not seen fit to modify § 30-3-1 by adding the word “minor” before the word “children.” We do not suggest that the failure of the Legislature to act in this area necessarily constitutes its approval of our construction in Brewington of § 30-3-1;1 however, clearly it knew how to alter the status quo by adding the word “minor” before “children” in § 30-3-1 as it did in § 30-3-4.


In expanding the exception to the general rule (that a divorced, noncustodial parent has no duty to support his child after that child reaches majority) to include the college education exception, we are merely refusing to limit the word “children” to minor children, because of what we perceive to be just and reasonable in 1989. The Latin phrase “stare decisis et not quieta movere” (stare decisis) expresses the legal principle of certainty and predictability; for it is literally translated as “to adhere to precedents, and not to unsettle things which are established.” Black’s Law Dictionary (5th ed. 1979). By this opinion, we are unsettling things that have been established by the appellate court of this State (the Court of Civil Appeals) that has exclusive appellate jurisdiction of “all appeals in domestic relations cases, including annulment, divorce, adoption and child custody cases.” Ala.Code 1975, § 12-3-10. However, we are persuaded that the ground or reason of those prior decisions by the Court of Civil Appeals would not be consented to today by the conscience and the feeling of justice of all those whose obedience is required by the rule on which the ratio decidendi of those prior decisions was logically based.


Therefore, we overrule that portion of the following cases that are inconsistent with this opinion: English v. English, 510 So.2d 272 (Ala.Civ.App.1987); [and seven other cases.].


In making this holding, we are not the first by whom this new is tried, for we have cases from other jurisdictions, referred to by Justice Holmes as “the evening dress which the newcomer puts on to make itself presentable according to conventional requirements,” Book Notice, 14 Am.L.Rev. 233-34 (1880). We had cases from other jurisdictions that we followed in Ogle v. Ogle, 275 Ala. at 486, 156 So.2d at 348.


Had the Bayliss family unit not been put asunder by divorce, would the father, who had attended college and was a man of significant means, have continued to provide a college education for Patrick (a young man who would be an Alpha Plus if this were Huxley’s Brave New World) after Patrick reached 19 years of age? If so, the father’s educational support obligations should not cease when Patrick reached 19 years of age.


The Legislature has given circuit courts the “power” to divorce persons for certain causes. While the rights of the parties to the divorce action must be fully respected, the public occupies the position of a third party in a divorce action; and the court is bound to act for the public. Flowers v. Flowers, 334 So.2d 856 (Ala.1976); Hartigan v. Hartigan, 272 Ala. 67, 128 So.2d 725 (1961); Ex parte Weissinger, 247 Ala. 113, 22 So.2d 510 (1945).


This Court in Ogle, 275 Ala. at 487, 156 So.2d at 349, quoted the following from Pass v. Pass, 238 Miss. 449, 118 So.2d 769, 773 (1960), with approval:



[W]e are living today in an age of keen competition, and if the children of today… are to take their rightful place in a complex order of society and government, and discharge the duties of citizenship as well as meet with success the responsibilities devolving upon them in their relations with their fellow man, the church, the state and nation, it must be recognized that their parents owe them the duty to the extent of their financial capacity to provide for them the training and education which will be of such benefit to them in the discharge of the responsibilities of citizenship. It is a duty which the parent not only owes to his child, but to the state as well, since the stability of our government must depend upon a well-equipped, a well-trained, and well-educated citizenship. We can see no good reason why this duty should not extend to a college education. Our statutes do not prohibit it, but they are rather susceptible of an interpretation to allow it. The fact is that the importance of a college education is being more and more recognized in matters of commerce, society, government, and all human relations, and the college graduate is being more and more preferred over those who are not so fortunate. No parent should subject his worthy child to this disadvantage if he has the financial capacity to avoid it.



This is the public policy of our State. Since the normal age for attending college extends beyond the age of 19 years, under § 30-3-1 courts have the right to assure that the children of divorced parents, who are minors at the time of the divorce, are given the same right to a college education before and after they reach the age of 19 years that they probably would have had if their parents had not divorced.


The trial courts of this state that handle the dissolution of marriages have long dealt with hard problems of alimony and child support and the hardest problem of all, child custody. King Solomon is noted for his wisdom, primarily because of his judgment in a child custody case. Our trial courts have demonstrated that they have the wisdom of Solomon in these domestic matters. We know that they will continue to demonstrate that wisdom in deciding whether to require a parent to provide, or help defray the cost of, a college education for a child, even after that child attains the age of 19 years.


The father suggests that to require him to pay for Patrick’s college education after Patrick attained the age of 19 years, would deny the father equal protection under the law. We adopt the following reasoning from Smith, Educational Support Obligations of Noncustodial Parents, 36 Rutgers L.Rev. 588, which discusses, in some detail at pages 626-41, the constitutionality of post-minority college support obligations, and concludes with this observation:



Following divorce the noncustodial parent, most frequently the father, often establishes a new life for himself, possibly including a new spouse, stepchildren, and new children. One result is that the interest, concern, care, and money of the noncustodial parent that is available for the children of the original marriage often declines or vanishes altogether. This is particularly true in such matters as the cost of education for their post-majority children. By imposing an educational support obligation on these parents, at least one of the disadvantages caused children by divorce can be reduced or eliminated. It is true that the imposition of this burden on divorced noncustodial parents establishes a classification with discriminatory obligations. However, as the Childers [v. Childers] [89 Wash.2d 592, 604, 575 P.2d 201, 208 (1978)] court pointed out, instead of an arbitrary, inequitable, unreasonable, or unjust classification, what exists is a package of special powers in equity that the courts, regardless of legislation, have long used to protect the interests of children of broken homes and to assure that the disadvantages of divorce on these children are minimized. In short, the courts have found a reasonable relationship between this classification and the legitimate state interest in minimizing the disadvantages to children of divorced parents….



36 Rutgers L.Rev. at 641.




Almon, Justice (dissenting).




The writ of certiorari was improvidently granted in this case. Therefore, the writ should be quashed. For that reason, I dissent.


  1. Justice Scalia, in his dissent in Johnson v. Transportation Agency, 480 U.S. 616, 671-72, 107 S.Ct. 1442, 1473, 94 L.Ed.2d 615 (1987), wrote:


    “[O]ne must ignore rudimentary principles of political science to draw any conclusions regarding that intent from the failure to enact legislation. The ‘complicated check on legislation,’ The Federalist No. 62, p. 378 (C. Rossiter ed. 1961), erected by our Constitution creates an inertia that makes it impossible to assert with any degree of assurance that congressional failure to act represents (1) approval of the status quo, as opposed to (2) inability to agree upon how to alter the status quo, (3) unawareness of the status quo, (4) indifference to the status quo, or even (5) political cowardice.”






Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Property Volume Two by Christian Turner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.