Equitable Division of Property Ruling by the Montana Supreme Court
The Montana Supreme Court just handed down its Opinion in my case Re Marriage of Funk 2012 MT 14. This case involved a husband who inherited parcels of land in Big Arm after the couple had been married for about 6 years, including 2 and ½ acres on Flathead Lake and another 114 acres of farm/ranch property across the road. Now, 11 years later, the couple’s marriage dissolved.
The Lake County District Court awarded the wife, among other things, ½ the value of the lakefront property based on MCA §40-4-202 which provides that all property acquired during a marriage could be subject to division if it would be fair (“equitable”) to do so, even pre-acquired and inherited property.
Case law since this statute was enacted in the late 70’s has been all over the board: sometime inherited property was divided, sometimes not…
Case law since this statute was enacted in the late 70’s has been all over the board: sometime inherited property was divided, sometimes not, depending on a number of factors.
Those factors typically hinged upon whether a non-acquiring spouse contributed anything to the property, either in improving it (such as by building a structure or upgrading the appliances) or preserving it (one early case, which was not affected in this ruling) involved a wife “saving” a collection of baseball cards from a basement flood), whereas the plain language of the statute is that contributions of a non-acquiring spouse to the marriage must be considered.
The Supreme Court overruled any such case, over 25 of them going back to 1979, and determined that a bright line rule was not necessary–it is up to the District Court Judge hearing the case to decide what factors would be considered, how they would be applied and what the outcome should be.
In other words, the District Court has the discretion to fashion an equitable apportionment of all property owned by either or both parties, regardless of how it was acquired and how it might be titled or deeded.