Family Law

Issues: Validity of a "prenuptial agreement"; Rinvelt v. Rinvelt; Sparks v. Sparks; Reed v. Reed; Paterek v. 6600 Ltd.; Invasion of separate assets; Berger v. Berger; Korth v. Korth; MCL 552.23(1); MCL 552.401; Hanaway v. Hanaway; Motion to disqualify the judge; Cain v. Department of Corrs.; MCR 2.003(C)(1)(a), (b) & (g); Maldonado v. Ford Motor Co.; Caperton v. A T Massey Coal Co.

Court: Michigan Court of Appeals (Unpublished)

Case Name: Shariff v. Shariff

e-Journal Number: 58139

Judge(s): Per Curiam – Murray, Donofrio, and Borrello; Concurrence – Murray

 

The parties' prenuptial agreement was valid and "changed circumstances" did not warrant a finding that enforcement of that contract was "unfair or unreasonable." The court also held that the defendant-husband's separate assets could be invaded and that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in the amount of his separate assets that it awarded to the plaintiff-wife. The trial court found plaintiff's allegation that "she did not know what she was signing or that she had never spoken with defendant's attorney and been urged to obtain her own legal counsel - was not credible." Her failure to obtain her own counsel, or her failure to read or understand the contract terms, did not invalidate the contract. Her claim that enforcing the contract was "unconscionable" because of changed circumstances - the defendant's increased earnings - was also without merit because this increase was "foreseeable." The court upheld the trial court's decision to invade the defendant's separate assets and award a portion to the plaintiff. The defendant worked long hours as a cardiologist and was able to invest his substantial income into his practice. However, "he did little to run the parties' homes or provide significant child rearing assistance in raising three children." The plaintiff contributed to the growth of the parties' assets where the defendant was able to "continue his lucrative employment while plaintiff . . . handle[d] the day-to-day living decisions and responsibilities of the marriage." The court also found the $274,000 invasion to be equitable. The trial court tried "to strike an equitable balance in awarding plaintiff some additional property out of defendant's separate assets (reflecting the parties disparate income and earning potential and plaintiff's assistance in allowing defendant to earn as much as he did) while at the same time attempting to adhere to the intent of the parties as reflected by the terms of the agreement. Its decision to do so was not an abuse of discretion." The plaintiff's attempt to disqualify the judge because he and members of his family were the defendant's patients, failed. The Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct was not violated, and the judge's and his wife's direct relationship with the defendant and his practice group ended years earlier. The fact that the judge's brother was the defendant's patient also did not warrant disqualification. Affirmed.

 

Full Text Opinion

Issues: Alimony; Whether an alimony award is modifiable; Welch v. Welch; Staple v. Staple; Friend v. Friend; Whether modification of spousal support is warranted; Laffin v. Laffin; Burden of proof for modification; Gates v. Gates; Judicial notice; MRE 201

Court: Michigan Court of Appeals (Unpublished)

Case Name: Valentine v. Valentine

e-Journal Number: 58142

Judge(s): Per Curiam – Shapiro, Whitbeck, and Stephens

 

The court held that the trial court erred by finding that the parties' original spousal support agreement was nonmodifiable, and by ruling that, even under the terms of the parties' 1993 modification, the plaintiff-ex-husband's obligation should be terminated, because it failed to make the necessary determination of a change in circumstances. Thus, it reversed and remanded for the trial court to determine whether there has been a change of circumstances justifying modification of support and, if so, to determine the extent of that modification. Plaintiff began paying the defendant-ex-wife spousal support in 1982. The arrangement was modified in 1993 by a consent judgment. In 2012, plaintiff filed a motion to terminate his obligation. The trial court found that the 1982 arrangement was nonmodifiable, and had provided that all spousal support payments were to cease in 1996. Thus, it terminated his alimony obligation. On appeal, the court agreed with defendant that the trial court erred by ruling that the 1982 alimony award was nonmodifiable. It noted that the marital separation agreement and the first modification of the divorce judgment both expressly indicated that the alimony was being paid for the support of defendant, which supported "the conclusion that the alimony award was periodic alimony." This was also "demonstrated by the fact that the martial separation agreement expressly provided that the parties intended the support payments to be 'periodic payments for support,' by the fact that the alimony payments were deductible by" plaintiff and taxable as part of defendant's income, and by the fact that alimony terminated on her death. "The fact that the parties agreed to modify the support obligation in 1993 is also evidence of the parties' intent that the alimony was modifiable. For all of these reasons, the alimony was periodic alimony which was subject to modification under MCL 552.28." The court also agreed with defendant that the trial court erred by modifying the alimony award and terminating plaintiff's spousal support obligation, finding that although plaintiff "pleaded a change in circumstances, the trial court did not make a finding regarding whether a change of circumstances had occurred." Thus, it remanded for such a determination after a full evidentiary hearing. Finally, the court agreed with defendant that the trial court erred by taking "judicial notice" of the contents of a probate court file concerning her inheritance from the estate of her deceased mother. "Without determining whether a trial court may ever take judicial notice of a probate court file in an unrelated case, we find that the trial court abused its discretion to the extent that it took judicial notice of the probate court file concerning [defendant's] mother's estate." Thus, on remand, if plaintiff "or the court seeks to introduce any contents of the probate court file, the trial court shall entertain and rule upon any objections [defendant] may raise, as well as ensure that any documents in the file upon which the court subsequently relies are properly entered into evidence."

 

Full Text Opinion
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