Equitable Distribution

Trial Court’s Determination of Equitable Distribution Could Only be Reversed Upon Showing of an Abuse of Discretion

In the family law, equitable distribution, divorce case of Hocker v. Hocker, PICS Case No. 15-0365 (Pa. Super. March 4, 2015) the Honorable Jacqueline O. Shogan, writing on behalf of the Pennsylvania Superior Court held that the court ruled that the trial court did not err in failing to account for marital debts being paid by husband. Order of the trial court affirmed.

Lynn Hocker appealed from an order of equitable distribution in the divorce action between him and his former wife, Diana Hocker. The trial court granted the divorce and entered an order distributing the marital estate, granting wife alimony until husband’s 65th birthday, and awarding wife counsel fees.

On appeal, husband argued that the trial court erred in several aspects of its order, including: (1) failing to include marital debts that husband was either paying or responsible for paying; (2) failing to recognize his disability income as revenue for his business or to include all business expenses; (3) failing to take into consideration maintenance costs and expenses when calculating the value of the life estate awarded to husband; and (4) awarding wife counsel fees when she had reasonable income to pay her attorney; along with other issues deemed waived by the court or which the court declined to reach.

The court noted that a trial court had broad discretion in fashioning an equitable distribution, and that a trial court’s determination could only be reversed upon a showing of an abuse discretion.

The court rejected husband’s assertion that the trial court failed to credit him for marital debt he was paying or responsible for paying. Husband included a chart purporting to list all of the martial debts he was responsible for, stating that he testified that those debts were incurred during the marriage. However, the court found that husband failed to cite to such testimony in the record. Nevertheless, the court addressed husband’s claim, and found that of the debts listed, three were student loans of the parties’ daughter, one was a line of credit for husband’s business, even though husband was ordered to hold wife harmless from any debt on the business, two were grants to the business that were not required to be paid back, and one was the mortgage on the marital residence awarded to wife, for which wife was ordered to hold husband harmless from. Accordingly, the court held that there was no merit to the issue.

The court held that husband’s claim that the trial court failed to recognize his disability income as business revenue or include all of his business expenses was waived for failure to cite relevant legal authority and apply it to the facts of the case.

The court further rejected husband’s claim that the trial court failed to include maintenance costs in calculation the value of the life estate of the real estate awarded to husband. The court first noted that husband failed to cite any case law supporting his claim. The court further noted that, in awarding wife the marital residence, the trial court held husband harmless on the mortgage payments and did not deduct the cost of maintenance from its value.

Finally, the court found no error in the award of counsel fees to wife. The court noted the $42,000 disparity in the parties’ annual income, and noted that an award of counsel fees was proper where necessary to enable a dependent spouse to defend a divorce action. The court found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s finding that an award of counsel fees was necessary to give the parties equal ability to pursue the divorce.

Reference: Digest of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly, 38 PLW 253 (March 17, 2015)

Filed Under: Divorce; Family Law; Equitable Distribution; Marital Debt; Counsel Fees

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