Equitable Distribution


While the court did not adopt the parties’ settlement agreement in a divorce decree, it retained jurisdiction over wife’s property rights claims through the preservation language in the divorce decree, the underlying principles of equity and economic justice and the power to enforce contractual obligations. The court granted wife’s petition for special relief and contempt.

Wife petitioned for special relief and contempt on Dec. 20, 2017. She sought equitable distribution of the parties’ marital home pursuant to a settlement agreement, which husband filed on Feb. 25, 2014 in conjunction with a complaint in divorce.  Wife appeared at a hearing on her petition, but husband did not.  At the end of the hearing, the court issued an order taking the petition under advisement and granting both parties 30 days to file briefs to support their positions. Wife filed a brief, but husband did not. Here, the court addressed wife’s petition. According to 23 Pa.C.S. §3104, the court shall have original jurisdiction in cases of divorce and shall determine, in conjunction with any decree granting a divorce, the determination and disposition of property rights and interests between spouses, the court emphasized Husband’s complaint indicated that the parties had entered into a settlement agreement regarding the marital home and property. The agreement provided for the marital home to be sold and the proceeds divided equally, after payment of any mortgage and sale costs. The court did not adopt the parties’ settlement agreement in its divorce decree of Oct. 8, 2014. Nevertheless, the court retained jurisdiction over wife’s claim through the preservation language in the divorce decree. The decree specifically stated that the court retained jurisdiction of any claims raised by the parties for which a final order was not yet entered. The issue of property distribution was properly raised in the complaint; however, the court did not issue a final order regarding the marital home. The court retained jurisdiction as to any dispute regarding the interest or division of marital property if the matter remained unresolved. Moreover, a divorce court retains equitable authority, after entry of a divorce decree, to intercede upon petition by an aggrieved party to address and correct economic injustice, the court explained, citing 1990’s Foley v. Foley. Thus, even if the court’s decree closed the issue of equitable distribution of property, the court could still open the divorce to resolve economic injustice, even after 30 days following the decree, if the court found there was intrinsic or extrinsic fraud. Here, husband prevented wife from undertaking any efforts to secure economic justice, as he made representations in induce wife to sign an affidavit of consent and waiver of notice necessary for the divorce decree without providing wife with the agreed upon economic security. Finally, the court retained jurisdiction over wife’s claim through the power to enforce contractual obligations, the court said in its opinion granting wife relief.

Reference: Digests of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly, 41 PLW 746, Tuesday, August 7, 2018, Sulewski v. Sulewski, PICS Case No. 18-0901 (C.P. Monroe July 20, 2018) Harfacher Sibum, J.

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