Local Case Notes: Alimony, E.D.& counsel fees

In the local Allegheny County PA case of Casper v. Casper, Judge Marmo issued a decision concerning parties who had married in 1985 and separted in 2008, with two grown children. Husband worked at an insurance agency owned by his father. Wife previously worked at that same agency, but after separation she took a job at a different agency.

As part of the divorce, Judge Marmo gave wife 57% of the marital estate and awarded her "non-modifiable" alimony of 1.7K for 3.5 years. One of the assets considered was the parties' 10K investment in the insurance agency. However, after the decision, husband sent wife a text message stating that she was too dumb to have found out that the value of their investment was actually 25K. Yes, he really did that.

The court did not appreciate this. In fact, it permitted a "reconsideration" of the decision at which time it awarded Wife a chunk of the 25K value and also gave her counsel fees for Husband's behavior. Husband appealed the court's decision overall - claiming mainly that (a) the court misvalued the household assets and cars, (b) the court violated PA law by awarding "non-modifiable" alimony, (c) his alimony should have been lowered because his income went down and (d) the court should not have given wife a chunk of the 25K.

In connection wtih the appeal, Judge Marmo ruled that (a) husband had no right to claim a "misvaluation" when he failed to introduce any values himself and the parties stipulated to car values; (b) even "non-modifiable" alimony from the court is understood to permit modification for remarriage or cohabitation; (c) the court believed that Husband's "loss of income" was fake, having occured at this dad's company and just after the parties separated and (d) the court did not believe Husband that the text was just a joke.

Being a local case, this decision does not have "precidential value" for other court decisions. But it gives a good insight as to how divorce cases are decided in Allegheny County. There are several morals to this story:

1. Being a jerk is usually counter-productive;

2. Dishonesty to the court (whether from client or counsel) is always a bad idea;

3. It is vital to have an attorney who is expert in PA divorce law. For example, PA cases had already found that an award by the court of "non-modifiable alimony" is OK since the law itself provides the necessary limitations, whether or not the limitations are mentioned by the court. In the 1997 case of Gaydos v.Gaydos, the Superior Court upheld a similar "non-modifiable" alimony decision. Thus, appealing on that issue was a waste of time and money.

4. You need to be prepared at trial. By not providing any testimony as to value, Husband had thrown away his chance to contest the value of certain items.

5. Husband's income had steadily risen year after year, until (by amazing coincidence) it dropped just after the parties separated. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, the court will generally find it to be a duck.

In this case, wife herself had apparently committed "marital misonduct" herself. Ther court considered this misconduct and limited wife's alimony becuase of this misconduct, but husband's actions took much of the sting out of wife's behavior.