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Thielmeier v. Thielmeier

Case No. 2021-SC-0532-DG

Jefferson Circuit Court

Opinion by Lambert

Date Rendered: December 15, 2022

Issue: Whether the family court abused its discretion by awarding husband 100 percent of the amount by which two marital assets increased in value during the two-and-a-half-year period between the parties’ separation and the date of the decree of dissolution.

In 1985, Husband and Wife married. Wife was an elementary school teacher and later worked as a guidance counselor until their first child was born. Husband pursued medical school and eventually became an anesthesiologist. In 2008, Husband initiated an anesthesiology practice with a business partner, leading to financial success for the couple. Despite their comfortable life, the marriage faced challenges, and they separated in January 2016, filing for divorce in November 2016. Husband moved out in April 2017, and at that point, they had one minor child. After protracted legal battles, a trial took place in October 2019, addressing various issues such as the division of Husband’s 401(k), valuation of his business ownership interest, spousal maintenance, and legal fees.

During the trial, Husband sought an equal division of his 401(k) as of May 1, 2017, with full ownership of contributions from that date onwards. Wife, on the other hand, argued for a division as of the divorce decree on December 19, 2019. The trial court sided with Husband, but the Supreme Court reversed this decision, emphasizing that the account should be divided as of the divorce decree date. The Supreme Court also disagreed with Husband receiving 100% of post-separation contributions, stating that the trial court had not adequately justified this decision and highlighting Wife’s ongoing support in caring for their child.

Concerning the valuation of Husband’s business ownership interest, conflicting methods were presented during the trial. The trial court favored the employment agreement’s buyout clause formula, leading to a specific valuation. The Supreme Court supported this decision, acknowledging the trial court’s thorough consideration of evidence and the appropriateness of the buyout provision in determining value.

However, Husband’s request to divide the ownership interest as of June 30, 2018, with the subsequent increase awarded solely to him was rejected by the Supreme Court. They deemed it an abuse of discretion, emphasizing that the increase in value after that date constituted marital property and should be divided at the decree’s entry. The Supreme Court criticized the trial court for not providing sufficient reasoning for awarding Husband 100% ownership interest.

In terms of spousal maintenance, the trial court awarded Wife $12,500 per month for ninety-six months. The Supreme Court supported the deduction of expenses related to adult children but highlighted the need for a reassessment of maintenance in light of their other rulings.

Lastly, Wife’s request for her outstanding attorney’s and expert’s fees to be paid from the marital estate was initially denied by the trial court. However, the Supreme Court overturned this decision, directing that Wife be awarded her outstanding fees.

Digested by Nathan R. Hardymon