MORILLE-HINDS v. HINDS (Supreme Court, Queens County)

After a trial before a Judicial Hearing Officer awarded the defendant-husband a 15% equitable distribution on the parties’ marital assets, husband appeals the decision. During the parties’ 17 year marriage, plaintiff-wife was the monied spouse working as a microbiologist while defendant-husband was a handyman who the wife claimed was “lazy and did odd jobs.”

The Appellate Division Second Department found the decision of the Judicial Hearing Officer “patently unfair” to the husband and sent the case back for retrial on the issue of equitable distribution. Upon retrial, the court found that although the husband didn’t contribute financially in the manner that the wife did because his highest annual income throughout the marriage was only $18,570, his non-economic contributions of taking care of the marital home, caring for the parties’ child, and finding and fixing real property for investment indirectly improved the wife’s career and the value of the parties’ marital assets. Wife’s position as a microbiologist required national and international travel and the Court found that the wife never altered her work pattern to care for the child, leaving much of the child-rearing to the husband. Furthermore, wife’s success within her field was also supplanted by the husband’s support.

As an example of the husband’s non-economic contribution which improved the parties’ “lavish lifestyle”, the court cited evidence showing that the husband had single-handedly converted the marital residence from a 900 sq. ft. one-story ranch worth $140,000 to a 2,600 sq. ft three-story house worth approximately $850,000. Accordingly, upon retrial, the Court held that ample evidence supports that the husband was entitled to a 50% share of the equitable distribution of all assets.