Although we’ve covered the topic of property division quite a bit on our blog, one aspect of property division that we haven’t discussed yet is the role of a marital trustee. Most laypeople are unaware that Maryland courts have the authority to appoint a trustee, or overseer, to manage the liquidation of assets (and redistribution of proceeds). Trustees are rarely appointed in divorce cases, but such appointments do happen. And they can happen for any number of reasons. In this post, we’re going to discuss the recent case of Thorne v. Thorne (2021), a case in which a trustee was appointed to help liquidate farming equipment.
Basic Facts of the Case
The couple of this case was married for a long time. They built and operated a successful farm together during the marriage. Then, in 2015, the wife filed for divorce. The most significant dispute in the case related to how exactly the marital assets would be divided. While the court could determine each party’s percentage of the assets, the court wasn’t sure how to split the assets. The assets were variegated – real property, farming equipment, inventory, etc. Ultimately, the court determined that a marital trustee should be appointed to sell the assets and redistribute the sale proceeds.
Months and months passed, and the trustee couldn’t sell the assets. Eventually, in 2017, the judge stepped in and ordered that the assets be assigned to each party in a manner consistent with their total percentage. The husband challenged this action because he alleged that the original divorce judgment mandated the liquidation and redistribution of the assets. The husband ultimately prevailed.
Courts Have the Ability to Appoint Marital Trustee
Under Maryland law, courts have considerable latitude when dealing with marital assets. The reason is that, in some cases, substantial work is required to divide a given couple’s assets successfully. Judges can assign assets in kind – provide certain items to a certain party – or order assets to be sold, or appoint a trustee to sell off assets, and so forth. In probability, having a marital trustee is among the least likely outcomes in a divorce case, but as Thorne v. Thorne shows, it is still possible.
Critical Point: The Limits of the Divorce Judgment
Perhaps the most critical point to take away from this case is that certain rules and principles bind even judges. In this case, the husband ultimately appealed the judge’s decision to separate the assets in kind between the parties. The reason for the appeal was that the divorce judgment specifically provided for the assets to be sold off and redistributed. Although the judge had wide leeway to bring about the liquidation and redistribution, ultimately, the judge was bound by the “black and white” lettering of the judgment. This is why the husband was successful in his appeal.
Readers need to know that even judges can overstep their authority. So simply because an order has a stamp of approval from a judge doesn’t mean it’s unassailable.
Contact the Murphy Law Firm for More Information
If you’d like to learn more, reach out to one of the top family law attorneys at The Murphy Law Firm today by calling 240-493-9116.