There are those who say divorce is expensive. But the Alabama case of Hill v. Hill reveals that waiting for divorce can be equally – if not far more – costly to certain parties involved.
In this case before the Alabama Civil Court of Appeals, the court affirmed a judgment awarding wife $163,000, which represented one-half of husband's recent lottery winnings, as well as one-half the value of his retirement account. This would not be unusual, but for the fact that the parties hadn't lived together for 23 years.
In fact, it was undisputed the husband left his wife and three children in 1988, when she was just 20 and he was 23, six months after their third child was born. He had never told the wife he was planning to leave. When he did so, he took the couple's only automobile. Ultimately, he did pay child support, but never spousal support. After he left, couple did not live together again and had very little contact. However, they remained legally married, as neither sought a divorce.
Then in 2011, wife sued for divorce on grounds of abandonment and incompatibility. She sought a property settlement and a portion of husband's retirement account.
Husband answered this request for divorce by asserting he had already divorced his wife back in 2002 in a judgment he procured over the internet from a court in Mexico. Wife countered this was fraud because husband misrepresented to the Mexican court that his wife resided in Mexico. She was neither notified nor served due process. (It should be noted husband met another woman in the late 1990s, told her he was not married and shortly before their 2002 wedding, procured the “Mexican divorce” online.)
The Alabama trial court held a bench trial at which it weighed whether the Mexican divorce was valid, whether wife was entitled to a share of assets accumulated by husband after he left in 1988 and whether the wife was also entitled to husband's retirement account.
Husband asserted wife was entitled to nothing of his after 1988, and noted she had filed her tax returns since that year indicating she was single.
Trial court entered a judgment finding the Mexican divorce void. It divorced the parties on the ground of incompatibility. Further, it ruled the money husband won in the North Carolina lottery in 2011 was marital property and awarded her a settlement of $163,000, which was one-half the after-tax lottery winnings and one-half the value of husband's retirement account.
Husband appealed, but the appellate court affirmed.
It was noted the trial court could also have considered the entire $300,000 value of husband's home as marital property as well, considering it was purchased with lottery winnings.
The court noted that although the parties only lived together for four years, they were legally married for over a quarter century. Both were in their 40s and in good health when the action was tried. Trial court reasonably found the husband's abandonment of his wife and three small children with no prior notice and failure to return for more than 20 years as the cause of thee breakdown of their marriage.
Trial court did not err in its apportionment of property.
Hill v. Hill , April 3, 2015, Alabama Court of Civil Appeals