Wednesday, July 01, 2020

In re Marriage of Mullonkal & Amplakkil (Cal. Ct. App. - June 29, 2020)

It's an age-old story.  C and S get married.  C is a completing a medical residency program and has substantial student debt.  But shortly after getting married, C completes the residency and is now a doctor, making $225,000 a year in a hospital.  C's spouse, H, doesn't work.  C pays for all of the expenses of the couple; rent, utilities, food, etc.  C and H have a kid, but the marriage doesn't last long after the birth; C files for divorce a mere three years and five months after the marriage.

C, who filed for divorce, knew it was coming.  C starts paying off massive amounts of C's medical school student loan debt before the divorce.  C pays off $153,000 of that debt during the marriage.  Then C pays C's parents -- who helped fund C's medical school -- huge chunks of change during the marriage, including one check for $48,080 and another check for $60,000 given to C's parents two days before C meets with a divorce lawyer.  You get what C's doing here, right?  C also makes huge "gifts" to C's family during this period; over $75,000 total.  Plus C pays for massive (and expensive) trips and vacations for C's family during the marriage; several tens of thousands of dollars worth.

Once the divorce gets filed, H isn't happy to learn all of these facts, and thinks that C is dumping money to C's family (and to students loans) since, after all, why not pay all this money when half of it is H's as opposed to later after the divorce.  So H asks the court for reimbursement by C to the community.  C responds that reimbursement to H wouldn't be equitable since C's making all the money anyway and H is just sitting at home without a job.

The doctor-breadwinner, C, is, of course, the wife, and H is the husband.

Mind you, H has his own issues, with some "mystery stock" and a finding by the trial court that he's not exactly credible on various things.  But, in the end, it's an unhappy marriage, and the parties act accordingly (and strategically) both during the marriage and in the subsequent litigation.  You get a keen sense that neither of the spouses want the other to have any money and both feel that the other is being a mooch and/or inequitable with the community property.

So the trial court figures it out, in a decision that's very favorable to C.  A decision that's subsequently reversed on multiple different points, to the benefit of H, by the Court of Appeal.

There's lots of potential -isms at play here.  Beyond the fact that one wonders whether the case would have been perceived differently had H and C been of opposite genders, there's also the fact that the couple met in India and the husband (H) lived there during approximately two-thirds of the marriage (as well as asserts on appeal that he's entitled to additional support because his wife, C, sponsored his visa application and is accordingly required under federal law to support him at 125% of the poverty line for at least a period of time).  So there's a lot of law in play here, and then there are also potential subjective factors that shouldn't be considered but who knows if they in fact affected the result.

As for the legal doctrine, the case is pretty important on the far-from-uncommon "do you have to reimburse your spouse for the student loan debts you paid off during the marriage" issue.  The usual rule being, according to the Court of Appeal, "Yes," at least for short-term marriages like this one.  A holding that departed radically from the view of the trial court.

So some interesting facts and interesting law.  Always neat -- albeit sometimes depressing -- to get a glimpse into someone else's marriage.