In Re Marriage of Larson: The court ruled it can award a portion of one spouse’s separate property to the other sans exceptional circumstances.
Christina A. Meserve and Charles E. Szurszewski, Family Lawyers
Christopher Larson and Julia Calhoun were married in 1986. More than a decade earlier, the husband had begun working for Microsoft. The husband’s separate property interest in Microsoft stock totaled $357 million. The marital community accumulated assets of $139 million and a debt of $29.5 million. The community estate was traceable largely to Microsoft stock options which were exercised by Larson during the marriage. The husband treated all of the purchased stock as a community asset and relinquished any claim to the separate portion of the stock options.
The trial court awarded 100% of the community estate to the wife. The court further ordered the husband to assume all $29.5 million of community debt. To add insult to injury, the court also ordered the husband to pay $40 million from his separate property to the wife. On appeal, the husband did not challenge the court’s decision to award 100% of the net community estate to the wife, nor the court’s ruling that he assume 100% of the community debt, but he did challenge the trial court’s award of a portion of his separate property to the wife, arguing that the wife had been amply provided for by the allocation of the community estate.
In Re Marriage of Larson: Trial Court’s Broad Discretion to Divide Property
The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s division. Controlling Washington law imposes no restriction on the trial court’s broad discretion to make a fair and equitable property division. A 1947 Supreme Court decision (Marriage of Holm) had reversed the invasion of the husband’s separate estate, reasoning that the wife could be amply provided for out of the community property. The court found that the 1985 case of Marriage of Konzen, 103 Wn.2d 470 (1985) had rejected the Holm holding. A court need not find exceptional circumstances to justify awarding a portion of one spouse’s separate property to the other, nor is it necessary to find that the community property does not amply provide for the non-owning spouse.
The Court of Appeals emphasized the thorough opinion of the trial judge (Judge Downing) and the judge’s experience.
Christina A. Meserve and Charles E. Szurszewski practice family law in Olympia, Washington with the law firm of Connolly Tacon & Meserve.