Court of Appeals on Stepchild Treatment in Property Division

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Does poor treatment of a stepchild make a difference in divorce-related property division decisions? According to the Court of Appeals, it does. In a recent appellate case, the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a trial court’s decision to consider a man’s poor treatment of his stepdaughter a “negative non-monetary contribution,” which allowed his ex-wife to get a larger portion of their shared property, according to Virginia Lawyers Weekly (VLV). The appellate decision was made yesterday in Crater v. Crater, a case out of Carroll County, Virginia.

According to the details concerning the case, the man’s wife already had a young daughter when the couple married in 1987. Early on in the marriage, he had told his spouse that he did not like children. The couple operated a dairy farm and together provided for the girl’s essential needs, such as food and shelter. Beyond that, however, the man was basically absent from the child’s life. Because the wife was responsible for doing the evening milking and the husband did not want to serve as a “taxi driver,” the girl was not able to engage in afterschool extra-curricular activities while growing up. After the daughter went off to college, her stepfather never visited her there and he did not attend her graduation. Furthermore, when the daughter would come home to visit, her stepfather would temporarily move to a garage that was located three miles away from the family’s home, as reported in VLW.

There also other instances in which the man chose to leave his home for reasons related to his stepdaughter. He moved to the garage and lived there for almost two years because of the fact that his wife insisted on keeping the telephone ringer on at night. She wanted to have it on in case there was an emergency concerning her daughter, who went to college three hours away. Communication between the married couple ended up being limited to notes to each other about the dairy operation during this time. Eventually, the daughter finished college and went on to live in in Germany. The mother eventually left her husband after he became upset that she was going to visit her daughter abroad.

In the couple’s divorce, Carroll County Circuit Court Judge Brett L. Geisler awarded 55% of the marital property to the wife. The husband appealed, but to no avail—the trial court ruling was upheld in a unanimous Court of Appeals decision. Court of Appeals Judge Robert P. Frank wrote in the unpublished opinion that the man’s negative relationship with his stepdaughter was a “negative non-monetary contribution to the well-being of the family” and that the trial court was correct in its property division decision.

If you are dealing with property division issues or other matters related to divorce or family law, don’t hesitate to contact one of our skilled Northern Virginia divorce lawyers at ShounBach. Contact us so we can provide you with the guidance you need!

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