In a decision rendered this past summer, a court ordered a husband to pay to his ex-wife the value of a mutual fund he liquidated after the parties’ divorce.  The parties obtained an uncontested divorce in 2011.  At the time of dissolution, they each had their own retirement accounts, as well as a mutual fund portfolio which consisted of a retirement fund owned solely by the wife and a non-retirement fund which the parties owned jointly.  As a whole, the portfolio was worth approximately $85,000.  Although the parties addressed their individually owned retirement accounts in their separation agreement, they did not separately address the jointly owned non-retirement component of the portfolio in question.

At trial the wife testified that she believed the portfolio was one account which belonged solely to her, and that the parties intended for her to receive the entire asset.  The husband testified that the non-retirement component was a jointly owned asset, and since it was not specifically addressed in the dissolution agreement, the court was precluded from dividing it post judgment.  The husband also testified that following the parties divorce, he liquidated the fund, deposited into his bank account and ultimately used the funds for his sole benefit.

The Court’s Decision

In its memorandum of decision, the court noted that although it does not have jurisdiction to award property after a divorce is finalized, it is permitted to clarify ambiguous orders.  The court found that the parties’ separation agreement in this case was ambiguous in that it essentially treated the portfolio as one asset, when in fact it contained two separate accounts.  Nevertheless, in ascertaining the intent of the parties, the court found persuasive the fact that in specifying that the wife would keep the account, they assigned it the entire value, not just the value of the retirement component.

According to the court, “That the separation agreement granted to her the account reflecting the precise amount contained in the portfolio at the time of dissolution (Exhibit 1) which tracked the precise amount which she listed valuing the portfolio on her financial affidavit leads one to conclude that it was the intent of the parties that the entirety of the… portfolio in that precise amount was allocated to her and only ambiguous drafting lead to this situation.” Lalikos v. Lalikos, Superior Court, Judicial District of Norwich, Docket No. FA104113192S (Aug. 2, 2012, Shluger, J.).

Because the court found the provision in question ambiguous, it did not hold the husband in contempt.  However, it did order him to pay the wife the full value of the non-retirement account within thirty days.

Written by: Michael D. DeMeola, Esq

Should you have any questions about retirement accounts in the context of divorce proceedings, please feel free to contact Joseph Maya.  He can be reached in the firm’s Westport office at (203) 221-3100 or by e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.