Nonmonetary Contributions and the Equitable Distribution of Property

In matters of marital dissolution, the manner in which property will be divided may appear rather complicated, but the courts have ample statutory guidance from General Statutes § 46b-81. One factor that a court must consider is the “contribution of each of the parties in the acquisition, preservation or appreciation in the value of their respective estates.” What, exactly, constitutes a contribution? Must the contributions only be monetary, such as income, or can they be non-monetary as well?

The court in O’Neill v. O’Neill directly considered this issue. In that case, the plaintiff appealed, in part, after the trial court refused to award her a lump sum property settlement. The court determined that the plaintiff “brought nothing to the marriage and contributed little to it.” 13 Conn. App. 300, 307 (1988). However, the plaintiff contested that she contributed significantly to the marriage in nonmonetary forms, such as the care and reading of the minor child and upkeep of the family home.

Because the term “contribution” was not clearly defined in the statute, the Appellate Court set out to determine what the legislature intended it to mean. In reviewing transcripts, the court noted that there was no intent to limit the meaning of the word “contribution” to cover only financial contributions to the marriage. Id at 309. One legislator stated, “It does provide that the court look at them not as men and women but as parties and look at their various obligations in their various capacities with respect to earning and all the other aspects that should be considered.” Id at 310. The court additionally noted in Footnote 1 of the opinion that other states specifically require courts to consider nonmonetary contributions of a homemaker spouse when equitably distributing property. Id at 309. With this in mind, the O’Neill court stated:

“A property division out to accord value to those nonmonetary contributions of one spouse which enable the other spouse to devote substantial effort to paid employment which, in turn, enables he family to acquire tangible marital assets. The investment of human capital in homemaking has worth and should be evaluated in a property division incident to a dissolution of marriage. We hold, accordingly, that an equitable distribution of property should take into consideration the plaintiff’s contributions to the marriage, including homemaking activities and primary caretaking responsibilities.”

Id at 311. Because the trial court did not consider the plaintiff’s nonmonetary contributions in its property division determination, it abused its discretion.

Subsequent case law in Connecticut continues to echo this holding. In June 2009, the Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Danbury at Danbury heard a matter seeking dissolution of the parties’ seventeen-year marriage. The plaintiff husband earned substantially more income than the defendant wife, who worked only part-time so as to be able to care for their quadruplet children. In its memorandum of decision, the court specifically noted the O’Neill language before setting out in determining the property distributions.

Whether advancing or defending motion regarding awards of alimony, assignment of property, and child support, a divorced individual is best served by consulting with an experienced family law practitioner. Should you have questions regarding matrimonial matters, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.