The second episode of family law reality series ‘Untying the Knot’ aired this past Wednesday night. For those of you who missed it, below I will continue my blog series and provide both a recap along with a bit of analysis from the point of view of another family law attorney.
This week we met divorcing parties Jennifer and Golan Feldman, a couple married for 13 years at the tail end of what appeared to be a bitter divorce. Vikki Zeigler, attorney-mediator to the rescue, has gone down to Florida this time to see how she can help. (commentary: it is unclear if Vikki is licensed to practice law in Florida or if she is merely providing her services as mediator that they can then take to a licensed professional to finalize)
During the course of the marriage, both parties maintained highly successful and lucrative careers. Husband worked in real estate and construction, Wife worked as a Senior VP in marketing. They make it clear that they are rich and that money and living well were at the epicenter of their relationship. Where the marriage fell apart is what becomes a bit murky. Wife seems to think that the marriage dissolved because Husband decided he wanted to sit on his ass all day and just spend the money they made. Husband seems to think it was as a result of a $250,000 loan that he took from Wife to use for his business. Wife thinks the loan was squandered, Husband thinks the loan ruined his business.
There were four items that this couple was unable to divide on their own: 1) a diamond necklace with a total carat weight of 17 2) a painting from an artist loved by the couple 3)a group of 5 income properties and 4) Anwar Sadat’s passport from the 1940’s, gifted to the couple.
The Wife really wants the diamond necklace (and what girl wouldn’t!). Vikki points out that because it was purchased during the course of the marriage despite being a gift, it has to be divided as a marital asset. It was purchased for $21,000 and the couple now thinks it is worth close to double.
The painting was purchased by Wife as a birthday gift for Husband. Initially, Wife tries to argue that she has more of the relationship with the artists and that she doesn’t remember giving it as a gift. Upon closer inspection, there is an inscription on the back of the canvas from the artist to Husband with birthday wishes. Keep a pin in that for a moment until we analayze later.
The passport is clearly a relic of the past that the couple has a lot of pride in. The twist here is that while it was a gift to both of them from the Husband’s family, Husband offered it as collateral for the $250,000 loan he took from Wife.
Lastly, the income properties. The homes are in Wife’s name, but they were purchased during the course of the marriage and Husband has been the one to improve, maintain and manage them.
After assessing the value of the items with the help of an independent real estate appraiser and her go-to Jersey Boy appriasers the Millea brothers, Vikki delivers her verdict.
Vikki awards the Wife the necklace, valued at only $8,000. But, since it was a purchase made during the marriage, Husband gets a $4,000 credit. The portion he would be entitled to under equitable distribution. In this case, Pennsylvania would have treated the circumstance similarly. Except, that there is some case law about gifts within the marriage and in some cases, gifts can be awarded solely to the recipient despite.
Next, Vikki also awards the painting to Wife and does not give any credit to Husband. It would seem that this is completely opposite to what she has done with the necklace. It was a gift from Wife to Husband within the marriage. There at least should have been some credit given. In my opinion, Vikki did this because Wife had more of a connection to the artists and Husband was clearly just staking claim to be difficult. It also could have had a significance in the mediated agreement overall. The idea of give a little to get a little.
The passport was up next and this too was awarded to Wife. Vikki stated that she made this award because it was used as collateral in their loan agreement. But, she did give Husband credit for half the value. This item shows a situation where a prior agreement or informal postnuptial agreement was in play. Vikki was smart to uphold the terms of that agreement but also allow Husband to get something out of the deal.
Lastly, the properties. Vikki finally gave something to Husband and gave them all to him. This is a situation that frequently comes up in Pennslyvania cases: The parties use the home or homes as a martial asset but they are titled in only one parties’ name. Despite the name on the title, if the asset is marital, it is subject for division. Here, Vikki gave Husband the properties because he was the one who worked on them day-to-day. The only hang up is that Husband still owes Wife $250,000 from the loan. It was suggested by Vikki that that money come out of the property.
After some hemming and hawing and some “I’ll drag this out in court for years!” the parties finally agreed to the deal.
While most of what Vikki did in her assessment was standard, and something that I would agree with as a Philadelphia divorce attorney, the show is starting to present some patterns. Here is what I have noticed: Every episode has a couple with several high end items they cannot part with. The couple always thinks that the items are worth way more than they actually are appraised at. One party makes a ridiculously inappropriate comment at the outset of the mediation meeting (“But you’re a woman!” “I’m never going to settle!”) and then each party eats crow and takes the deal. I am curious to see if this continues next week with episode three…