Treachery Under the Marital Property Act

A Court of Special Appeals decision in De Ariz vs. Klinger De Ariz reveals the potential treachery that can occur in litigation. The decision is a reminder that the courts were long ago instituted as the preferred alternative to dueling, murder and mayhem.

Why am I, a seasoned Maryland Divorce Lawyers being so dramatic? Consider how a wife’s award under the Maryland Marital Property Act was eviscerated by the conduct of her ex-husband, his attorneys and a decision of Court of Special Appeals.

Because the trial judge had delayed entering a judgment against the husband, other liens stood ahead of the wife’s claim of $100,000.

The Circuit Court for Montgomery County, after protracted and bitter litigation, granted wife a monetary award under the Marital Property Act of $110,000 saying the award would be payable when the family home was sold. The judge specifically said that she was not entering a judgment against husband at the time of her decision to shield him from interest that would accrue prior to the sale of the house.

He and his lawyers responded to this misguided act of concern for husband’s welfare by entering into a series of agreements pursuant to which they received two liens on his interest in the home in order to pay off unpaid legal fees. When the amount of these liens was added to a judgment against husband for unpaid legal fees, the total exceeded the amount to which he was entitled for his interest from sale of the home.

Because the trial judge had delayed entering a judgment against husband, these other liens stood ahead of wife’s claim. If the trial judge had entered a judgment against husband at the time of her decision, wife’s award would have been first in line to be paid. Instead the lawyers received the money. Wife was left with no obvious mechanism to collect her monetary award.

Wife rushed back to the Circuit Court judge who felt betrayed by husband and his attorneys. She entered an “emergency order” entering a judgment in the amount of $110,000 in wife’s favor against husband’s lawyer. However on appeal, this emergency order was ruled erroneous.

The appeals court was apparently embarrassed by this result. It commented: “no good deed goes unpunished,” a glib reference to the trial judge’s decision not to enter an immediate judgment to shield husband from accruing interest charges prior to the sale of the house. This was clearly not the proudest moment for Anglo-American jurisprudence.