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Equitable Distribution in Family Law

Unpublished Opinion – No. COA19-566


Carmen Cousin and Terry Cousin were married for seventeen years.  They separated in May 2016.  Upon separating, Carmen filed a complaint, which included a claim for equitable distribution.  Terry then filed an answer, which included a counterclaim for equitable distribution.  In the final equitable distribution order entered by the court in July 2018, the court assigned a value of $26,070.00 to the parties’ 1965 Lincoln Continental.  The court considered evidence showing the car to be fully restored, thus assigning it that value.  Furthermore, the court awarded Terry the parties’ Myrtle Beach property and ordered him to refinance the mortgage into his sole name before receiving the deed from Carmen.  Terry timely appealed this equitable distribution order. 


Issues on appeal: In his appeal, Terry contended that not only did the trial court err in the valuation of the parties’ 1965 Lincoln Continental, but the court also erred in stipulating that the distribution of the Myrtle Beach property was contingent upon his refinancing of the mortgage in his sole name.


Held: The trial court’s ruling was affirmed by the appellate court.  The trial court correctly valued the parties’ 1965 Lincoln Continental and did not abuse its discretion in not requiring Carmen to sign a deed until Terry could refinance the mortgage in his sole name.


In cases involving claims for equitable distribution, the trial court must take three steps when dividing the parties’ marital assets. Those steps are: (1) the trial court must classify the property as either marital, divisible, or separate; (2) the trial court must value the marital and divisible property as of the parties’ date of separation; and (3) the trial court must then distribute the marital and divisible property to either husband or wife.  Mugno v. Mugno, 205 N.C. App. 273 (2010).


First, Terry contends that the evidence presented at trial does not support the trial court’s value placed on the parties’ 1965 Lincoln Continental. The appellate court disagreed with this contention, finding sufficient evidence on the record to support the trial court’s valuation.  The valuation was supported by not only Carmen’s testimony but also the value generated by the National Automobile Dealers Association (“NADA”), which showed the car to have a “high retail” value of $26,700.00.


Second, Terry contends that the court also erred in stipulating that the distribution of the Myrtle Beach property was contingent upon his refinancing of the mortgage in his sole name.  It was determined on appeal that the trial court made an absolute distribution of the home to Terry, and the fact that Carmen was not required to sign the deed until after the refinance spoke to the method in which title in the property would be transferred between the parties, not whether or not the property was actually distributed to Terry.


Therefore, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s ruling.  A claim for equitable distribution is complex and involves much preparation by an attorney.  Diligently work with your attorney to provide all of the documents your attorney requests to accurately map out a picture of the marital estate and the assets that should be classified, valued, and distributed by the court.