Family Law Weekly Case Review

Case: Randall Thomas Ford v. Debra Ann Ford

Case Summary – by Mike Kohlhaas (with thanks to Kathleen Rudis) 

HELD: The Court of Appeals held that Husband’s employer-funded health benefit account constituted a marital asset subject to division, because Husband had an immediately-existing right of present enjoyment of the account.  The Court further held that a settlement agreement stating that the sum of $28,694.31 was the amount of employer contributions was not equivalent to the parties agreeing that the actual value of the account was $28,694.31. The Court found that the account might well be valued at substantially less than $28,694.31, as a result of various contingencies which might affect Husband’s future enjoyment of the account.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY: Husband and Wife were married in 1978.  Wife filed a petition for dissolution of marriage in 2010.  During the dissolution proceedings, the parties reached a mediated settlement, in which they agreed to all issues except whether Husband’s employer-funded health benefit account, constituted a divisible marital asset.  The parties did agree that the sum of $28,694.31 was the amount of employer contributions in the account as of March 2010.

In determining whether the account was a divisible marital asset, the trial court first considered the fact that Husband did not forfeit his right to the account upon termination of employment.  The trial court noted that there were certain contingencies under which Husband would forfeit his right to the value of the account, but the court nevertheless found that these contingencies did not affect Husband’s present possessory interest.  As such, the trial court found that the account was a divisible marital asset.

In regard to valuation, the trial court stated that the contingencies affecting Husband’s future right to the account and restrictions on use of the account might affect evaluation of the account.  However, the Court found that because the parties had agreed on a value of the account, the court should accept that value.

On review, the Indiana Court of Appeals first considered whether the Husband’s right to the account had vested.  The Court found that Husband had an immediately-existing right of present enjoyment of the account, and therefore was vested in possession with regard thererto.  Thus, the Court found that the trial court properly concluded that the account was a divisible marital asset.  The Court did consider the contingencies that might impact the account in the future, but the Court determined that the contingencies did not alter the fact that Husband had an immediately-existing right of present enjoyment of the account.

The Court next considered whether the trial court was correct in concluding that the parties “agreed that the account is worth $28,694.31.”  The Court’s review revealed that the parties agreed only that “the sum of $28,694.31 was the amount of employer contributions in the [account] as of March 2010.”  The Court ruled that this was not the same as agreeing that the value of the Account as a marital asset was $28,694.31.  Moreover, the Court found that the various contingencies might affect Husband’s future enjoyment of the account.  Thus, the Court determined that the account might well be valued at substantially less than $28,694.31.

The Court affirmed the trial court’s conclusion that the account was a marital asset subject to division, but reversed and remanded the trial court’s judgment regarding valuation of the account.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: Randall Thomas Ford v. Debra Ann Ford

Leave a Reply