Question of Marital Property Regarding Husband’s Stock Options has Potentially Broader Implications

Family Law Case Review

Case: George S. Fischer v. Jennifer M. Fischer
by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: In a case with potential broader implications, the Court of Appeals holds that an award of stock options, which was unvested on the date of filing but which vested while the divorce was pending, is not “marital property” subject to division. Whether a property interest is vested on the date of filing is dispositive.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
Wife filed her petition for dissolution of marriage in October 2014. In 2015, while the divorce was still pending, stock options that Husband’s employer awarded Husband prior to the date of filing vested. At the subsequent final hearing, the trial court included the then-vested stock options in the marital estate, and ordered Husband to make a property settlement payment to Wife that was representative of Wife’s “marital share” of the stock options. Husband appealed.

The Court of Appeals emphasized the axiom of the “marital pot” closing on the date a petition for dissolution is filed. The Court acknowledged that its 1995 Hann decision left some confusion about whether stock options awarded prior to filing, but which vest while a divorce is pending, are in the marital estate. In resolution of that confusion, the Court in this case concluded that “only property that is vested in the parties on the date the petition for dissolution is filed is part of the marital pot.”

The Court of Appeals also suggested that, because these stock options were not a marital asset, they should be considered as Husband’s income for child support calculation purposes.

The trial court’s order, including that the stock options are in the marital estate, was reversed and remanded.

[This case would seem to have implications for a variety of other property interests that can vest while a divorce is pending, such as pensions, year-end employee bonuses, beneficiary trust interests, real estate remainder interests, etc. – MRK.] 

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: George S. Fischer v. Jennifer M. Fischer

 

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James A. Reed and Michael R. Kohlhaas of Bingham Greenebaum Doll represent clients in a wide spectrum of relationship transition and wealth planning matters, including premarital agreements, estate planning, cohabitation, separation, divorce (especially involving high net worth individuals and/or complex asset issues), custody, parenting arrangements, adoption, and domestic partnerships. Bingham Greenebaum Doll, a multidisciplinary law firm serving regional, national, and international clients, is the fourth-largest law firm in Indiana. The firm’s main practices include corporate, property, litigation, labor, government law, and personal services law. Visit the firm’s website at www.bgdlegal.com.

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN

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