The New Jersey Supreme Court is currently considering a complex property division case involving a $2.25 million bonus. The matter presents the following question: should division of assets address solely a 14-month marriage, or the 8 years during which the couple cohabitated before marrying?
The aforementioned case involves defendant, Bernice Aucoin-Thieme, and her ex-husband, plaintiff Michael Thieme. The couple met in 2000 and moved in together in 2002 after Bernice became pregnant. Their daughter was born in January of 2003 and the couple reportedly engaged in a verbally and physically abusive relationship before marrying in 2010. Just 14 months later, Michael filed for divorce.
The couple reached a property settlement agreement in June of 2012, which included provisions related to alimony, child support, child custody, and division of assets. Shortly after the divorce was finalized (approximately 3 months), Michael received a bonus of $2.25 million, which was contingent upon the sale of the biotechnology start-up company where Michael worked.
Michael deposited $200,000 of the bonus into a joint bank account in October 2012. Unbeknownst to him, Bernice was still able to access the account, from which she withdrew $200,029. Michael subsequently filed a lawsuit to recover the money and the case went before a Superior Court Judge in Hudson County. Bernice argued that she is entitled to a part of the bonus based on the years that the couple lived together and she cared for their child. Hudson County Superior Court Judge Maureen Sogluizzo ruled that Bernice should receive $30,228, based on the 14 months of marriage.
After two lower court rulings, the case is now before the New Jersey Supreme Court, which will decide whether or not Bernice should receive $30,228 or $200,029. This case spells significant implications for other divorce cases in New Jersey, as it addresses the fundamental question of whether or not a couple’s period of cohabitation before marriage should be factored into the equitable distribution of property. Under current New Jersey law, the answer is no. Whether or not this policy will change in the future remains to be seen.
At Townsend, Tomaio & Newmark, our highly experienced New Jersey divorce attorneys are well-versed in New Jersey law regarding asset division in divorce. We regularly assist clients with high net worth divorce, high profile divorce, complex property distribution, and divorce involving businesses and investments. For additional information and a cost-free consultation, contact our Morris County law offices today at 973-828-0829.
For additional information pertaining to this case, access the following article: N.J. Supreme Court Hears Dispute Over $2.25M Post-Divorce Bonus After Short Marriage