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O'Brien v. O'Brien

(1985)

New York Court of Appeals - 489 N.E.2d 712, 66 N.Y.2d 576

tl;dr:

A medical license is part of the marital estate and its value should be divided between the spouses in a divorce.

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Facts & HoldingO'Brien v. O'Brien case brief facts & holding

Facts:The O'Briens got married. The man went to medical school,...

Holding:Mrs. O'Brien is entitled to the value of a portion...

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O'Brien v. O'Brien | Case Brief DeepDive
Majority opinion, author: Simons, J.
Level 1
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This divorce case involves the classification of a medical license obtained during the marriage as marital property subject to equitable distribution. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the defendant, awarding maintenance arrears, expert witness fees, and attorneys' fees. The Appellate Division modified the judgment, stating that the medical license is not marital property. However, the court held that the medical license is marital property and subject to equitable distribution. The defendant's expert witness fee was erroneously denied by the Appellate Division. The case was remanded to the Supreme Court for further proceedings. The court awarded the defendant a distributive award of $188,800, representing 40% of the license's value, to be paid in 11 annual installments. The lower court erred by not considering the plaintiff's ability to pay the award and by not providing a detailed explanation for the award amount. The Appellate Division modified the judgment, concluding that a professional license obtained during marriage is not subject to distribution as marital property. The case was remitted for further proceedings, and the provision for payment of the expert witness was struck. The plaintiff argues that the trial court failed to provide adequate explanation for its decision and erroneously excluded evidence of marital fault. The plaintiff also contends that the trial court's awards for attorneys and expert witness fees were improper. The defendant seeks reinstatement of the trial court's judgment.

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Opinion (Concurrence), author: Meyer, J.
Level 1
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The case concerns distributive awards based on a licensed spouse still in training. The concurring judge agrees with Judge Simons' opinion but raises concern about the potential for unfairness in distributive awards made under Domestic Relations Law § 236 (B) (5) (e) that cannot be modified. The judge suggests that the Legislature consider this issue. The trial judge's decision amounted to making a career decision for the plaintiff, which is not intended under equitable distribution provisions. The court should be able to revise the award to reflect the actual circumstances if a distributive award is based on an assumption about a spouse's career choice that turns out to be incorrect.

Opinion (Concurrence), author: Titone, J.
Level 1
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In the legal case, Judge Simons wrote the majority opinion, which was supported by Judge Titone and others. Judge Titone changed his previous stance and adopted a more convincing position in McGrath v Kristensen. The order was modified, with costs awarded to the defendant, and the case was sent back to the Appellate Division, Second Department, for further proceedings. The certified question was answered in the negative. Judges Meyer and Titone issued separate concurring opinions. It should be noted that the lower court's decision in Conner v Conner was abandoned.

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