In Long v. Long the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, sitting as the Law Court, affirmed a district court divorce decree dividing the parties' residence of thirteen years as marital property, even though the majority of the funds used for its purchase were traceable to non-marital property the husband had acquired prior to the marriage. The governing statute instructed the district court to make an “equitable” disposition of all property acquired by the spouses during marriage, but required that it first “set apart to each spouse the spouse's [separate] property,” including property acquired during marriage by a spouse “in exchange for property [he] acquired prior to the marriage.” The issue in Long was whether jointly owned real property acquired during marriage with a mix of marital and non-marital funds is subject in its entirety to division as marital property or whether that part of it traceable to contributions of non-marital funds must be set aside as the separate property of the contributing spouse. The Law Court held that where a spouse contributes his separate, premarital property toward the acquisition of jointly held real property, the district court must treat the joint property, for purposes of disposition, as the property of the marital estate, and may not set apart the property, or a portion thereof, as the non-marital property of the contributing spouse. This ruling overturned nearly two decades of precedent. This Note presents the legal background of the Long decision and evaluates the change Long will affect in the future application of title 19-A, section 953 of the Maine Revised Statutes. This Note addresses the likely effectiveness of the Long ruling for achieving the court's stated goals as well as the usefulness of the rule for advancing the development in Maine of a fairer divorce law. This Note concludes that: (a) Long mitigates, but does not end, the inconsistent recognition of the legal significance of joint ownership, (b) it provides less certainty, not more, to litigants, practitioners, and the courts, but (c) it is more in tune with the statutory scheme and (d) it must be understood as effectuating the reasonable expectations of married joint tenants.
Marc J. Veilleux,
Long v. Long: Law Court Ruling Changes the Disposition of Joint Real Property on Divorce,
Me. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/mlr/vol50/iss2/14