An out-of-state judge recently threw out a $1 million verdict that a jury had awarded to a woman in connection to her now-ex-husband’s medical malpractice lawsuit. The man had been misdiagnosed with a serious illness that required constant care, much of it rendered by his then-wife.

The judge threw out the ex-wife’s award because she left “when the going got tough.” However, the woman’s lawyer countered that she had stayed with her husband until after his diagnosis had been corrected and he began to improve physically.

Although the case discussed here took place in New York and is not specifically about the division of marital property in divorce, it does involve some related issues. The laws that dictate the division of property in divorce cases vary by state, and here in Minnesota we use a system called equitable distribution.

The theory behind this system is based on the principle of equity, or fairness. However, because issues of fairness are rarely black and white, there is not always a clear answer as to who should get what when a marriage ends. A skilled divorce lawyer can advocate on the client’s behalf to help him or her obtain a fair settlement.

One factor that can affect the outcome of a Minnesota property division case is what each spouse has contributed to the marriage, both financially and non-financially. Thus, when one spouse has been seriously ill, a judge may factor in the other spouse’s contributions as a caregiver.

Similarly, if one spouse has sacrificed a job or other financial opportunities for the sake of the marriage — to care for children or an ailing spouse, for example — this factor can also be taken into account in the division of marital property. 

Source: New York Daily News, “Ex-wife of landscaper who received $1 million in medical malpractice case cannot keep the money after she left husband ‘when the going got tough’: judge,” Barbara Ross, July 16, 2014