This Opinion is subject to motion for reargument or formal revision before publication. See V.R.A.P. 40
On Appeal from Superior Court, Chittenden Unit, Family Division. Brian J. Grearson, J.
Mary G. Kirkpatrick of Kirkpatrick & Goldsborough, PLLC, South Burlington, for Plaintiff-Appellee.
Susan M. Murray of Langrock Sperry & Wool, LLP, Burlington, for Defendant-Appellant.
Present: Reiber, C.J., Dooley, Skoglund and Burgess, JJ., and Bent, Supr. J., Specially Assigned.
[¶1] The principal question presented in this appeal from a final judgment of divorce is whether, as husband contends, the trial court erred in its division of the marital estate by including an offset for the disparity in value between the parties' projected Social Security retirement benefits. We conclude that this was error, and therefore reverse and remand.
[¶2] The facts may be summarized as follows. The parties were married in 1992, and had three children who were still minors at the time of these proceedings. The parties separated in March 2010, and wife filed a complaint for divorce shortly thereafter. The trial court held a contested hearing over two days in February and April 2011. At the time of the hearing, wife worked part-time for a school district, earning approximately $14,000 a year with health insurance benefits. The court found that wife intended to return to school to obtain a master's degree in public administration, which could triple her earnings. During the marriage, husband worked for more than twelve years as a vice president at the University of Vermont, earning approximately $155,000 per year. Due to events not directly relevant to this appeal, husband resigned his position shortly after the conclusion of the hearing and the University provided him with a severance package. The court found that husband's future employment prospects were " unknown and speculative."
[¶3] The parties did not agree on the assets to be included in the marital estate. Wife submitted a list of assets (" Exhibit D" ) with a total value of $1,152,325.86, including $88,158 identified as the difference between the present value of husband's and wife's projected Social Security benefits. The value was determined by wife's accountant and credited toward husband's suggested share of the marital estate, with a corresponding offset in value for wife. Wife proposed that she be awarded either sixty percent of the value of the entire estate plus spousal maintenance, or eighty percent without maintenance. Husband submitted a separate list of marital assets which totaled $978,504 and did not include the Social Security differential. Husband proposed an award to wife of sixty percent of the value of the
estate plus rehabilitative maintenance for a period of several years.
[¶4] In its written ruling, the trial court found that wife's proposed property division as set forth in her Exhibit D was " a reasonable one" and gave her the option of choosing either the eighty/twenty division that she had proposed or an award of sixty percent plus maintenance until she reached the age of sixty-seven. Wife subsequently opted for the higher percentage of the marital estate without the maintenance, and the trial court entered a final judgment consistent with that choice and with the proposed division set forth in ...