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Corbin v. Corbin

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

January 31, 2017

Anne duPont Corbin
v.
Richard Beverley Corbin, III.

         Newport County Family Court (N07-8) Associate Justice Haiganush R. Bedrosian.

          For Plaintiff: Robert S. Parker, Esq.

          For Defendant: Lauren E. Jones, Esq. Robert S. Thurston, Esq.

          Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.

          OPINION

          Francis X. Flaherty Associate Justice.

         This case came before the Supreme Court on appeal by the defendant, Richard Beverley Corbin, III (Bev), from an order of the Family Court on two post-final-judgment motions filed by the plaintiff, Anne duPont Corbin.[1] The defendant contends that the trial justice erred when she determined that the post-employment compensation that he received from his employer was marital property and therefore her award of 50 percent of it to Anne was also error. Alternatively, the defendant maintains that, should this Court affirm the trial justice's findings with regard to the post-employment compensation, then in that case the fee that he paid to an attorney for negotiating that compensation should be considered marital debt, of which Anne should pay half. Additionally, the defendant argues that the trial justice erred when she awarded counsel fees to Anne for her prosecution of a motion to modify child support, after she made a specific finding that the defendant did not adequately notify Anne when he regained employment. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm the judgment of the Family Court.

         I

         Facts and Travel

         The parties were married on September 27, 1997. Two children and a decade later, Anne filed for divorce. While divorce proceedings progressed, the parties pursued settlement negotiations that resulted in the signing of a property settlement agreement (PSA)[2] on January 9, 2009. The PSA was incorporated by reference, but not merged, into the Family Court final judgment dated April 9, 2009. Thereafter, both parties filed several post-judgment motions, two of which are the subject of this appeal. After numerous hearings on the various motions were conducted over an extended period of time, the trial justice issued her decision on April 16, 2013, and entered her final order on February 17, 2014. In her seventy-page decision, among other grants and denials, the trial justice granted Anne's motion to modify child support, awarded her counsel fees, and granted her motion to compel specific performance and/or to adjudge Bev in contempt regarding paragraph 7(E) of the PSA, awarding Anne 50 percent of the $138, 937.29[3] amount Bev received from his former employer, Wells Fargo, upon his termination.

         PSA Negotiations

         In December 2008, while Bev was bargaining with his employer, he also was negotiating the terms and conditions of a PSA with Anne. On December 30, 2008, after Anne's counsel provided Bev's divorce counsel with a draft PSA, Bev's divorce counsel responded, proposing various changes. Significantly, counsel proposed a change to paragraph 7(E) explaining:

"This paragraph was not discussed and is unacceptable; as you are aware, Kirk v. Kirk has specifically excluded from division in a divorce the recovery of damages for future earnings which exceed the duration of the marriage; any claim which Bev may receive (which is apparently highly speculative at this point) is in lieu of future earnings, and will be counted as income for child support purposes but is not divisible as a marital asset. This is distinguishable from the economic benefits earned by Anne at Square Mile, all of which were earned during the marriage, but are deferred in terms of payment. Therefore, subparagraph (e) should be excluded."

         Paragraph 7(E) of the final PSA, which was executed on January 9, 2009, articulated:

"E. Husband's Wells Fargo Claim. The Husband has a claim against his prior employer, Wells Fargo. In the event the claim is settled and the Husband receives any settlement sum as a result of said claim, for any work performed by him for Wells Fargo prior to the entry of the Final Judgment of Divorce in this matter, the Husband shall pay to the Wife forty (40%) percent of the settlement, net any taxes and litigation expenses."

         Additionally, paragraph 10(A) declared, "[a]t such time as the Husband obtains employment, he shall notify the Wife and the parties shall calculate the appropriate child support sum based upon the parties' then respective incomes and the Child Support Guidelines and visitation travel expenses."

         Bev's Employment ...


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