Under New Hampshire law, the general rule is that a divorce decree’s property division is final and cannot be subsequently modified by a court. This is true even if there has been a change of circumstances that renders the property division unfair or unjust (such as a dramatic change in the value of an investment or a drop in real estate prices). However, in a recent unreported Supreme Court decision, Letourneau and Letourneau, the Court held that a trial court's adjustment of the timing of the execution of a property division is not a modification of the same.
In Letourneau, the final property division called for the wife to refinance the marital home by a given date and pay the husband a sum of money. Prior to that date, the husband was allowed to live in the home. When the wife had the property appraised, it was determined to be unmarketable due to its "wasted condition." The wife then asked the trial court to extend the deadline to refinance the property so that the necessary repairs could be conducted. The trial court extended the deadline twice over the husband's objection.
On appeal, the Supreme Court held that changing the deadlines for the implementation of the terms of a property division is not a modification of the division so long as the extension of the deadlines does not change the overall value of the distribution. As the trial court’s extension of the deadline to refinance did not change the husband’s overall interest in the home (as he was to receive a sum certain regardless of the date of refinance), the extension was proper. However, a different result may be been reached if the husband was to get a percentage of the value of the home, and the home’s value changed between the date of the original deadline and the date of the new deadline.
In negotiating a property division, it is therefore important for the parties and their attorneys to pick a realistic date for the implementation of the terms of the order, such as deadlines to refinance real estate, transfer investment accounts, etc. Failure to do so may result in a ‘skewed’ division or require further appearances in court to modify the deadlines.
If you’re going through a divorce with property involved, consider working with one of Shaheen & Gordon’s experienced family law attorneys. We’ll guide you through the process with compassion and understanding while working tirelessly to serve your best interests. Contact us if you’d like an initial consultation.