Tue | Dec 6, 2016

'Wifey' takes back property from 'matey'

Published:Monday | April 20, 2015 | 12:00 AM

When a wealthy married man's 'companion' cost him his ownership of a lucrative NBA franchise by disclosing to the public racist comments he made during a telephone call to her, many persons would have thought that his eventual divorce might have been the next step. However, Donald Sterling's wife made a different move.

In other telephone recordings, Sterling and his companion were heard discussing how to hide property from his wife. It turned out that the companion had been the recipient of "a house, a Ferrari, and other luxury gifts". With that knowledge, the wife sued the companion for US$3.6 million that she said was property belonging to her and her husband that he had given away.

According to the reports, although Sterling and his wife have been estranged since 2012, they formed a united front at court against his former companion. On the strength of his evidence that he had given his companion a "Ferrari, a Bentley, and a Range Rover, and paid the lion's share of (the price to purchase) a US$1.8m duplex near Beverly Hills", the wife was awarded US$2.6 million. The judge said the house would be turned over to the Sterlings.

The irony is that, apart from losing the NBA franchise, Sterling was fined US$2.5 million for the racist comments he had made, even less than the amount his wife has succeeded in recovering from his former companion.

The fact is that, in California, the law is based on what is known as "community property" between a married couple. Therefore, property acquired during the marriage is, by statute, jointly owned by the couple, each of whom will be entitled to a 50 per cent share in it. In the Sterling case, by giving gifts to his companion during the marriage, Sterling was also giving away his wife's property.

 

community property

 

For those readers who wondered where this was all going, Jamaican marital-property law is not based on community property. Only the family home is presumed to be owned by the spouses equally. For all other property acquired during the marriage, there is no automatic presumption that it belongs to both spouses. Instead, a spouse who is claiming an interest in property belonging to the other spouse in Jamaica must prove that he or she contributed (whether financially or otherwise) towards the acquisition, maintenance or improvement of that property if he or she is to be declared to have an interest in it.

However, if one spouse in Jamaica was to attempt to give away or sell an interest in property to a third party in an attempt to defeat the claim or rights of the other spouse, the remedy sought and obtained by Sterling's wife could well be theirs against that third party. In other words, the Property (Rights of Spouses) Act contains specific provision to safeguard the interests of a spouse who discovers that the other spouse has attempted to transfer (or has actually transferred) property in order to defeat his or her claim to an interest in marital property.

Provided a spouse is able to prove that it was not a bona fide transaction, the court could order the third party to transfer the property or a part of it to him or her or pay into court a sum equivalent to the value of the interest of the spouse who is making the claim.

For those wives who believe that they must be forced to sit on the sidelines while their husbands give away the family's fortunes, there may just be a remedy for you.

• Sherry-Ann McGregor is a Partner and Mediator in the firm of Nunes, Scholefield, DeLeon & Co. Please send questions and comments to lawsofeve@gmail.com or lifestyle@gleanerjm.com.