Ahrendt v. Chamberlain, 2018 SD 31. Divorce case where both spouses attained new jobs during the marriage, allowing them to accumulate significant assets, consisting primarily of real estate, business interests, and retirements accounts. The spouses separated, and wife remained in the marital home while paying the entire monthly mortgage payment. Husband paid his own expenses associated with his new apartment. A divorce action was commenced where the circuit court found that both parties had made significant contributions to the acquisition of property, and the court classified most of their separately held assets as marital property. Wife received nets assets valued at approximately $720,000.00 while husband received net assets valued at approximately $285,000.00. The circuit court ruled that such distribution was not equitable and ordered wife to make a $217,000.00 equalization payment. Wife appealed, arguing that certain assets were not marital property and that the marital estate should not have been equitably divided.
Given that South Dakota is an “all property state” and that all property of divorcing parties is subject to equitable division, the South Dakota Supreme Court held that the evidence accurately reflected that both parties contributed to the accumulation of marital property. In that vein, the South Dakota Supreme Court also found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it included specific assets as part of the marital estate and affirmed the trial court in all respects except one clerical matter, which was to be addressed by the trial court on remand.
Winegart v. Winegart, 2018 SD 32. Another divorce case where Husband and Wife underwent a mediation. At the mediation, an agreement was signed by Husband with a real-estate agent to list the jointly owned real estate. The listing agreement included a commission for the realtor. A third party signed an agreement to purchase the jointly owned real estate for $330,000.00. However, Wife refused to sign the purchase agreement, asserting that during mediation, Husband had orally agreed to sell the property without paying for a realtor. Husband than filed a motion requesting that Wife sign the purchase agreement. The mediator was deposed and testified as to certain aspects of his understanding of the mediation settlement. The trial court found that the parties had not entered into an enforceable agreement in regard to realtor fees and ordered Wife to sign the purchase agreement. Wife then appealed, requesting Husband pay her the realtor fees incurred as a result of his violation of the oral mediated agreement.
The South Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s decision on various grounds. First, the South Dakota Supreme Court held that communications occurring in the course of mediation are confidential and cannot be used to prove the existence of an agreement. The court evaluated South Dakota’s statutes adopting the Uniform Mediation Act, finding that said statutes do not permit a mediator to disclose the terms of a settlement produced in mediation unless that settlement has been reduced to writing. Second, the court held that even if the mediator’s testimony was admissible, Wife signed a confidentiality agreement that precluded the introduction of such evidence. Lastly, the South Dakota Supreme Court held that the trial court’s findings that the parties did not mutually assent to selling their home without paying realtor fees was not clearly erroneous, even if all contested testimony was allowed.