Case Caption: Felipe Garcia v. Edna M.T. GarciaCase Number: S. Ct. Civ. No. 2012-0075Date: 09/20/2013Author: Hodge, Rhys S. Citation: Summary:

In a divorce and equitable distribution proceeding in which the wife seeking divorce asked the court to divide five parcels of real property equally, and the Superior Court ultimately concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to divide all but one of the properties as a marital homestead, the portion of the Amended Decree relating to equitable distribution of that parcel is vacated. The Family Division of the Superior Court has subject matter jurisdiction over the marital homestead and the personal property of the couple, but not over any other real property. In this case the Superior Court failed to issue sufficient factual findings or conclusions of law to justify its conclusion that it has jurisdiction over one of the parcels as a marital homestead. It cannot be determined without additional findings of fact whether a marital homestead exists that the Superior Court may equitably distribute as part of the divorce action. The possible abandonment of parcel and a four year gap between the wife's moving out and filing for divorce was not explained. Nor did the Superior Court make any factual findings on the claims of abuse offered to explain the departure of the wife. This matter is remanded to the Superior Court so that it may resolve the jurisdictional question concerning the existence of a marital homestead, including making the factual findings necessary to enable meaningful appellate review. While the Superior Court faced the issue of whether the argued marital homestead encompassed all of the particular parcel, or only a single apartment within the larger structure, its ultimate holding (without citing to any relevant legal authority or even acknowledging the issue) that the parcel qualified for equitable distribution in its entirety was error. Consequently, on remand the Superior Court should in addition address whether it only has subject matter jurisdiction to equitably distribute the portion of the property that was actually occupied by the parties. Further, to guide the proceedings, and considering the history of case law and legislative amendment of the Code, it is concluded that the phrase “equity of the case” in section 33 V.I.C. § 2305(d) does not encompass marital fault, especially in light of the 1973 amendments. Therefore, in the event the Superior Court determines that it possesses jurisdiction to equitably distribute all or part of the contested parcel, it is directed to do so without any regard to marital fault. That portion of the July 20, 2012 Amended Divorce Decree vesting the former wife with a 20 percent equitable interest in a particular parcel is vacated, and the case is remanded to the Superior Court for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

Attachment: Open Document or Opinion