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  • Writer's pictureScott Berry

Divorcing a Gambler?

Updated: Mar 31, 2019

"Equitable Division" and No-Fault Divorce in Minnesota

Good, bad or indifferent, Minnesota is what is called a “no-fault” divorce State. What that means is that in most cases, such as your spouse cheating while you are married, the Judge will not give it any consideration when determining how your marital assets should be distributed. In fact, the Judge will not even allow it in as evidence during the trial.

Minnesota law provides that courts shall make an “equitable division” of the marital assets “without regard to marital misconduct.[i]” Although an equitable division typically results in the parties splitting the marital property and debts in half, such a split is not always the result. An equitable division is defined as a division of the assets and liabilities that is based upon the length of marriage, prior marriages, age, health, occupation, sources of available income, work skills, employability, debts, needs, as well as many other factors other than misconduct.

The following cases help to explain the difference between “equitable division” and spousal misconduct.

In Nelson v. Nelson, Ronald Nelson’s wife, Parveneh Nelson, had a serious gambling problem[ii]. Parveneh had spent a lot of money gambling resulting in credit card debt of over $32,000. To further support her gambling addiction, Parveneh had gone to a pawn shop at least 25 times to sell Ronald and Parveneh’s marital property. In addition, she had been arrested and charged with three counts of felony theft and ordered to pay restitution.

Minnesota law provides that the contribution of each spouse in acquiring, preserving, devaluing or increasing the value of the marital property is important to determine the “equitable division” of the marital property in a divorce. Citing Parvaneh’s gambling habits, pawn shop transactions and restitution obligation, the court determined that Parvaneh wasted their marital property, concluding that her financial contribution to the marriage was negative. In the end, the court awarded Ronald additional marital property due to Parvaneh’s misuse of their marital property.

"the contribution of each spouse in acquiring, preserving, devaluing or increasing the value of the marital property is important to determine the 'equitable division' of the marital property in a divorce."

Another case that explains the difference between “equitable division” and spousal misconduct is the divorce of Bernice Stassen and Richard Stassen who were married for 26 years[iii]. Throughout the marriage Bernice had been continuously employed and had been the primary wage-earner and in some years, the sole wage-earner for the family. Bernice performed all the homemaking duties for family, which included caring for Richard’s father. Moreover, Bernice assisted in the management and remodeling of rental units owned by Bernice and Richard.

Richard, on the other hand, appears to have been an alcoholic, habitually spending the parties’ funds on alcohol. His contribution to the acquisition and maintenance of the parties’ property from his employment had been minimal.

The court concluded that although “equitable division” of Bernice’s and Richard’s property cannot be based upon fault or misconduct, the Judge’s reference to Richard’s persistent alcohol use was an explanation for his lengthy failure to contribute to the marriage. Richard’s failure to contribute to the marriage was a basis for the unbalanced distribution of the marital property to Bernice.

The final case involves a Taiwanese mail order bride[iv]. Howard Hanson went to Taiwan in search of a wife. There he met Evonne Chou. Howard moved Evonne Chou from Taiwan to Howard’s farm in Minnesota. It appears that once they were at the farm, they suffered a stormy relationship. As a result, Evonne Chou left the farm after only two weeks.

Howard and Evonne Chou eventually patched up their relationship and married. Within eight months of their marriage, however, Howard filed for divorce. During the divorce proceedings, Evonne Chou testified that she had been employed in Taiwan, but due to her poor English, she was unable to find a job. Further, her recent immigration status made her ineligible for public assistance. Evonne Chou further testified that she would lose face if she returned to Taiwan after such a

short marriage.

The court concluded that it was appropriate when making the property division to consider Evonne Chou’s move from Taiwan to Minnesota as well as the representations and promises Howard made to her to convince her to move to his farm and marry him. Such a consideration is not regarded as marital misconduct.

#MNDivorce #NoFaultDivorce #DivorcingAGambler #DivorcingAnAlcoholic


[i] Minn. Stat. §518.58

[ii] Nelson v. Nelson, A05-1507, 2006 WL 539394 (Minn. Ct. App. Mar. 7, 2006)

[iii] Stassen v. Stassen, 351 N.W.2d 20 (Minn. Ct. App. 1984)

[iv] Hanson v. Hanson, 378 N.W.2d 28 (Minn. Ct. App. 1985)

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