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In re Geraghty

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

October 20, 2016

IN THE MATTER OF PAULA GERAGHTY AND KENNETH GERAGHTY

          Argued: May 3, 2016

         8th Circuit Court-Jaffrey Family Division

          Bossie & Wilson, PLLC, of Manchester (Jon N. Strasburger on the brief and orally), for the petitioner.

          Primmer Piper Eggleston & Cramer PC, of Manchester (Doreen F. Connor on the brief and orally), for the respondent.

          CONBOY, J.

         The respondent, Kenneth Geraghty, appeals from the final order of the Circuit Court (Forrest, J.) in his divorce from the petitioner, Paula Geraghty. He argues that the trial court erred in: (1) applying New Hampshire law to his petition for annulment of the marriage; (2) denying his petition; (3) finding certain testimony proffered by the petitioner credible without explanation; (4) equally dividing the marital estate; and (5) ordering him to transfer to the petitioner one-half of a certain retirement account without affording him the opportunity to address possible adverse tax consequences of that transfer. We affirm.

         I. Background

         The following facts are drawn from the trial court's order, or are otherwise found in the record. The parties met in 1981 and were married in 1986 in New York. Shortly after marrying, the respondent moved into the petitioner's New York apartment, where they resided for approximately four years.

         During the marriage, the petitioner stopped working outside the home, and maintained the parties' household by cooking, cleaning, organizing, and doing most of the grocery shopping. The respondent worked outside the home and served as the sole financial provider.

         In 1990, the parties moved to Massachusetts, where they resided for approximately four years. In 1994, they moved to New Jersey and purchased a house, which served as their principal residence until 2007. In 2007, the parties sold their New Jersey house and purchased property in New Hampshire, where, by January 2008, they resided full-time.

         In September 2013, the petitioner filed a petition for divorce. The petitioner asserted the fault grounds of "conduct to endanger" and adultery as grounds for the divorce. In February 2015, the respondent filed a petition for annulment of the marriage on the ground that the marriage had been induced by fraud. During the litigation, he claimed that the petitioner had concealed that she had engaged in prostitution, used illegal drugs, and had certain medical procedures prior to their marriage and that had he known about this conduct he would not have married her. He also argued that New York law should apply to the petition for annulment because the parties were married under New York law and annulment of marriage concerns whether a marriage is void at its inception. The petitioner moved to dismiss the annulment petition, which the trial court denied.

         The court held a three-day final hearing on the parties' petitions. The hearing focused upon three primary issues: (1) the respondent's petition for annulment of the marriage based upon "fraud in the inducement"; (2) the petitioner's claim that the respondent's fault caused the breakdown of the marriage; and (3) the equitable division of the marital estate.

         In May 2015, the court issued a final decree of divorce, ruling that: (1) "New Hampshire law is the appropriate law to be applied in this case"; (2) under New Hampshire law, the petitioner's prostitution and use of illegal drugs prior to the marriage were insufficient to warrant annulment of the marriage; (3) the petitioner's testimony that she had disclosed the medical procedures to the respondent prior to their marriage was credible, and, therefore, the court need not consider this conduct "on the issue of the annulment claim"; (4) the respondent's conduct did not rise "to a level which would sustain a claim of fault grounds of conduct to endanger health or reason"; (5) the respondent had committed adultery with a woman he met "through a website, Sugar Daddys.com, " but that the adultery did not cause the breakdown of the marriage; (6) the parties' marriage "did not completely break down until sometime early in 2013"; and (7) equal division of the marital estate is an equitable division. The respondent moved for reconsideration, which the court denied. This appeal followed.

         II. Choice of Law

         The respondent first argues that the trial court erred in ruling that New Hampshire law, rather than New York law, applies to the petition for annulment of the marriage. Specifically, he contends that the court erred in its analysis of the five choice-influencing considerations. The petitioner asserts that the court properly applied New Hampshire law to the annulment petition.

         We confine our analysis to the arguments presented by the parties. Neither party challenges the trial court's reliance upon the five choice-influencing considerations to determine whether New Hampshire law or New York law should apply to the petition for annulment. We, therefore, assume, without deciding, that such reliance was proper and proceed directly to a review of the trial court's analysis of the five choice-influencing considerations. Because none of the facts relevant to the choice of law issue appears to be disputed, our review is de novo. Cf. Benoit v. Test Systems, 142 N.H. 47, 49 (1997) (conducting de novo review where there was no genuine issue of material fact because parties stipulated to relevant facts for purpose of resolving choice of law question).

         The choice-influencing considerations adopted by this court in Clark v. Clark, 107 N.H. 351 (1966), are: (1) predictability of results; (2) maintenance of reasonable orderliness and good relationship among the states in our federal system; (3) simplification of the judicial task; (4) advancement by the court of its own state's governmental interests rather than those of other states; and (5) the court's preference for what it regards as the sounder rule of law. See Ferren v. General Motors Corp., 137 N.H. 423, 425 (1993).

         "Predictability of results, the first of our choice-influencing criteria, is usually implicated only in suits involving contractual or similar consensual transactions." Keeton v. Hustler Magazine, Inc., 131 N.H. 6, 17 (1988). "It emphasizes the importance of applying to the parties' bargain or other dealings the law on which they agreed to rely at the outset." Id. "The predictability that results when courts apply the same law wherever suit is brought can also discourage forum shopping among plaintiffs." Id. at 18.

         The respondent argues that "[a]t the outset of the parties' marriage, they resided in New York and thus application of New York law and not New Hampshire law would protect the justifiable expectations the parties had when entering their marital contract." We agree that the residence of the parties at the outset of their marriage is relevant to the consideration of the predictability of results.

         The respondent also contends that because the parties were married in New York and the alleged fraud which he relies upon to support his annulment petition occurred in New York, "it would have been reasonable for the parties to expect that New York law would be applied to any review of the circumstances that induced the parties to enter their New York marriage contract." We agree.

To the extent that [parties] think about the matter, they would usually expect that the validity of their marriage would be determined by the local law of the state where it was contracted. In situations where the parties did not give advance thought to the question of which should be the state of the applicable law, or where their intentions in this regard ...

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