IN THE MATTER OF PATRICIA SWEATT AND ARTHUR SWEATT
Argued: May 16, 2017
Circuit Court - Dover Family Division No. 2016-0296
Stevens Law Firm, PLLC, of Portsmouth (Todd W. Stevens on the
brief and orally), for Kathleen Paine, administrator of the
estate of Patricia Sweatt.
and Greene, PLLC, of Dover (David J. Greene on the brief and
orally), for the respondent.
respondent, Arthur Sweatt, appeals orders of the Circuit
Court (Lemire, J.) denying, in relevant part, the
respondent's motions to reconsider certain orders in his
divorce from Patricia Sweatt. He argues the court erred: (1)
in denying his motion to abate the divorce; (2) in granting
the motion of petitioner Kathleen Paine, administrator of the
estate of Patricia Sweatt, to amend by substitution; (3) in
distributing the marital property more than six months after
the dissolution of the marriage; (4) in finding him, but not
Paine, to have been non-compliant with court rules; (5) by
denying him due process and equal protection of the law; and
(6) in its valuation of the marital real property. We affirm.
record supports the following facts. The respondent married
Patricia Sweatt on August 8, 1978. In April 2015, after 36
years of marriage, Patricia Sweatt filed for divorce on the
ground of irreconcilable differences. She filed an expedited
motion to bifurcate on June 30, 2015, stating that she would
likely pass away soon due to her deteriorating health. The
respondent objected, and a hearing was held on the motion.
Patricia Sweatt appeared telephonically as did her daughter
and attorney-in-fact, Kathleen Paine, with whom Patricia
Sweatt was living in Colorado at the time.
Trial Court (Foley, J.) entered a bifurcated divorce
decree on July 31, 2015, decreeing that Patricia Sweatt and
the respondent were divorced and instructing the clerk's
office to schedule a final hearing on the division of assets.
Neither party filed a motion for post-decision relief
pursuant to Family Division Rule 1.26F or appealed the
bifurcated divorce decree to this court.
Sweatt passed away on September 24, 2015. The respondent
moved to continue the final hearing, alleging that an
administrator had yet to be appointed for her estate. The
final hearing was converted to a pretrial conference. At the
time of the pretrial conference, Paine had not been appointed
as administrator of the estate, and she had not been
substituted as a party on behalf of the estate in the
proceedings. Paine's appointment was delayed in the
trial court held a telephonic conference on February 16,
2016, during which the respondent argued for the first time
that the doctrine of abatement applied. The court declined to
rule on the respondent's argument until he properly
raised and briefed the issue. On February 19, 2016, the
respondent filed a motion requesting that the court abate the
divorce proceeding. Paine objected, arguing that abatement
did not apply because the parties were divorced upon entry of
the bifurcated divorce decree prior to Patricia Sweatt's
death. The court denied the respondent's motion.
February 25, 2016, Paine filed a motion asking the court to
substitute herself, as administrator of the estate, for
Patricia Sweatt. The trial court granted the motion. Paine
was appointed as administrator of the estate by the probate
division on March 2, 2016.
March 3, 2016, the day of the final hearing, the respondent
moved for reconsideration of the trial court's order
denying his motion for abatement and of the trial court's
order granting Paine's motion for substitution. The trial
court denied the motion. The respondent did not file a
proposed final decree or a financial affidavit prior to the
final hearing., The respondent submitted a
financial affidavit during the course of the final hearing,
only after the trial court instructed him, from the bench, to
complete and submit the affidavit during a break in the final
hearing. The trial court afforded the respondent additional
time to supplement the financial affidavit after it was
revealed through his testimony that he had not disclosed all
of his assets on the affidavit.
April 1, 2016, the trial court issued a final order, finding
that the respondent had not complied with certain court
rules, but nonetheless finding that an equal division of the
marital estate was equitable.