Court:  New York Supreme, Queens County
Parties: Claudette Medley, plaintiff v. Maurice Medley, defendant


In what has been described as a landmark case (the judge spoke of its “unique circumstances” and no other instance is to be found in the law books or court records in New York), a wife who filed for divorce and claimed a share of her husband’s assets accumulated during ten years of marriage was awarded nothing by the Supreme Court. When the parties got married the wife was in the U.S. on a temporary visa with a work permit, both of which had expired. At her request, her husband, who was a U.S. citizen, filed a petition for her to become a lawful permanent resident. During the marriage she eventually became a U.S. citizen and they both separately accumulated substantial assets, mostly in real estate.

The wife claimed that under New York’s equitable distribution law she was entitled to a 50% share of three properties purchased by the husband during the marriage, which were in his name only. She claimed that she had made both monetary and non-monetary contributions towards the acquisition of the properties but that the husband had secretly acquired the properties in his name only, contrary to her wishes and expectation.

The husband, who was represented at trial by attorney David B. Calender, countered that the wife was not entitled to any portion of the assets held in his name because during the marriage she had obtained a real estate license and also acquired property in her own name. Mr. Calender argued on behalf of the husband that although he was in love with the wife, she saw and treated the marriage as one of financial opportunity (a kind of one-sided “business marriage”). As a result, she insisted that they maintain separate bank accounts and keep all financial matters, including property purchases, in their separate names. On that issue, attorney Calender introduced into evidence an agreement handwritten by the wife on the day before the marriage. The agreement stated, in part, that “neither party would take any legal action to seek the other’s assets” and was signed by both parties at the insistence of the wife. Attorney Calender argued that during the entire marriage, contrary to the wife’s claim at trial that she treated the husband as “king of the castle,” in reality she had exploited him emotionally to gain an advantage financially and to obtain legal status in the U.S.

In pre-trial settlement negotiations, the husband made an offer of $300,000, which the wife rejected as inadequate. The husband refused to increase his settlement offer and the case proceeded to trial.

The trial lasted a week and involved several issues. On what turned out to be the most critical issue, Attorney Calender introduced into evidence the original handwritten agreement signed by the wife and husband the day before the marriage. Through skillful cross-examination on the agreement, records relating to the purchase of the properties, banking records and other documentary evidence, Attorney Calender won a favorable outcome for the client. The court granted the husband a divorce on his countersuit for a divorce in his favor and denied the wife any share of his assets acquired during the marriage. The court also denied the wife’s application for the husband to pay her lawyer’s fees.

Click Here for a newspaper article on the case.

Click Here for a discussion of the case by divorce law commentator Neil Cahn.