Marriage of Kostelnik

Marriage of Kostelnik, 2015 MT 283 (Sept. 29, 2015) (Baker, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: Whether the standing master equitably distributed the marital estate, and properly awarded the remaining personal injury settlement proceeds to Jackie.

Short Answer: Yes.


Facts: Jackie and Daniel married in 1983, and have one adult child. Daniel lives in Missoula and has been unable to find work in his chosen field. Jackie was born with cerebral palsy, has a learning disability, and suffers from an incurable neurological condition caused by a tainted dietary supplement she took in the late 1980s. Jackie and Daniel sued the supplement manufacturer in 1992, and agreed to a structured settlement of $500,000 in 1995. Part of the settlement was awarded to Jackie solely, and part was disbursed as an annuity, with payouts extending until 2040.

The standing master held a two-day trial and issued a 29-page report with detailed findings, conclusions, and a decree of dissolution. The standing master split the marital property 50-50, and ordered Daniel to make a $61,123 equalization payment to Jackie. The standing master awarded the remaining settlement proceeds, valued at $984,000, to Jackie. 

Procedural Posture & Holding: Daniel filed objections to the standing master’s report. The district court held a hearing and concluded the standing master’s report was not clearly erroneous, and affirmed. Daniel appeals and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: Under Funk and § 40-4-202, MCA, the source of property or assets does not affect their equitable apportionment. The standing master gave due consideration to both parties’ testimony regarding employment potential and wrote thorough factual findings supporting the apportionment of the marital estate.