Supreme Court reverses Kanawha decision in divorce

By Steve Korris | Dec 7, 2005

CHARLESTON -- In a divorce where a woman says she owns half the house and a man says he owns the whole house, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has taken the man's side.

In a Dec. 1 decision, the Court reversed a Kanawha County Family Court decision that split ownership of a home between Anna Jean Duncan and William Jack Stuck.

The Justices did not award the whole house to Stuck. They ordered the family court in Charleston to learn more about the dispute.

Chief Justice Joseph Albright, Justice Brent Benjamin and Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard wrote the majority opinion.

Justice Robin Davis protested in a dissenting opinion that the majority gave Stuck another opportunity to prove what he failed to prove the first time.

Justice Larry Starcher joined the dissent.

Duncan and Stuck married in 2000. Each had outlived a spouse. Each had children.

They lived in a home Stuck built in 1999, on property he inherited.

The Court's opinion gave no address. A Charleston phone directory shows William J. Stuck at 2605 Larwood Drive, across the Elk River from Yeager Airport.

In 2001, Stuck conveyed the title to himself and his wife as joint tenants with right of survivorship.

They separated in 2003. Duncan filed for divorce. A struggle for half the house began.

The Kanawha County Family Court entered an order in November 2004, finding that they owned the property as joint tenants. The court terminated the survivor relationship.

Stuck petitioned the circuit court to hear an appeal of the order. In January, Circuit Judge Tod Kaufman refused the petition.

Stuck's attorney, Charles Webb of Giatras & Webb in Charleston, took the case to the Supreme Court of Appeals.

Webb argued that Stuck did not intend to make the property a gift to the marital estate. He argued that Stuck wanted her to have a place to live if he died first.

According to Webb, Stuck believed Duncan would provide that upon her death, his daughters would inherit the property.

The Court majority found that the family court failed to examine Stuck's intent. They wrote that, "…if Mr. Stuck is able to prove that he never intended to make a gift to the marital estate, then the real estate at issue must be deemed his separate property…"

Davis and Starcher disagreed. Davis wrote that Stuck "offered no evidence that would overcome the presumption of a gift of the premarital residence."

She wrote that he "clearly and unequivocally expressed his intent that his premarital residence, which was previously his separate property, instead be marital property."

Attorney Gordon Billheimer of Montgomery represented Duncan before the Court.

Duncan took Stuck's name during the marriage, but in the divorce she changed it back.

She appears in a Charleston phone directory as Anna Jean Stuck, with no address.

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