During a marriage, couples can accumulate hundreds or even thousands of photographs and videos. Unlike other pieces of personal property such as linens or knick knacks, these photographs and videos cannot be replaced once destroyed. Like other items in a court order, parties may face severe consequences if they destroy this type of material in violation of a final divorce decree.
In C.S. v. B.S., this is exactly what happened. In that case, the parties had been married for 25 years. The martial settlement agreement discussed the photographs taken during the parties’ marriage. The terms of the MSA provided that the husband would be allowed access to the photos in order to make his own copies. After the divorce was finalized, he contacted his former wife in order to make arrangements to make copies of the family photos. The ex-wife informed him that she had disposed of all of the family photographs because he had committed adultery, and she did not want the reminder of him. The husband then filed a motion with the court, seeking enforcement of his right to the photos and also for damages for the wife’s breach of the MSA.
At the hearing on the motion, both the husband and the wife testified. The husband testified that the photographs he sought to retrieve included those from events such as the birth of the parties’ children, graduation, birthday parties, and other significant life events. He also stated that the only photographs he had received from the wife were a few photos from his childhood, one of which was ripped into pieces. The wife testified she had made the unilateral decision on which photos were hers and which belonged to the husband, and had returned to him those photos that belonged to him. She stated that she had destroyed those photos that were hers, and that she may have even done so before the divorce. She could not explain, however, why she had agreed in the MSA to return the photos to the husband if she had already destroyed them.
The court noted that both parties in a divorce have the responsibility to deal fairly with each other, and that the wife had breached this duty by destroying photos and violating the spirit of the MSA. The court also noted that there was not a way to put a fair market value on family photos. Ultimately the court ordered the wife to pay $5,000 as damages for destroying the photographs.
A divorce is often full of acrimony and bitterness, but do not let that override your judgment. If you have questions about your rights and responsibilities in your divorce, contact us today at (732) 529-6937 for an appointment.