Political Drama No Match for Biden Family Domestic Drama

By Ariel Sosna and Sarah Van Voorhis Van Voorhis & Sosna

For Joe Biden, there may actually be an upside to the Trump election: the ongoing political drama draws attention away from his family’s ongoing domestic drama. Joe’s son, Hunter Biden, is embroiled in a nasty divorce with his estranged wife, Kathleen.

When news broke recently that Hunter and his brother’s widow, Hallie Biden, are romantically involved, Joe and Jill Biden wished the new couple well while the estranged wife, Kathleen, took a ski vacation with her good friend, Michelle Obama. Apparently, Hunter became close to his brother’s widow in 2015 in the wake of Beau’s death. Kathleen filed for divorce on December 9, 2016, over a year after they separated, which was three months after she kicked him out of their home because of “his conduct the night before.”

Kathleen’s most recent court filing is much more specific: she alleges that Hunter’s “drug use and infidelity” caused their split, that he spent money on “drugs, alcohol, prostitutes, and strip clubs,” and that he has been “dissipating hundreds of thousands of dollars of marital funds” by “spending extravagantly on his own interests” since the parties separated. She even alleges that Hunter spent $80,000 to purchase a diamond.

Here in California, Kathleen’s allegations would fall under a claim for breach of fiduciary duty. Family Code §1100(e) imposes on each spouse “the duty to act in accordance with the general rules governing fiduciary relationships in the management and control of community property until such time as the assets and liabilities are divided by the parties or a court.” When a spouse breaches this duty, the injured spouse has a statutory claim pursuant to Family Code §1101, which provides a variety of remedies to compensate the injured spouse. If a court found Kathleen’s allegations were true, she would be reimbursed one-half interest in any dissipation of joint funds, i.e. 50 percent of what was spent on prostitutes. Under Family Code §2625, a court could assign any debts incurred by Hunter that were not incurred for the benefit of the community to Hunter alone, such as credit card debt. A court could even go so far as to find that Hunter had deliberately misappropriated joint property and award the entire amount to Kathleen pursuant Family Code §2602. See also In re Marriage of Cohen (1980) 105 Cal.App.3d 836 (held that if a trial court found that Husband was supporting his girlfriend with community funds, this would constitute misappropriation).

It appears that Hunter and Kathleen may have reached a truce: New York Daily News and other news outlets are reporting that they have agreed to proceed with a “dignified divorce.” This would likely be a relief to Joe, who could go back to being the focus of popular memes and fake news.

Sarah Van Voorhis and Ariel Sosna, both Certified Family Law Specialists, are founding partners of Van Voorhis & Sosna. Follow them on Twitter at @VanVoorhisSosna.