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Molloy v. Molloy

Supreme Court of Wisconsin
Apr 28, 1970
46 Wis. 2d 682 (Wis. 1970)


In Molloy v. Molloy (1970), 46 Wis.2d 682, 684, 176 N.W.2d 292, this court discussed at length the level of circumstantial evidence required to establish adultery in a divorce action, concluding that to justify a finding that adultery occurred there must be "clear and convincing" evidence of (1) an adulterous inclination and (2) an opportunity under circumstances from which a reasonable person could infer that the act occurred.

Summary of this case from Roach v. Keane


No. 195.

Argued March 31, 1970. —

Decided April 28, 1970.

APPEAL from a judgment and an order of the circuit court for Milwaukee county: WILLIAM R. MOSER, Circuit Judge. Reversed, with directions.

For the appellant there were briefs by Brady, Tyrrell, Cotter Cutler, attorneys, and John A. Keck of counsel, all of Milwaukee, and oral argument by Mr. Keck.

For the respondent there was a brief by Hanley, Wedemeyer Cavanaugh, attorneys, and Robert F. Cavanaugh of counsel, all of Milwaukee, and oral argument by Robert F. Cavanaugh.

Marguerite Molloy commenced this action for divorce against the defendant John J. Molloy, alleging cruel and inhuman treatment. The answer denied the allegations of the complaint and the counterclaim requested an absolute divorce on the grounds of cruel and inhuman treatment and adultery. After a trial to the court without a jury, the court dismissed the plaintiff's complaint for lack of prosecution, granted an absolute divorce on the counterclaim on the ground of cruel and inhuman treatment and concluded the ground of alleged adultery was not proved. The judgment provided that Marguerite Molloy was to receive 40 percent of the property, $100 a month alimony, her separate estate of $7,619, and custody of their five-year-old daughter, fourteen-year-old son, and nineteen-year-old daughter. Support money was granted in the sum of $200 per month for the five- and fourteen-year-old children. By a subsequent order, the plaintiff was awarded $1,000 as a contribution toward her attorney's fees on this appeal.

This appeal is from the part of the judgment involving the question of adultery, alimony, allowance of 40 percent of the property, the custody of the five-year-old daughter, and the allowance of the $1,000 attorney's fees.

The granting of the absolute divorce on the ground of cruel and inhuman treatment is not in issue on this appeal, but it is contended by the defendant that the court erred in not finding the plaintiff had committed adultery. The effect of so finding would under sec. 247.26, Stats., be the denial of alimony to the plaintiff. We think the trial court was in error in its evaluation of the proof on the issue of adultery.

"247.26 Alimony, property division. Upon every judgment of divorce or legal separation for any cause excepting that of adultery committed by the wife, the court may, subject to s. 247.20, further adjudge to the wife such alimony out of property or income of the husband, for her support and maintenance, and such allowance for the support, maintenance and education of the minor children committed to her care and custody as it deems just and reasonable . . . ."

The judicial approach laid down in Loveden v. Loveden (1810), 2 Hagg. Con. 1, 4 Eng. Ecc. 461, by Sir William Scott (Lord Stowell) has become a touchstone in divorce cases involving adultery. In Freeman v. Freeman (1872), 31 Wis. 235, this court quoted Lord Stowell, to wit:

"It is a fundamental rule, that it is not necessary to prove the direct fact of adultery, because, if it were otherwise, there is not one case in a hundred in which that proof would be attainable; it is very rarely indeed that parties are surprised in the direct fact of adultery. In every case, almost, the fact is inferred from circumstances that lead to it by fair inference as a necessary conclusion; and unless this were the case, and unless this were so held, no protection whatever could be given to marital rights. What are the circumstances which lead to such a conclusion cannot be laid down universally, though many of them, of a more obvious nature and of more frequent occurrence, are to be found in the ancient books; at the same time it is impossible to indicate them universally; because they may be infinitely diversified by the situation and character of the parties, by the state of general manners, and by many other incidental circumstances, apparently slight and delicate in themselves, but which may have most important bearings in decisions upon the particular case. The only general rule that can be laid down upon the subject is, that the circumstances must be such would lead the guarded discretion of a reasonable and just man to the conclusion; for it is not to lead a harsh and intemperate judgment, moving upon appearances that are equally capable of two interpretations, neither is it to be a matter of artificial reasoning, judging upon such things differently from what would strike the careful and cautious consideration of a discreet man."

This court and others, as a guide to the exercise of guarded discretion, has classified circumstances relating to adultery mainly in terms of what has been labeled "adulterous disposition and opportunity." Monteith v. State (1902), 114 Wis. 165, 168, 89 N.W. 828; Ermis v. Ermis (1949), 255 Wis. 339, 38 N.W.2d 485; Hartman v. Hartman (1948), 253 Wis. 389, 34 N.W.2d 137; see also 2 Greenleaf, Evidence, secs. 40, 41, and Baker v. United States (1846), 1 Pin. 641.

Sometimes this guide has been abbreviated into the statement that proof of inclination and opportunity suffices; but that statement must be understood to mean that inclination is more than ordinary human tendencies and requires proof of conduct reasonably suggesting a specific libidinous tendency of each of the parties toward the other; and that opportunity means more than mere chance and requires the parties to be together under such circumstances as would lead a reasonable and just person to conclude the fact. See Till v. State (1907), 132 Wis. 242, 111 N.W. 1109.

Proof of adultery frequently must rest on circumstantial evidence but even in the exercise of a guarded and cautious discretion such evidence may be compelling. See State v. Johnson (1960), 11 Wis.2d 130, 104 N.W.2d 379. The burden of proof in respect to adultery in divorce cases is the middle ground and is stated in terms clear, satisfactory and convincing evidence. Poertner v. Poertner (1886), 66 Wis. 644, 29 N.W. 386; Kuehn v. Kuehn (1960), 11 Wis.2d 15, 104 N.W.2d 138; Madison v. Geier (1965), 27 Wis.2d 687, 135 N.W.2d 761.

It is not necessary to detail the evidence concerning the activities of the plaintiff and a Mr. Daniels. The trial court rejected as incredible the testimony of a private investigator concerning their conduct on the night of April 2d and the early morning of April 3, 1968. But what the trial court did not consider in concluding that adultery was not proved was the inference to be drawn from the fact Mrs. Molloy refused to testify on cross-examination concerning her conduct and claimed her right under the fifth amendment not to incriminate herself. Even if the testimony of the private investigator relating to the night of April 2d is discounted, the rest his testimony and that of Mr. Molloy, plus the inference from invoking the fifth amendment is sufficient to meet the burden of proof of adultery. However, we do not find adultery was committed. That issue is to be retried by the trial court on remand.

It is argued the inference from the invoking of the amendment may be drawn only in those cases where the party claiming the protection is seeking affirmative relief. We do not believe this to be a correct statement of the law. Although in many civil cases the action is dismissed or the testimony is stricken when a party to the civil action asserts the privilege against self-incrimination, see Annot. (1965), 4 A.L.R. 3d 545, such remedy is not the exclusive effect of claiming the privilege. Here, the defendant had a right to call the plaintiff adversely. True, the plaintiff had invoked the fifth amendment on a pretrial adverse examination, but that should not preclude the defendant from calling the plaintiff adversely at the trial even though the plaintiff might again plead the fifth amendment. A divorce case is not a criminal trial and we do not think the plaintiff can immunize herself from the effects of claiming the fifth amendment by allowing her complaint to be dismissed for lack of prosecution. Whether the divorce was granted on the counterclaim or on her complaint, it was quite certain that a divorce would be granted.

Plaintiff relies on Malloy v. Hogan (1964), 378 U.S. 1, 84 Sup.Ct. 1489, 12 L.Ed.2d 653, and Spevack v. Klein (1967), 385 U.S. 511, 87 Sup.Ct. 625, 17 L.Ed.2d 574, for the argument that it is unjust to draw a prejudicial inference against one who invokes the fifth amendment in a civil action. These cases are not in point and we do not believe it is unjust to draw a prejudicial inference against one asserting the fifth amendment in a civil action, whether as a shield or as a sword.

This court in Grognet v. Fox Valley Trucking Service (1969), 45 Wis.2d 235, 172 N.W.2d 812, stated it had long been recognized in Wisconsin that a person may invoke the fifth amendment in a civil case in order to protect himself from the use of such evidence against him in a subsequent criminal action; but if he did so, an inference against his interest might be drawn. Since the inference is irresistible and logical in such circumstances, the court may as a matter of law draw the inference. Such an inference is based upon an implied admission that a truthful answer would tend to prove that the witness had committed the criminal act or might constitute a criminal act. The inference is not based upon the condition that the witness is seeking relief or ought not to receive relief because he has invoked the privilege.

We consider such an inference in a civil case not to constitute any penalty or "an instrument of compulsion" as effective as the use of legal process. The administration of justice and the search for truth demands that an inference may be drawn that a witness' testimony would be unfavorable to him in a civil action in which the privilege is invoked to protect himself from a subsequent criminal action. See 98 C.J.S., Witnesses, pp. 307, 308, sec. 455.

Since it was error to dismiss the cause of action based on adultery, we must reverse those parts of the judgment which are thereby affected, i.e., alimony, custody of the children, and the property settlement. In doing so, we do not hold that adultery as a matter of law renders a mother unfit for the custody of her children; it is an element to be taken into consideration with other factors in determining her fitness. Larson v. Larson (1966), 30 Wis.2d 291, 140 N.W.2d 230. Likewise, a party to a divorce action should not be penalized in a property settlement because of adultery but such conduct may be taken into consideration. Lacey v. Lacey (1970), 45 Wis.2d 378, 173 N.W.2d 142; Barrock v. Barrock (1950), 257 Wis. 565, 44 N.W.2d 527; Yasulis v. Yasulis (1959), 6 Wis.2d 249, 94 N.W.2d 649. Whether or not adultery is found upon a rehearing of that issue, we think the trial court was in error in granting 40 percent of the= property to the plaintiff under the facts of this case. We must also reverse the order granting $1,000 attorney's fees. Only $150 was allowed toward attorney's fees for the trial because the property settlement was sufficiently generous. When the defendant appealed, $1,000 was allowed the plaintiff. Such an allowance in this case constitutes a penalty for exercising the defendant's right to appeal, and in view of the generosity of the property settlement, it was error to make such an allowance.

We note that a guardian ad litem was not appointed for the five-year-old child to protect her interests on the custody and support issues and the services of the Department of Family Conciliation were not utilized. Since the issues of alimony, support, custody and property settlement must be redetermined, the trial court should appoint a guardian ad litem for the five-year-old daughter and request a report on the question of custody and support from the Department of Family Conciliation.

By the Court. — That part of the judgment granting alimony, support money, custody and property, and the order allowing attorney's fees are reversed and the cause remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Summaries of

Molloy v. Molloy

Supreme Court of Wisconsin
Apr 28, 1970
46 Wis. 2d 682 (Wis. 1970)

In Molloy v. Molloy (1970), 46 Wis.2d 682, 684, 176 N.W.2d 292, this court discussed at length the level of circumstantial evidence required to establish adultery in a divorce action, concluding that to justify a finding that adultery occurred there must be "clear and convincing" evidence of (1) an adulterous inclination and (2) an opportunity under circumstances from which a reasonable person could infer that the act occurred.

Summary of this case from Roach v. Keane

In Molloy v. Molloy (1970), 46 Wis.2d 682, 176 N.W.2d 292, we noted that a guardian ad litem was not appointed to represent the five-year-old child of divorced parents.

Summary of this case from de Montigny v. de Montigny
Case details for

Molloy v. Molloy

Case Details

Full title:MOLLOY, Respondent, v. MOLLOY, Appellant

Court:Supreme Court of Wisconsin

Date published: Apr 28, 1970


46 Wis. 2d 682 (Wis. 1970)
176 N.W.2d 292

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