Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s wife is asking for the couple’s two homes in their divorce and could walk away with them if he doesn’t contest her request.
Veteran family law attorneys said it’s too early to determine whether Chauvin’s wife, Kellie Chauvin, is asking for more than half the couple’s assets because divvying up marital assets is a complicated process.
She filed for divorce two days after her husband was charged with murder and manslaughter in the May 25 killing of George Floyd, who died after then-officer Chauvin planted his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes as Floyd lay prone in the street in handcuffs.
Kellie Chauvin, 45, filed a divorce petition May 31 in Washington County District Court, less than a week after Floyd’s killing. Some have questioned whether her demand for real estate is a ploy to protect the assets from a lawsuit. Family law attorneys say it’s too soon to draw any conclusions.
“Homes are only one part of a marital estate, and without understanding what the other person is being awarded outside of the homes, [the divorce petition] is not actually telling you whether this person is asking for more than 50 percent,” said Jack De Walt, an 18-year family law attorney and adjunct professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law.
Derek Chauvin, 44, had 30 days from the date he received notice of the divorce petition to file an answer and counter-petition if he wanted to challenge any of his wife’s proposals. That expired Friday. He had not filed any papers as of late Monday, although it’s common for divorce attorneys to grant an extension without filing such a notice in the court system. (The courts were closed July 3 for the July 4th holiday.)
Attorney Eric Nelson, who is representing Derek Chauvin in the criminal case and signed Chauvin’s receipt of the divorce petition, declined to comment Monday. Nelson is not representing Chauvin in the divorce; there was no attorney listed for the case.
“I do not have authorization to provide details about how the Chauvin case is being handled procedurally,” said Kellie Chauvin’s attorney, Amanda Mason-Sekula.
If no answer and counter-petition are filed by the 30-day deadline, a petitioner can wait 55 days and ask a judge to proceed by default, which would grant what was requested.
Kellie Chauvin, a former Realtor who was unemployed when she filed the petition, requested a “fair and equitable division” of personal property, vehicles and all bank, retirement and investment accounts. She neither sought nor offered alimony payments.
She asked for sole ownership of their primary home in Oakdale and a townhouse in Windermere, Fla., which were both bought after they married in 2010 and are listed in both of their names.
“I don’t know, honestly, that you’ve got enough here to guess anything” about the motives in requesting both homes, said 35-year family law attorney Becky Toevs Rooney, who represented disgraced businessman Denny Hecker’s fourth wife in a divorce proceeding.
The Chauvins bought the Oakdale house in 2017 for $260,000. It is now valued at $273,800, according to Washington County property records.
They bought the Florida townhouse in 2011 for $210,900; property records put the value last year as $226,282.
Outstanding mortgages and equity, which were not addressed in the divorce petition, are key in determining whether acquiring both homes would be a financial boon, said several family law attorneys. They added that it’s not unusual for such petitions to be vague, and for exact property appraisals and financial accounting to be determined at a later date.
Family law attorneys said that state law compels a judge to divide assets acquired during a marriage as equitably as possible, and that a judge would hesitate if one spouse asks for too much.
“On its face, if it doesn’t appear to be just and equitable the court has the discretion to say, ‘I’m not going to do this,’ ” said Marc Beyer, who has practiced family law for nearly 20 years. “If you ask for more than half or all of the assets, you’re not going to get that in most cases.”
Requesting a large amount of property, such as the two homes, could be balanced out by a proportionate division of liquid assets or other belongings, attorneys said, adding that assets are sometimes split beyond a true 50-50 division.
Derek Chauvin’s pension from his 19-year career at the police department could also factor in the division of assets. The pension was not specifically addressed in the petition. Chauvin, who was fired days after Floyd’s death, has not begun collecting his pension so its gross value has not yet been determined. Once it has, it will be public information.
Judges typically don’t like to proceed without input from the person being divorced, and can act with flexibility even if they miss the deadline, attorneys said.
“I can’t think of one judge who isn’t serious about being sure somebody gets to be heard,” said Victoria Brenner, a 15-year family attorney and adjunct professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law.
Given the length of their marriage, the absence of children and Derek Chauvin’s former profession, the couple’s divorce proceeding would likely be uneventful were it not for the “extraordinary” element of Floyd’s death, Rooney said.
“I don’t perceive that there’s a great deal of wealth given what he does and the socio-economic status of police officers his age,” she said.
Defaulting in a divorce is rare, attorneys said, and people regularly miss the 30-day deadline for a number of reasons, including financial problems, mental health issues and other life events.
“I can imagine [Derek Chauvin is] in the position where he’s got bigger fish to fry, or bigger things to worry about right now,” Beyer said.
Derek Chauvin and three other former officers who assisted in Floyd’s arrest are due in court Sept. 11 for a hearing in the criminal case.
Staff writer Jennifer Bjorhus contributed to this report.