Tennessee Appeals Court Modifies Distribution of Marital Estate in Divorce Case

The Court of Appeals of Tennessee recently reviewed the final decree from a trial court regarding the division of property in a divorce case. In Howard v. Howard (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 29, 2015), the parties had been married for a relatively short duration, slightly less than three years, before the wife filed for divorce. After a two-day bench trial, the court granted the parties a divorce on stipulated grounds and distributed the marital estate. The trial court awarded the marital residence to the wife, as well as another property, and attributed the debt associated with each to the wife. The court awarded three other properties to the husband. In sum, the trial court awarded the wife approximately 60.9% of the marital estate and the husband approximately 39.1%, concluding that the division was an equitable distribution. The husband appealed the division, arguing that the trial court should have also awarded him the marital residence, a 1969 Ford Mustang, and a zero-turn lawn mower.

T.C.A. § 36–4–121(c) provides statutory factors for the court to use in determining an equitable division of marital property, such as the duration of the marriage; age, health, earning capacity, and financial needs of each of the parties; tangible or intangible contributions by one party to the other; the contribution of each to the marital property; the value of each party’s separate property; tax consequences; and other factors necessary to consider the equities between the parties. In cases involving a marriage of relatively short duration, Tennessee courts have held that it is appropriate to divide the property in a way that, as nearly as possible, places the parties in the same position they would have been in had the marriage never taken place.

The appeals court recognized that determining the total value of the marital estate was a moving target throughout the trial court proceedings, since the husband bought, repaired, and sold numerous vehicles as a hobby, and the parties maintained several bank accounts, borrowing and transferring funds frequently to remain current in payments of living expenses and construction and repair costs to the marital residence. In addition, neither party could be awarded the marital residence without a significant disparity in the parties’ respective financial status post-marriage. Nevertheless, the appeals court noted the wife’s contributions to the marital residence, particularly the fact that if not for her contributions, their debt would have been much larger. In addition, she currently depended on the residence, since extended members of her family, including her mother, depended on living there. Accordingly, the court affirmed the award of the marital residence to the wife.

However, in considering the difficulty of returning each party as closely as possible to his or her financial status prior to the marriage, and in awarding the marital residence to the wife, the appeals court concluded that the evidence preponderates in favor of a determination that the trial court’s distribution of the marital estate should be modified to award the 1969 Ford Mustang to the husband, as requested throughout the proceedings and on appeal.

An experienced divorce attorney can be beneficial in advocating for your interests in separation and divorce proceedings. The family law attorneys at the Nashville firm of MHPS are committed to helping clients in a variety of domestic matters, including marriage dissolution, parental custody, relocation, and more. To schedule a consultation, call (615) 800-7096 or contact us online.

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