Tennessee Court Reviews Distribution of Assets in Divorce Case

The Tennessee Court of Appeals reviewed a lower court’s decision concerning the division of property related to a divorce action in which the parties had been married for 29 years. In Kabiri v. Kabiri, the wife appealed the lower court’s judgment, contending that the court erred in its classification of the wife’s jewelry as marital property and its classification of the husband’s Persian rug as separate property, among other arguments.

The division of a couple’s marital estate begins with the classification of property as separate or marital. In Tennessee, marital property includes all real and personal property, both tangible and intangible, acquired and owned by either or both spouses during the course of the marriage until the divorce. Conversely, separate property is not part of the marital estate, and it is not subject to division. Separate property includes property gifted to a spouse at any time, as well as gifts of property from one spouse to the other that would otherwise be classified as marital property. Such gifts are considered the separate property of the recipient spouse. The determination of whether an asset is a separate or marital property is a matter of discretion for the trial court.

In Kabiri, the wife asserted that certain items of jewelry were her separate property. The appeals court disagreed, finding that there was evidence that the jewelry was purchased with marital funds and not clearly given as a gift. The wife also argued that a Persian rug was incorrectly classified as separate property of the husband’s. The appeals court deferred to the findings of the lower court, however, holding that the wife failed to demonstrate how the evidence went against the findings of the trial court. In so ruling, the court affirmed the findings of the trial court on both issues of separate property.

Marital property must be divided equitably between the parties without regard to fault. However, a division of marital property in an equitable manner does not require the property to be divided equally. In determining an equitable division of property, the court is required by statute to consider several factors, including the duration of the marriage, the age, health, vocational skills, employability, earning capacity, and financial needs of each party, the contributions made by each party to the marital property, any dissipation of assets (including wasteful expenditures), the value of the separate property, the economic circumstances of each party, other statutorily enumerated factors, and any other factor necessary to consider the equities between the parties. Tenn. Code Ann. § 36–4–121(c).

In her appeal, the wife also argued that the husband had engaged in the dissipation of their marital assets. Dissipation of marital property occurs when one spouse wastes marital property, frivolously and without justification, for a purpose unrelated to the marriage and at a time when the marriage is breaking down. In reviewing the facts of the case, however, the appeals court found that the wife had failed to meet the required burden in demonstrating that dissipation for the purpose of depleting the marital estate had occurred.  As a result, the appeals court affirmed the decision of the trial court.

The family law attorneys at the Nashville firm of MHPS are committed to helping clients in a variety of domestic matters, including parental custody, relocation, visitation rights, and more. To schedule a consultation, call (615) 800-7096 or contact us online.

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