Posted by: koherston | September 9, 2013

Classification of Marital Property Reversed in Cookeville Divorce: Huddleston v. Huddleston

Knoxville divorce lawyersFacts: Husband and Wife were married in 1969. Husband entered the marriage owning a farm as his separate property.

The proof showed that through most of the marriage Wife maintained the marital home and performed the duties of homemaker such as laundry, ironing, cleaning, cooking meals, gardening, canning and freezing food from the garden, raking leaves, planting flowers, painting rooms, making curtains, and helping with farm chores such as driving the tractor, maintaining fencing, and cutting and stripping tobacco. Husband did not dispute Wife’s testimony except to say that she “did very little canning or freezing of vegetables from the garden and very little meal making.”

The trial court held that the appreciation in the value of the farm was marital property because Wife substantially contributed to the farm’s preservation and appreciation during the marriage. The trial court awarded a portion of the property to Wife and a portion to Husband.

Husband appealed.

On Appeal: The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court.

“Marital property” means all real and personal property, both tangible and intangible, acquired by either or both spouses during the course of the marriage up to the date of the final divorce hearing and owned by either or both spouses as of the date of filing of a complaint for divorce. “Marital property” includes income from, and any increase in value during the marriage of, property determined to be separate property if each party substantially contributed to its preservation and appreciation. “Substantial contribution” may include, but is not limited to, the direct or indirect contribution of a spouse as homemaker, wage earner, parent or family financial manager, together with such other factors as the court may determine.

“Separate property” means, in relevant part, all real and personal property owned by a spouse before marriage.

Thus, increases in the value of separate property during a marriage will not be considered to be marital property unless the parties “substantially contributed” to the appreciation in the value of the property. While these contributions may be either “direct” or “indirect,” they must satisfy two requirements. First, the contributions must be “real and significant.” Second, there must be some link between the spouses’ contributions and the appreciation in the value of the separate property.

When separate property increases in value with no contribution from either spouse, that increase remains the separate property of the spouse who owns the property, no matter how great the other spouse’s contribution to the marriage may have been. Thus, when a spouse is asserting that his or her indirect contributions resulted in the appreciation of the other spouse’s property, the pivotal inquiry is whether there was an appreciation in the value of the separate property due to the efforts of the spouse who owned it which were aided or facilitated in some way by the indirect contributions of the other spouse.

After reviewing the record, the Court reasoned:

While the testimony supports a finding that Wife made contributions to the marriage as a homemaker, the evidence does not support a determination that her efforts contributed to the increase in the value of the property. The court made no determination as to the cause of the increase in value and there is no proof that the appreciation in value as testified to by [the appraiser] was due to the efforts of either Husband or Wife. Consequently, the court erred in determining that the increase in value of three lots Husband owned prior to the marriage was marital property and we reverse that portion of the final order.

Accordingly, the trial court was reversed.

Huddleston v. Huddleston (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section, July 30, 2013).

Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce, Matrimonial and Family Law Attorney.


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