Facts: After 7 1/2 years of marriage, Husband and Wife divorced.
Prior to the marriage, the parties purchased what would become the marital residence, which property was titled in both names as tenants in common.
The trial court found Husband contributed $262,000 of his separate funds and Wife contributed $30,000 of her separate funds toward the acquisition of the marital home.
The marital home was auctioned, resulting in net proceeds of $241,000. The trial court divided these proceeds 72% to Husband and 28% to Wife.
On Appeal: The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.
Dividing a marital estate necessarily begins by classifying property as separate or marital property. Once the property has been classified and valued, the trial court must divide the marital property in an essentially equitable manner. A division is not inequitable simply because it is not exactly equal. Reaching an equitable distribution requires a careful weighing of the relevant factors in Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-4-121(c).
Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-4-121(c) provides as follows:
In making an equitable division of marital property, the court shall consider all relevant factors, including:
(1) The duration of the marriage;
(2) The age, physical and mental health, vocational skills, employability, earning capacity, estate, financial liabilities and financial needs of each of the parties;
(3) The tangible or intangible contribution by one (1) party to the education, training or increased earning power of the other party;
(4) The relative ability of each party for future acquisitions of capital assets and income;
(5) (A) The contribution of each party to the acquisition, preservation, appreciation, depreciation or dissipation of the marital or separate property, including the contribution of a party to the marriage as homemaker, wage earner or parent, with the contribution of a party as a homemaker or wage earner to be given the same weight if each party has fulfilled its role;
(B) For purposes of this subdivision (c)(5), dissipation of assets means wasteful expenditures which reduce the marital property available for equitable distributions and which are made for a purpose contrary to the marriage either before or after a complaint for divorce or legal separation has been filed.
(6) The value of the separate property of each party;
(7) The estate of each party at the time of the marriage;
(8) The economic circumstances of each party at the time the division of property is to become effective;
(9) The tax consequences to each party, costs associated with the reasonably foreseeable sale of the asset, and other reasonably foreseeable expenses associated with the asset;
(10) The amount of social security benefits available to each spouse; and
(11) Such other factors as are necessary to consider the equities between the parties.
After reviewing the record, the Court commented, in relevant part, as follows:
The trial court appropriately divided the home equity value under Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-4-121(c)….
Beginning with factor one, this marriage was only seven and one-half years long—a relatively short duration. Accordingly, 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. In such cases, each spouse’s contributions to the accumulation of assets during the marriage is an important factor….
Factor four considers each party’s separate contributions to marital property. Material evidence supports the finding that Husband contributed over $250,000 and Wife contributed $30,000 to the marital home. Material evidence also supports the finding that Husband had significantly more separate property and had a larger estate at the time of the marriage. Therefore, factors six and seven suggest he should receive a larger portion of the marital estate….
To return the parties to their premarital state, Husband appropriately received more of the home’s equity value because he contributed significantly more of his separate funds to the home.
Accordingly, the trial court’s unequal division of property (72% to Husband, 28% to Wife) was affirmed.
Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce and Family Law Attorney.