Facts: Husband and Wife divorced after 26 years of marriage. They have two children, both of whom are now adults.
Husband is 51 years old. Wife is 52.
Husband, a retired Air Force veteran, works as a pilot for FedEx. Wife worked as a teacher but retired in 2012 because of health issues.
The trial court concluded this was not an appropriate case for a 50-50 division of the marital estate. Specifically, the trial court found that Husband separate property includes income-generating assets in the form of deferred compensation and retirement benefits, all of which will continue to generate income for Husband after the divorce. Husband’s separate property, valued at approximately $500,000, was found to be far more valuable than Wife’s separate property. Moreover, the trial court found that Husband’s ability to acquire additional assets in the future will assist him in replacing the loss of his assets as a result of the divorce much more quickly than Wife would be able to under the circumstances.
Based on this analysis, the trial court divided the marital estate 62% to Wife and 38% to Husband.
On Appeal: The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.
A trial court’s division of marital property must be guided by the factors contained in Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-4-121(c). However, an equitable property division is not necessarily an equal one. It is not achieved by a mechanical application of the statutory factors, but rather by considering and weighing the most relevant factors in light of the unique facts of the case.
Husband argued the trial court placed too much emphasis on the relative ability of each party to acquire assets in the future and the respective values of their separate property.
The Court rejected Husband’s argument, noting the record reflects the trial court considered all the relevant statutory factors:
The division of marital property reflects the court’s consideration of not only factors (4) and (6) but also the other factors the court was required to consider. The court characterized the marriage as “a typical marriage partnership, where Husband earned a considerable income . . . [and] Wife was the primary caretaker of the parties’ children during the course of the marriage” and that, in addition to contributing income to the family from her employment during the marriage, Wife “made intangible contributions by being a good parent, primary caretaker [,] and taking care of the parties’ home. . . .” The court further recognized the significant disparity in the economic circumstances of the parties at the time of the divorce “as one of the reasons why the marital assets are to be awarded 60/40 in favor of Wife. . . .” [T]he findings are supported by the record, in the division is not the result of a misapplication of the factors.
Thus, the unequal division of the marital estate in this marriage of long duration was affirmed.
K.O.’s Comment: The general rule of thumb, as stated in Phelps v. Phelps and others, is that a long-term marriage supports a presumption that the marital assets should be equally divided. An unequal division of the marital estate in a long marriage is always a noteworthy event because it means the presumption of an equal division was rebutted. For some other examples of unequal divisions in long marriages, see Larsen-Ball v. Ball (60%-40% division), McKee v. McKee (75%-25% division), Raper v. Raper (63%-37%), Luttrell v. Luttrell (75%-25%), etc.
There are also cases where a significantly unequal division in a long marriage was found to be an abuse of discretion. See, e.g., Dawson v. Dawson (80%-20% division reversed and replaced by 60%-40% division).
Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce and Family-Law Attorney.