Equitable Division of Marital Property and Award of Attorney’s Fees Reviewed in Chattanooga, TN Divorce: Talley v. Talley

Facts: Husband and Wife were married for 26 years. They have two adult children.

At the time of divorce, wife was 63 years old and retired because of health issues. Husband was 59 years old and earned $74,000 working as a mechanical engineer.

The trial court awarded marital property valued at $542,763 to Wife and $484,900 to Husband. It then reduced Wife’s share by $3425 for “legal fees” and $50,000 for repairs needed on the marital residence, which was also awarded to Wife. The effect was to reduce the total value awarded to Wife to $489,338, thereby creating a near-equal division of marital property.

Wife was also awarded alimony in futuro, and Husband was ordered to pay Wife’s attorney’s fees as alimony in solido.

Husband appealed.

On Appeal: The Court of Appeals modified and affirmed the trial court’s ruling.

Husband raised many issues on appeal. The only two I find noteworthy involved property division and the attorney’s fee award.

Equitable division of property. The equitable division of marital property requires the careful weighing of the relevant factors in Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-4-121(c) in light of the evidence presented by the parties.

Husband argued there was no evidence to support the trial court’s reduction of $53,425 from the value of the marital property awarded to Wife. The Court agreed, explaining:

We note that the trial court ultimately awarded to Wife her reasonable attorney’s fees as alimony in solido in the total amount sought by Wife. Ergo, a reduction of $3425 for attorney’s fees was unwarranted. Furthermore, with reference to the $50,000 in “repairs,” both experts testified that they had considered the condition of the marital residence when arriving at their conclusions concerning and appraised value. Additionally, the trial court indicated [] that the value placed on the marital residence reflected that “the conditions of the residence needing repair and maintenance have progressed.” Simply stated, the record in this matter does not support the reduction of Wife’s share of the marital assets in the amount of $53,425.

Thus, the correct calculation of the trial court’s award is $542,763 to Wife and $484,900 to Husband, which is a 52.8%-47.2% division.

Unfortunately for Husband, the Court found “[t]his relatively small difference does not demonstrate an inequitable division of the marital estate,” and the trial court’s division of marital property was affirmed.

Attorney’s fees.  The trial court ordered Husband to pay Wife’s attorney’s fees as alimony in solido.

Prior to the entry of the final judgment, it was undisputed that Wife had already paid attorney’s fees of $23,300 and that she had done so with marital funds.

Husband argued that because Wife had already paid $23,300 of the total fee amount with marital funds, awarding $23,300 to Wife from Husband’s share of the marital estate would, in effect, force Husband to pay this amount twice.

The Court agreed and said it would be appropriate to charge Husband with half of the $23,300 amount, or $11,650. Thus, Wife’s claim for $40,710 in attorney’s fees was reduced by $11,650, thereby resulting in an award of $29,060.

Talley v. Talley (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Eastern Section, May 1, 2017).

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

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K.O. Herston is a family-law attorney in Knoxville, Tennessee whose practice is devoted exclusively to family law, including divorce, child custody, child support, alimony, prenuptial agreements, and other aspects of family law.

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