Relative Contribution in Long Marriage Leads to Unequal Division of Property in Chattanooga, Tennessee Divorce: Disterdick v. Disterdick

FactsHusband and Wife, the parents of five children, divorced after 26 years of marriage.

knoxville divorceThe evidence showed that each party had significant income to draw from following the marriage without having to be employed.

When the trial court divided the marital property, Wife received 75% of the net marital estate ($124,000) and Husband received 25% ($41,000).

Husband appealed.

On AppealThe Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.

When equitably dividing marital property, Tennessee courts must consider the factors in Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-4-121(c). Although an equitable division is not necessarily an equal division, there is a general presumption that a marriage of long duration supports an essentially equal division of the marital estate.

Here, the trial court properly found this a marriage of long duration. Most of the remaining factors were weighed equally between the parties, with the main exception being the relative contribution of the parties, which factor weighed in Wife’s favor. This factor was given great weight by the trial court and its distribution of marital property.

The Court found the 75-25 division of marital property equitable because of the relative contribution of the parties:

Although Wife maintained a slightly larger separate estate following the divorce, the evidence demonstrated that Wife had contributed a substantial amount of income from her separate asset [] to preserving the marital assets during the pendency of the divorce proceedings. The trial court found the statutory factor most significant, thereby awarding Wife a greater share of the net marital estate. We determined that the manner in which the trial court weighed the factors contained in Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-4-121(c) is consistent with logic and reason and that the result of these parties was equitable. As such, we conclude that the trial court’s distribution of marital property does not lack proper evidentiary support and does not result in an error of law or misapplication of statutory requirements and procedures. We therefore affirm the trial court’s distribution of marital assets and debts in this matter.

The 75-25 division of marital property was affirmed.

K.O.’s Comment: (1) Because of the presumption of an essentially equal division in marriages of long duration, a grossly unequal division, as occurred in this case, is rare. It doesn’t happen often, so we should take note when it does.

(2) Rule 7 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure requires the appellant to produce a table containing the details of the components of the marital estate whenever appealing the division of property.

tennessee court of appealsIn the recent decision in Ingram v. Ingram, the appellant failed to include a Rule 7 table in its initial brief but included it in its reply brief. The Western Section of the Court of Appeals held that failing to comply with Rule 7 in the appellant’s initial brief waived the appeal of all property-division issues. It further held that including the Rule 7 table in the appellant’s reply brief “was insufficient to avoid waiving all property-division issues” because “reply briefs are not vehicles to correct deficiencies in initial briefs.”

The same thing happened here — Husband failed to include a Rule 7 table in his initial brief but attempted to cure this error in his reply brief. The Eastern Section of the Court of Appeal held the exact opposite: “Because Husband remedied this deficiency by providing a proper Rule 7 tabulation in his reply brief, we determine that no waiver has occurred.”

There should be uniformity in applying Rule 7. It is unjust to see such disparate outcomes resulting from nothing more than geography.

Disterdick v. Disterdick (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Eastern Section, June 18, 2018).

Posted by

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.

Leave a Comment