Unequal Property Division Affirmed in Lebanon, Tennessee Divorce: Dewald v. Dewald

FactsWife was a 19-year-old college student when she met Husband, then 27 years old. Within a few weeks after meeting, Wife dropped out of college and moved in with Husband. They married six months later and have one son.

When they married, Wife entered the marriage with, according to the trial court, “nothing but the clothes on her back.”

property divisionHusband, a college-educated finance professional, owned real estate and had “sizable” retirement savings at the time of marriage.

Wife worked outside the home off and on throughout the marriage. She now earns $47,000 a year.

The parties divorced after 14 years of marriage. The trial court divided the marital property 54% to Wife and 46% to Husband. In reaching this division, the trial court considered the 14-year duration of the marriage, noted that Wife was economically disadvantaged compared to Husband, and found that Husband earned almost three times more than Wife.

Husband appealed.

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

Husband argued the 54-46 division was inequitable because:

  • Wife made little or no contribution to the marriage or to the accumulation of marital property;
  • Wife earns enough income to enjoy a reasonable standard of living; and
  • Husband’s proposed division of 25% to Wife provides a generous nest egg for retirement upon which Wife can build.

 

Tennessee courts must equitably divide marital property by weighing the relevant factors in Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-4-121(c) without regard to fault by either party. An equitable division of property is not necessarily an equal division. Like most things in family law, it depends on the facts.

The Court found Husband’s arguments unpersuasive:

[T]he trial court considered that the parties were married for approximately 14 years, and that at the time of trial Husband was 41 and Wife was 33 years old. Significantly, while the trial court observed that the parties’ ages and ability to engage in gainful employment were similar, the trial court noted that Husband earned almost 3 times more than Wife. Additionally, the trial court pointed out that Wife was currently economically disadvantaged compared to Husband, and that for the reasonable future, Husband would have a superior ability to acquire future assets and income. Also significantly, the trial court noted that at the time the parties married, Husband had already accumulated quite a bit of wealth through equity in real estate and retirement accounts, but Wife had “literally, nothing but the clothes on her back.”

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In considering the relevant factors as the trial court obviously did, we find that the trial court’s division of the marital estate is consistent with the statutory factors . . . and is supported by the evidence.

The trial court’s judgment was affirmed.

K.O.’s Comment: Based solely on what I learned from the opinion, I fail to see how this appeal had any reasonable chance of success.

Dewald v. Dewald (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section, September 17, 2018).

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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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