Nominal Alimony and Unequal Property Division Reversed in Chattanooga, Tennessee Divorce: Barron v. Barron

December 11, 2019 K.O. Herston 2 Comments

Facts: Husband, 62, and Wife, 67, divorced after 26 years of marriage.

german divorceWife is in good health and works as a speech therapist for the U.S. military school system in Germany. Because of health issues, Husband can only work a sedentary job.

They are the biological parents of one child and the adoptive parents of another child with developmental delays. After the adoption, Husband became a stay-at-home parent and homemaker. He has not been employed outside the home since 2005. Both children are now legal adults.

Wife earns $88,000 year. She also receives an untaxed housing allowance of $55,000 and an untaxed cost-of-living-adjustment of $12,000 a year.

Husband was awarded a divorce on grounds of Wife’s adultery and inappropriate marital conduct. The trial court also found that Husband’s contributions as a homemaker and stay-at-home parent contributed to Wife’s increased earning power.

The trial court divided the marital estate 57% to Wife and 43% to Husband. Husband was also awarded transitional alimony of $2000 per month for one year.

Husband appealed.

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

Unequal property division. Marriages of long duration, such as this one, create a rebuttable presumption that an equitable division is an equal division.

Here, the trial court said it’s 57-43% division was equitable but failed to explain this conclusory statement, given its factual findings. The Court disagreed:

We agree with the trial court that the distribution must be equitable, but not necessarily equal. However, in the present matter, the trial court did not clearly elucidate why it believes that its legal conclusions as to the distribution of the net marital assets was equitable in light of its factual findings. We believe that it was not.

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The [trial] court determined that both parties had contributed to the acquisition of marital property and the development of the household; Wife’s contributions were primarily financial, while Husband’s was primarily, but not exclusively, in his capacity as a homemaker. Tennessee law specifically recognizes that substantial contribution to a household can be made in the capacity of a homemaker. . . . The trial court explicitly held that “Husband has the greater financial need.” The court also held that “Wife has the greater ability for future acquisition of capital assets and income as she is still employed.”

In light of the foregoing findings of fact made by the trial court, we hold that the evidence preponderates against the court’s conclusion to award Wife a greater share of the marital assets. The Court’s conclusion to award Husband only 43% of the marital assets and Wife 57% was in error and not equitable. Accordingly, we modify the division of net marital assets [to] increase [Husband’s] net marital assets awarded to 48.3% [and] Wife’s awarded net marital assets [to] 51.7%.

The Court also divided Wife’s federal pension by awarding 48.3% to Husband and 51.7% to Wife once the pension payout begins.

Transitional alimony. Transitional alimony is awarded when the court finds that rehabilitation of the economically disadvantaged spouse’s earning capacity is unnecessary, but the economically disadvantaged spouse needs assistance to adjust to the economic consequences of a divorce.

The Court also found error in the trial court’s award of transitional alimony for only one year:

The [trial] court determined that Wife has the greater earning capacity. . . . In addition, the trial court stated that “it is appropriate to attribute fault and [to hold] that Wife caused the demise of the marriage.”

It is important to reiterate that the trial court held it will be difficult for Husband to find employment in Germany, once the divorce is entered, due to an established hierarchy for obtaining US government employment overseas. Because Husband will not be able to obtain employment in Germany, and will no longer be a spouse of a government employee, he will lose his residency status and will only be able to remain in Germany for three months following the divorce. Therefore, the record indicates that Husband is going to have to make an intercontinental move in order to reestablish himself in the United States following the divorce. Accordingly, the [trial] court stated that Husband will need financial support in order to “come to America to establish and maintain a household and to adjust to the economic consequences of the divorce.”

Despite the foregoing, the [trial] court only awarded Husband one year of transitional alimony at $2000 per month. The [trial] court’s conclusion as to the duration of transitional alimony necessary for Husband, the economically disadvantaged spouse, to adjust to the economic consequences of divorce does not comport with its factual findings. The evidence preponderates in favor of Husband needing a longer duration of transitional alimony. Therefore, we hold that the trial court erred by awarding Husband only one year of transitional alimony. We hold that the duration of the trial court’s award is insufficient and will result in an injustice to Husband.

The Court modified the duration of the trial court’s award of transitional alimony of $2000 per month from one year to five years.

K.O.’s Comment: (1) The Court of Appeals has repeatedly said that a long-term marriage supports an essentially equal division of the marital estate. See, e.g., Phelps v. Phelps.

It has also held that a similar division in a long-term marriage was “essentially equal.” See Grant v. Grant (holding that 51.83% to 48.17% division is essentially equal).

(2) The opinion establishes that Wife was emotionally abusive and downright cruel to Husband as this marriage disintegrated. The opinion includes lengthy block quotes from the parties’ discovery responses and trial testimony that contain embarrassing details that are, in my opinion, unnecessary and gratuitous. Husband has been through enough. He doesn’t need the Court of Appeals to add insult to injury by including that information here, especially since its inclusion adds nothing to the reader’s understanding of the Court’s ruling and rationale.

Barron v. Barron (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Eastern Section, November 20, 2019).

Nominal Alimony and Unequal Property Division Reversed in Chattanooga, Tennessee Divorce: Barron v. Barron was last modified: December 8th, 2019 by K.O. Herston

2 People reacted on this

  1. Mr. Herston, First I want to say that I am a family law practitioner in West Tennessee and thoroughly enjoy your blog. I am also tickled to see someone actually “call out” the Court of Appeals, in this case for “adding insult to injury” to the Husband. Some of the members of the Court of Appeals have forgotten what it is like for the parties involved and for the attorneys in the trenches. Keep up the good work!

  2. KO-

    Disagree with you on this one. I don’t think it is gratuitous, and the only person who should feel ashamed about the things Wife said is WIFE. I think this wife got her just deserts, but perhaps alimony in futuro would have been more appropriate. Hard to tell since they’re so close to retirement.

    Best,
    LRH

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