Grossly Unequal Division of Property Affirmed in Dyersburg, Tennessee Divorce: Webb v. Webb

February 15, 2023 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

Facts: Husband, 71, and Wife, 55, divorced after four years of marriage. There are no children.

Husband is a retired contractor who receives $1500 a month in Social Security and a small monthly income from his rental properties.

Wife works as a welder, earning $17.75 an hour.

The main asset is the marital residence, for which they jointly borrowed $70,000 to buy the home and pay for some renovations. But title to the property was only in Husband’s name.

The renovations took two years and cost far more than they estimated. Wife contributed $30,000 from the sale of her former home. Husband contributed the proceeds from the sale of two of his rental properties, claiming to have contributed $179,000, which Wife found “hard to believe.”

During the marriage, Wife opened a restaurant. Husband bought $8000 worth of equipment for the restaurant’s kitchen. The restaurant never made a profit and closed after one year.

The trial court found the value of the equity in the marital residence was $141,000. The marital residence and the associated debt were awarded to Husband. Husband was ordered to pay Wife $18,000 as her share of the equity and remove her name from the mortgage. Thus, Wife received only 13% of the equity in the marital residence.

Wife appealed, arguing she was entitled to at least 50% of the equity in the marital residence.

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

Tennessee courts must “equitably” divide marital property in a divorce. In a marriage of short duration, courts must give more weight to the relative contribution of the parties. In a marriage of long duration, courts must recognize a rebuttable presumption that an equal division is equitable.

The Court found no error in the grossly unequal division in this marriage of short duration:

In Wife’s view, the court also failed to credit her nonmonetary contributions to the marital residence’s value. She claims she devoted countless hours to cleaning and repairing the marital residence. Still, we cannot fault the court for discounting Wife’s efforts. In a short-term marriage, the significance and value of a spouse’s nonmonetary contributions is diminished.

We will not disturb the court’s division on the record. An equitable division is not necessarily an equal one. This marriage was short. So it was appropriate to divide the property in a way that, as nearly as possible, places the parties in the same position they would have been in had the marriage never taken place. Husband’s net worth before this marriage was almost three times that of Wife. He contributed significantly more of his separate property to the value of the marital residence than Wife. And he poured a good-sized amount into Wife’s losing business venture. These facts support awarding Husband a larger share of the estate. Other factors, such as the parties’ ages, health, and postdivorce economic circumstances, also support the court’s division. Husband’s income at the time of divorce was similar to Wife’s. Even with her health concerns, Wife had a higher earning capacity than Husband.

The court did not err in dividing the marital estate. The court considered the relevant statutory factors. And the distribution had adequate evidentiary support.

The Court found no reversible error in the grossly unequal division of marital property in this short marriage.

K.O.’s Comment: Surprisingly, this 87% to 13% division is not the most unequal division I’ve seen since blogging. That honor belongs to Phelps v. Phelps, where the Court of Appeals affirmed an 88% to 12% division in a long marriage. Still, grossly unequal divisions like these are outliers and unusually involve unique and rare fact patterns.

Webb v. Webb (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Western Section, January 27, 2023).

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Grossly Unequal Division of Property Affirmed in Dyersburg, Tennessee Divorce: Webb v. Webb was last modified: February 13th, 2023 by K.O. Herston

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