Property Division Neither Party Sought Examined in Nashville, Tennessee Divorce: Barnes v. Barnes

November 2, 2023 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

Facts: Husband and Wife divorced after 28 years of marriage. Their marital estate was valued at almost $13 million, about one-third of which was the value of Husband’s business.

Of interest here is the Cockrill Bend property, which is the land where Husband’s business is located. The parties jointly own the land, and it is valued at $3.5 million. Husband’s business pays the parties $15,000 a month for rent.

Both parties proposed that the business and the Cockrill Bend property be awarded to Husband.

The trial court ordered that the parties continue to own the Cockrill Bend property jointly as tenants in common. The trial court reasoned that joint ownership would allow Husband to continue to run the business without excess debt. Also, Wife would receive half of the rental income from Husband’s business, i.e., $7500 monthly, thus reducing her need for alimony. The trial court added that if the parties cannot work together in ownership of the Cockrill Bend property, either party can petition the trial court to sell the property after three years. Wife was also awarded alimony in futuro.

Husband appealed.

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

On appeal, Husband argued that his exclusive ownership of the Cockrill Bend property is essential to the business’s ability to maintain the line of credit it requires. This devalues the business, which makes the division of the marital estate inequitable.

The Court faulted Husband for not presenting evidence to that effect at trial:

In the present case, both parties offered dueling proposals for the distribution of the marital property, with both proposals assigning the Cockrill Bend property to [Husband]. The parties, however, did not reach a stipulation or agreement that provided for the allocation of the Cockrill Bend property to [Husband]. … [Husband’s] counter-complaint for divorce asked the trial court to make an equitable division of the marital property…. There is no dispute that the Cockrill Bend property is marital property; both parties correctly identified it as such. Simply stated, marital property is subject to the trial court’s powers of equitable distribution. While [Husband] may have assumed that the trial court would award him the Cockrill Bend property, this property, nevertheless, is part of the marital property that was subject to equitable division. As such, we cannot agree that [Husband] did not have notice that ownership of this property was at issue. Where the parties have neither stipulated nor agreed to an allocation of the property, if there is information regarding the distribution of the marital property, it is the responsibility of the parties to present it to the trial court to inform its distribution thereof.

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Ultimately, the trial court considered the relevant statutory factors, made extensive reasoned findings, and determined that this was the proper equitable distribution of the marital property.

The Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment.

K.O.’s Comment: One of the main purposes of a divorce is to sever the financial ties between the parties. When both parties propose that a specific piece of land be awarded to one party, is it unreasonable for them to assume the trial court will do what they both propose? Do trial judges want lawyers to waste spend valuable court time making the case for the disposition of an asset when both parties propose the same disposition of that asset?

Source: Barnes v. Barnes (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section, October 17, 2023).

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Property Division Neither Party Sought Examined in Nashville, Tennessee Divorce: Barnes v. Barnes was last modified: October 29th, 2023 by K.O. Herston

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