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Ruiz v. Ruiz

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

October 27, 2014


Session June 18, 2014.

Appeal from the Circuit Court for Hamilton County No. 11D258 W. Neil Thomas, III, Judge.

Angela C. Larkins, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellant, Sheila Lea Ruiz.

Grace E. Daniell, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellee, Romelio R. Ruiz.

Charles D. Susano, Jr., C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which D. Michael Swiney and Thomas R. Frierson, II, JJ., joined.




The parties were married on October 10, 1981, a few months after Wife turned 18 and graduated from high school. Husband was then on active duty in the United States Navy. Husband served in the Navy for the first eight years of the marriage, during which time three sons were born to the parties. The children reached adulthood before the parties separated. Husband was trained in the Navy to work on boilers, and he continued this work as a contractor after his naval service. At the time of trial, Husband had been employed for 18 years by Industrial Boiler & Mechanical in Hamilton County. Husband's income in 2012 was approximately $130, 000. Over the course of the marriage, Wife worked outside the home on a full-time basis only once – in 1992 or 1993 – as a travel agent. She was employed for approximately six months. Wife had several part-time jobs during the marriage, none of which lasted very long.

The parties separated in June or July of 2010. Husband filed for divorce on February 2, 2011. The first day of trial was held on July 5, 2012. The trial did not resume again until February 22, 2013.[1] The parties agreed at trial that all of their assets and liabilities were marital in nature. Neither of the parties had any separate property. With the values found by the trial court in parenthesis, the court divided the marital estate as follows: to Wife, the marital residence ($115, 000), household furnishings in her possession ($10, 000), and a 2006 Chevrolet Trailblazer ($12, 000); to Husband, his 401(k) retirement account ($131, 226), household furnishings in his possession ($1, 060), and the cash value of his life insurance policy ($14, 172). All of the marital debt, which the trial court found to total $42, 886, was assigned to Husband. Additionally, the trial court ordered Husband to pay Wife $5, 000 "so that Wife can clean up the marital residence." According to the trial court's calculations, Wife's share of the marital estate totaled $142, 000. Husband's share of the estate, taking into account the $5, 000 due Wife, totaled $141, 458. Reduced by the parties' debt of $42, 886, Husband received a net of $98, 572. Again, all of this was based upon the trial court's valuations and calculations.

The trial court ordered Husband to pay alimony of $1, 300 per month for a period of five years. In calculating alimony, the trial court imputed income to Wife in the amount of $16, 000 per year. Wife timely filed a notice of appeal.


Wife raises the following issues, as quoted from her brief:

1. Did the trial court err in its award of alimony to the Wife as to the duration, nature and amount?
2. Did the Court err in calculating the Husband's income?
3. Did the trial court err in its valuation of the Husband's 401(k) account?
4. Did the trial court err in the valuation of the marital debts?
5. Did the trial court err in its division of the marital estate and the marital residence?
6. Did the trial court err in not awarding any attorney fees to [Wife] as alimony in solido?


Our review of the trial court's findings of fact is de novo upon the record of the proceedings below, accompanied by a presumption of correctness, a presumption we must honor unless the preponderance of the evidence is against those findings. Tenn. R. App. P. 13(d); Wright v. City of Knoxville, 898 S.W.2d 177, 181 (Tenn. 1995); Union Carbide Corp. v. Huddleston, 854 S.W.2d 87, 91 (Tenn. 1993). The trial court's findings regarding division of marital property, including its classification and valuation, are findings of fact. Beyer v. Beyer, 428 S.W.3d 59, 80 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2013) (quoting Rountree v. Rountree, 369 S.W.3d 122, 133 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2012)). There is no presumption of correctness as to the trial court's conclusions of law. Kendrick v. Shoemake, 90 S.W.3d 566, 569 (Tenn. 2002); Campbell v. Florida Steel Corp., 919 S.W.2d 26, 35 (Tenn. 1996). We give great weight to a trial court's credibility determinations. Estate of Walton v. Young, 950 S.W.2d 956, 959 (Tenn. 1997).

As we recently stated in Baggett v. Baggett, 422 S.W.3d 537, 543 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2013),

A trial court has broad discretion in fashioning a division of marital property. Fisher v. Fisher, 648 S.W.2d 244, 246 (Tenn. 1983); Barnhill v. Barnhill, 826 S.W.2d 443, 449-50 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1991). To this end, this Court has observed:
Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-121(c)[(2010)] outlines the relevant factors that a court must consider when equitably dividing the marital property without regard to fault on the part of either party. An equitable division of marital property is not necessarily an equal division, and § 36-4-121(a)(1) only requires an equitable division.
This court will not disturb the trial court's division of the marital estate "unless the distribution lacks proper evidentiary support or results from an error of law or a misapplication of statutory requirements or procedures."

Cradic v. Cradic, E2012–00227–COA–R3–CV, 2013 WL 672576 at *2 (Tenn. Ct. App. E.S., filed Feb. 22, 2013)(citing McHugh v. McHugh, E2009–01391–COA–R3–CV, 2010 WL 1526140 at *3-4 (Tenn. Ct. App. E.S., filed Apr. 16, 2010) (citations omitted)). See also Manis v. Manis, 49 S.W.3d 295, 306 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2001) (appellate courts "ordinarily defer to the trial judge's decision unless it is inconsistent with the factors in Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-121(c) or is not supported by a preponderance of the evidence").



The governing statute provides the following factors a trial court must consider when ...

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