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Tatum v. Tatum

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

October 28, 2014


August 27, 2014 Session

Appeal from the Circuit Court for Bradley County No. V12442 Hon. Lawrence H. Puckett, Judge

John W. McClarty, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Charles D. Susano, Jr., C.J., and D. Michael Swiney, J., joined.

Alan R. Beard, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellant, Rebecca A. Dixon Tatum.

Philip M. Jacobs, Cleveland, Tennessee, for the appellee, Don Baron Tatum.




Rebecca A. Dixon Tatum ("Wife") married Don Baron Tatum ("Husband") on May 28, 1988. Three children, Donielle, Caleb, and Andrea, were born of the marriage. Andrea was the only remaining minor at the time of the divorce hearing. After approximately 24 years of marriage, Wife filed a complaint for divorce, alleging that Husband had engaged in inappropriate marital conduct. Wife also raised the alternative grounds of adultery and irreconcilable differences. She requested designation as the primary residential parent of Andrea and attached a proposed parenting plan that awarded Husband 80 days of visitation. Husband denied wrongdoing and asserted that he was entitled to a divorce based upon Wife's inappropriate marital conduct, namely her physical and mental abuse of him that occurred on June 1, 2012. He also raised the alternative ground of irreconcilable differences and requested designation as the primary residential parent of Andrea. Husband later agreed to a parenting plan that designated Wife as the primary residential parent and provided him with 80 days of visitation.

A hearing was held at which the parties presented exhaustive evidence on issues that are not relevant to this appeal. As relevant to this appeal, Wife, who was 54 years old at the time of the hearing, testified that prior to the marriage, she purchased the home that she and Husband later shared, remodeled, and refinanced. She claimed that during the marriage, she obtained a bachelor's degree in 2003 and a master's degree in 2011. She related that at Husband's request, she accepted student loans while pursuing her bachelor's degree. She explained that her scholarship covered her tuition and books but that she procured the student loans to pay for two surgeries as a result of her diagnosis of ovarian cancer, to pay for travel expenses to and from the school, and to pay for marital debts. She acknowledged that she did not work while pursuing her education but that she began teaching in 2003 and had maintained employment since that time.

Wife testified that after she accepted employment at Polk County High School, Husband, who was employed by Maytag at the time, learned that his pay had been cut. To cover Husband's loss in pay, Wife requested and obtained three supplementary positions at the school that provided stipends. She claimed that she had since obtained a principal's license that would allow her to apply for employment in school administration. She asserted that despite her qualifications, she did not wish to pursue administrative employment because she preferred to teach.

Wife testified that her income for 2012 was $43, 469. She identified her affidavit of income and expenses, which reflected a net monthly income of $2, 738.98 and monthly expenses of $4, 638.62. She acknowledged that her expense statement included a tithe to her church and funds to care for her two adult children, Donielle and Caleb, who were attending college. She conceded that she had not prepared an expense statement that did not include her adult children.

Wife testified that Husband always had a violent temper. She described several occasions in which Husband had physically abused her and the children throughout their 24-year marriage. She claimed that she suspected that Husband had also been having an affair with a woman named Ms. C.. Relative to the June 1 incident, she explained that she had searched Husband's telephone records and found that he had been excessively communicating with Ms. C. for approximately one year. She related that she and the children confronted Husband regarding his relationship with Ms. C. and that he admitted to having an affair with Ms. C..

Wife testified that when she and the children returned home later that night, she asked Husband to call Ms. C.'s husband, Mr. C., to inform him of the affair. She related that Husband complied and called Mr. C. while she and the children were listening. After he ended the conversation with Mr. C., Husband questioned whether she might have also had an affair. In response, she slapped Husband, who then grabbed her around the throat and slammed her onto the couch. As he was holding her down, he hit her repeatedly. She related that Caleb attempted to separate them, while Donielle and Andrea called 9-1-1. She claimed that Husband was still hitting her when the police arrived. She stated that she went to the hospital the next morning because she was still in pain. She acknowledged that her ribs had not been broken but asserted that she was prescribed medication for the pain.

Donielle, Caleb, and Andrea, confirmed Wife's testimony that on the afternoon of June 1, Wife confronted Husband about his alleged affair with Ms. C.. Donielle and Caleb testified that Husband admitted to the affair, while Andrea testified that Husband refused to respond to Wife's accusations. Donielle, Caleb, and Andrea related that they were also present later that night when Husband called Mr. C.. They claimed that when Husband ended the conversation with Mr. C., he questioned Wife's faithfulness. Caleb and Andrea acknowledged that they observed Wife hit Husband; however, Donielle asserted that she did not see Wife hit Husband. All three claimed that Husband threw Wife onto the couch and hit her several times. Andrea and Donielle stated that they called 9-1-1 to report Husband. Donielle claimed that after the altercation, she observed bruising on Wife's side and red marks on her neck.

Deputy Matthew Landolt with the Bradley County Sheriff's Office testified that he responded to a call at the Tatum residence on June 1, 2012. Upon his arrival, he found that Husband and Wife had sustained minor injuries as a result of a domestic situation. However, he declined to arrest either party because he could not determine the primary aggressor. He related that Husband voluntarily left the residence while he was still present.

Husband, who was 49 years old at the time of the hearing, conceded that he had engaged in inappropriate marital conduct with Ms. C.. He explained that Ms. C. was a family friend that he had reconnected with in October 2011. He denied any physical relationship with Ms. C. but admitted that he had engaged in excessive communication with her to the detriment of his marriage. He asserted that if given the chance, he would have ceased communication with Ms. C. to save his marriage. However, he claimed that he was entitled to a divorce from Wife because of her attitude toward him throughout the marriage and because of the altercation that occurred on June 1. He claimed that she was manipulative and controlling throughout the marriage and that she refused to coexist with his side of the family. He denied ever physically abusing Wife or the children at any time during the marriage.

Relative to the incident on June 1, Husband testified that Wife physically assaulted him in front of the children. He recalled that she and the children confronted him with evidence that he had been communicating with Ms. C.. He related that when she and the children returned that night, he admitted that his behavior was inappropriate and apologized for the excessive communication with Ms. C.. He claimed that she then accused him of having an affair and told him that he needed to contact Mr. C.. He complied with her demand and called Mr. C.. He asserted that after his conversation with Mr. C., Wife yelled at him and then slapped him twice. He claimed that in response, he grabbed her and slammed her onto the couch. He acknowledged that the couch ...

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