Session Date July 8, 2014
Appeal from the Circuit Court for Sevier County No. 2010-0769-II Richard R. Vance, Judge
Charles D. Susano, Jr., C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which D. Michael Swiney and Thomas R. Frierson, II, JJ., joined.
David M. Boyd, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Edward Joseph Pierre.
Peter D. Van de Vate, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Bonnie Ellen Pierre.
CHARLES D. SUSANO, JR., CHIEF JUDGE
In late October 2010, Husband told his spouse, Bonnie Ellen Pierre ("Wife"), that he wanted a divorce. Wife downloaded forms from an internet website for a complaint for divorce, an MDA, and a final judgment for divorce. After discussing how they would divide their property, the parties executed the MDA, which Wife had filled out by checking the appropriate boxes and filling in the blanks with handwritten information. Neither party consulted an attorney at any point before the divorce judgment became final. The MDA provides that "[t]he parties have divided the personal property they own individually or jointly. The [parties are] satisfied that a fair division has been made of it." The MDA describes the marital residence – the parties' only real estate – and provides that it "shall be vested solely in the wife, and the other spouse will thereby be divested of all right, title, and interest in it." Husband testified that he signed the MDA in the presence of a notary on November 4, 2010, but that he did not read it before he signed it, because he trusted that the marital property would "split everything down the middle." He said that this was the understanding of the parties leading to the execution of the MDA.
Wife filed her complaint for divorce on November 5, 2010. The trial court entered judgment declaring the marriage dissolved on the ground of irreconcilable differences on January 13, 2011. The judgment, signed by Circuit Court Judge Rex Henry Ogle, provided as follows:
The Court finds that the parties have made adequate and sufficient provision in a Marital Dissolution Agreement for the equitable division of all property and debts between them. It is attached and incorporated as part of this Decree.
Apparently, Husband did not appear before the trial court when the divorce judgment was signed by the court and entered by the clerk. The judgment does bear his signature as approving the judgment for entry.
On June 7, 2011, Husband, then and for the first time represented by counsel in this matter, filed a motion to set aside the divorce judgment pursuant to Rule 60.02. Husband alleged that the MDA "is a product of fraud, duress, and misrepresentation and other misconduct on behalf of [Wife], " and that it "do[es] not provide for a fair and equitable division of the parties' assets and debts as is required by Tennessee law." Wife, also represented by counsel, opposed the motion. A hearing was held before Circuit Court Judge Richard R. Vance on November 4, 2011. After hearing the testimony of Husband and Wife, the trial court entered an order denying Husband's motion and stating in pertinent part as follows:
The [Husband] failed to carry the burden of proof as it relates to claims of fraud, duress, or misrepresentation pursuant to [Husband's] Motion to Set Aside the Final Decree of Divorce pursuant to Rule 60.02 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure.
The Court finds that the parties['] Marital Dissolution Agreement, previously adopted by this Honorable Court on or about January 13, 2011, complies with [the] requirements [of] T.C.A. 36-4-103(b).
The Court finds that it does not have an affirmative duty to ensure an equitable division of the property and debts enumerated in the parties['] Marital Dissolution Agreement, insomuch as the parties are free to contract with one another relating to their distribution and division of their assets, debts, and financial resources.
(Paragraph numbering in original omitted.) Husband timely filed a notice of appeal.
The issue on appeal is whether the trial court erred in refusing to set aside the divorce judgment under Tenn. R. Civ. P. 60.02. In his brief, Husband ...