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Sibley v. Sibley

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

May 25, 2017


          Session March 21, 2017

         Direct Appeal from the Circuit Court for Montgomery County No. MC CC CV DN 14-0012 John H. Gasaway, III, Judge

         This is a divorce case. Wife was granted a divorce due to Husband's inappropriate marital conduct. The trial court then made a division of the parties' marital property and debt, which included an award to Wife of the marital residence and the equity therein. The court further awarded Wife $1, 100 per month for 36 months in rehabilitative alimony and $3, 000 in attorney's fees as alimony in solido. Husband appeals the trial court's awards of the marital residence and alimony to Wife. Wife seeks attorney's fees for defending this appeal. For the following reasons, we affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand for further proceedings. Specifically, we affirm the trial court's award of the marital residence to Wife, and we vacate and remand for additional findings on the issues of alimony and attorney's fees. We deny Wife's request for attorney's fees on appeal.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Affirmed in part, Vacated in part, and Remanded

          Mark Robert Olson and Taylor Robinson Dahl, Clarksville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Corey D. Sibley.

          Timothy T. Ishii, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Kristie Linley Sibley.

          Brandon O. Gibson, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., and Kenny Armstrong, J., joined.



         I. Facts & Procedural History

         Kristie Linley Sibley ("Wife") and Corey D. Sibley ("Husband") married on April 24, 1998. No children were born of the marriage. Husband is a 100% disabled combat-wounded veteran. He was discharged from the military in 2005. In 2008, Husband was convicted of theft of government property and sentenced to probation and ordered to pay approximately $17, 000 in restitution. Husband admits Wife stood by his side throughout this ordeal and that the restitution was paid back during the parties' marriage. Wife has both a bachelor's degree and a master's degree and worked at a community college for several years during the marriage. After Husband's conviction, Husband and Wife began a catering business together. According to Wife, Husband began to leave the marital residence for periods of time beginning in 2013. Husband eventually became disillusioned with the parties' catering business and simply quit and went to Arizona and then Miami. Wife was left to handle the business' debts and dissatisfied customers.

         On January 3, 2014, Wife filed a complaint for legal separation, which alleged irreconcilable differences and inappropriate marital conduct. In her complaint, Wife requested that the court make an equitable distribution of the parties' property and award her alimony, both temporary and permanent, as well as attorney's fees. Husband filed an answer to wife's complaint and a counter-complaint for divorce on February 18, 2014. In response to Wife's complaint, Husband admitted that the parties had irreconcilable differences but denied that he was guilty of inappropriate marital conduct. Husband's counter-complaint sought a divorce from Wife based on grounds of irreconcilable differences and alleged that Wife was guilty of inappropriate marital conduct. Husband prayed that the court make an equitable division of the parties' real and personal property, make an apportionment of the parties' joint debt, require each party to pay their own individual debts, and award Husband attorney's fees. Wife responded by denying that she was guilty of inappropriate marital conduct.

         During the pendency of the separation and divorce proceedings, Wife filed a motion asserting that Husband removed her as his designated caregiver with the Veterans Administration ("VA"), which cancelled her health insurance through the VA and caused her to incur substantial medical bills. Wife requested that the court reinstate her health insurance and award her temporary spousal support. Husband opposed Wife's motion. After a hearing, the trial court held that it did not have jurisdiction to reinstate Wife's health care benefits but ordered Husband to continue paying expenses related to the marital residence and pay Wife $500 per month in temporary spousal support. Wife then filed a motion alleging that Husband cancelled her homeowners and automobile insurance policies. She requested the court to order Husband to reinstate these insurance policies and pay her monthly health insurance premium. This motion was also brought before the court for a hearing, and the court granted Wife's motion requiring Husband to continue paying for the homeowners and automobile insurance and to pay Wife an additional $84.81 per month for her health insurance premium.

         The trial on Wife's complaint for legal separation and Husband's counter-complaint for divorce took place on July 27, 2015. The trial court heard argument from counsel for both parties, testimony from Husband, Wife, and Husband's new caregiver, and admitted items into evidence. At the close of proof, the trial court requested that the attorneys for both parties submit proposed rulings for its review, and the court took the matter under advisement. The court entered a final decree of divorce on August, 31, 2015 ("Final Decree"). During the hearing on July 27, 2015, the court declared the parties divorced; however, in the Final Decree, the court determined it proper to award a divorce to Wife, stating as follows:

Initially [Wife] requested a legal separation, however, after the proof, she made an oral motion to amend, and there was no objection by [Husband] as he was already requesting a divorce. The Court finds that [Husband] admitted his infidelity, and was forced to contact [Wife] to inform her that she might have a disease due to his infidelity. Therefore, [Wife] is granted a divorce due to the inappropriate marital conduct of [Husband].

         The court then went on to divide the marital estate, with the parties' primary assets being the marital residence and a few vehicles. The court awarded Wife the marital residence, including the equity therein, and gave each party the personal property in their possession, including their respective automobiles. The remainder of the distribution of marital assets related to the apportionment of debt. The marital residence was encumbered with delinquent property taxes although Husband testified that he should qualify for tax relief available to veterans. To that end, the court ordered Husband to complete the tax forms necessary to dispose of the property's delinquent taxes and held that Wife would be responsible for any property taxes accruing on and after August 1, 2015. There were also debts related to the parties' catering business venture. Wife testified that a credit card she held in her name was used for the parties' business, and that the card had a balance of around $12, 000. The court ordered Husband and Wife were equally responsible for the payment of that debt. The court ordered Husband to pay any additional debts associated with the business, including any debts owed to the State of Tennessee and the Better Business Bureau. The court further ordered that Wife would be responsible for paying the balance of her student loans, which she testified was around $100, 000. Finally, the court addressed Wife's request for spousal support. Wife requested an award of $1, 800 per month for 7 years. The court summarily ordered Husband to pay Wife $1, 100 per month in rehabilitative alimony for 36 months and $3, 000 in attorney's fees as alimony in solido.

         II. Issues Presented

         Husband presents the following issues for review on appeal, which we have restated:

1. Whether the trial court erred in awarding the marital residence and the equity therein ...

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