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Grubb v. Grubb

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

June 9, 2017

RHONDA SUE GRIFFIS GRUBB
v.
JAMES WESLEY GRUBB

          Session: April 18, 2017

         Appeal from the Chancery Court for Roane County No. 2015-5 Frank V. Williams, III, Chancellor

         This appeal arises from a divorce. Rhonda Sue Griffis Grubb ("Wife") filed for divorce against husband James Wesley Grubb ("Husband") in the Chancery Court for Roane County ("the Trial Court"). Trial in this matter was bifurcated. The validity of the parties' antenuptial agreement ("the Agreement") was tried first. The Trial Court found that the provision in the Agreement purporting to cap Wife's alimony was unenforceable but otherwise upheld the Agreement. Later, trial was conducted on the remaining issues in the case. Citing her adultery and a clause in the Agreement, the Trial Court declined to grant Wife alimony. However, the Trial Court awarded Wife a substantial portion of the marital estate. The Trial Court also ruled upon child support, parenting time, and education for the parties' two daughters. Husband appealed to this Court raising numerous issues. Wife raised additional issues of her own. We find and hold that Husband failed to carry his burden as to the validity of the Agreement. As to the second stage of this bifurcated matter, we find that the Trial Court's final judgment is devoid of factual findings to such a degree that we cannot effectively review the remaining issues in this case. We reverse as to the validity of the Agreement. We vacate and remand for further proceedings as necessary and for entry of a new final judgment containing detailed factual findings and conclusions of law as to the remaining issues.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery Court Reversed, in Part, and Vacated, in Part; Case Remanded

          C. Scott Taylor and Margo J. Maxwell, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant, James Wesley Grubb.

          Browder G. Williams and Julianna L. Mason, Kingston, Tennessee, for the appellee, Rhonda Sue Griffis Grubb.

          D. Michael Swiney, C.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S. and Thomas R. Frierson, II, J., joined.

          OPINION

          D. MICHAEL SWINEY, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Background

         Husband and Wife married in 2002. There was a significant gap in the parties' ages as well as their educational, employment, and business backgrounds. Wife was born in 1982. Husband is 22 years older than Wife. Wife earned her G.E.D. in 2000. Husband graduated from college in 1985. Husband worked in his rent-to-own business and sold furniture, electronics and appliances. Husband met Wife around 2000 when Husband took his clothes to the dry cleaners where Wife worked. Husband and Wife began a relationship. Wife soon thereafter moved in with Husband and stopped working at the dry cleaners. Husband provided for them both, and Wife soon became financially dependent on Husband. Husband proposed to Wife in 2001. Husband, who had been married once before, desired an antenuptial agreement with Wife.

         In August 2002, Husband took Wife to his family lawyer to sign the Agreement. This was two days before the couple was to go on vacation and be married. The accounts of this meeting are in contention. Wife states that she did not fully understand what she was signing. Wife was informed that the Attorney, Chris Trew, was not her attorney and that she could get independent legal advice if she wished to do so, something she never did. Wife signed the Agreement, and the couple shortly thereafter left on their vacation as planned and got married.

         The Agreement purported to safeguard Husband's business interests and contains the following relevant provisions:

WHEREAS, the parties desire that all property now owned by each of them, and any increase or appreciation in the value of such property, plus any additions derived with income therefrom or any replacement thereof, shall be free from any claim of the other that may arise by reason of their contemplated marriage.
***
1. Property to be Separately Owned. After the solemnization of the marriage between the parties hereto, each of them shall separately retain individual ownership and all rights in and to his or her own real and/or personal properties, now owned, or hereafter acquired as a replacement of their presently owned separate property, and any increase or appreciation in the value of such separate property during the marriage, all of which is herein referred to as "separate property".
***
The "separate property" presently owned by each of the parties is as set forth herein, to-wit:
a) The presently owned "separate property" of James Wesley Grubb consists of the assets described in Exhibit "A", attached hereto, which Exhibit "A" has been dated and signed by both parties; and
b) The presently owned "separate property" of Rhonda Sue Griffis consists of the assets described in Exhibit "B", attached hereto, which Exhibit "B" has been dated and signed by both parties.
***
3. Waiver upon Dissolution of Marriage. In the event of the dissolution of the marriage by divorce, annulment or otherwise, or in the event of a separation of the parties pursuant to a judicial decree of separation or otherwise, except to the extent otherwise specifically provided for herein:
a) Neither party will make a claim arising out of or based upon their marriage or dissolution of their marriage to any part of the real and/or personal property and/or estate, or any increase in the value thereof, classified as the separate property herein, of the other party;
b) Each party hereby waives and relinquishes any claim such party may have arising from the marriage and/or from any such dissolution of the marriage against the real and/or personal property and/or estate, or any increase in the value thereof, classified as the separate property herein, of the other party;
c)All of the separate property, or any increase in the value of such separate property, of each party shall be retained by the party whose separate property it is, and shall not be deemed marital property under Tennessee law for any purpose.
d) Neither party will be responsible for any of the personal debts of the other party;
e) Neither party shall be entitled to claim or receive alimony of any nature or kind from the other party except as provided hereafter.
The rights waived hereby and the provisions hereof are intended to be effective under the laws of the State of Tennessee where the parties now reside and are intended to cover any such similar rights of a divorced spouse under the laws of any other state in which the parties may hereafter reside.
***
In the event the parties have been married for greater than five (5) years prior to the filing of a Complaint for Divorce, James Wesley Grubb shall pay to Rhonda Sue Griffis the sum of One Hundred Thousand Dollars and 00/100 ($100, 000.00) as alimony in solido for her use in purchasing a residence. This sum is not subject to modification for any reason. This sum shall be due within ninety (90) days of the entry of any final Decree of Divorce and until payment thereof, Rhonda Sue Griffis, shall have the right to reside in the Kingston, Roane County, Tennessee, residence. Upon payment of this sum, she shall vacate the residence within sixty (60) days.

         Husband and Wife had two children, both daughters, over the course of their marriage. Wife served as homemaker while Husband continued working in his business. The daughters attended private school. Over time, problems developed in the marriage. Wife would testify to arguments the couple had over the upbringing of their daughters and that Husband was very distant from Wife. Wife filed for divorce in January 2015.

         Trial in this case was bifurcated. First, at an October 2015 hearing, the issue of the validity of the Agreement was tried. Husband, Wife, and Howard Chris Trew ("Trew"), the attorney who drafted the Agreement, all testified.

         Trew had drafted antenuptial agreements throughout the course of his 30-plus year legal career. Trew had known and worked with Husband's family for some time. In July 2002, Trew sent Husband a form version of an antenuptial agreement for him to review. Husband's accountant faxed Trew Husband's financial statement. Trew then prepared a draft agreement before finalizing the Agreement. The Agreement was executed at Trew's office on August 26, 2002. Husband made the appointment. Trew never before had met Wife. Trew met with Wife one-on-one for at least 30 minutes to go over the Agreement. Trew acknowledged Wife's youth and took this into account in how he discussed the Agreement with her. Trew testified: "I knew there was a disparity in wealth, obviously, and rather than -- he may have thought when he first wanted this that what's mine is mine and that's it, but I told him that he needed to provide some things for her, such as housing, and provide her with some alimony, depending on the length of the marriage." Trew stated that he believed the Agreement was fair to Wife. Regarding whether Wife knew she could seek her own counsel, Trew testified: "I would have told her in this meeting that she had a right to seek legal counsel, yes, sir. And I certainly would have told her, and she knew that anyway, that I was representing [Husband]. Again, I had never met this young lady before that day." Trew, when asked about Wife's demeanor at the meeting, testified: "I am very comfortable in stating under oath today, that if that young lady was crying or emotional during my conference with her, I would have called [Husband] in to say, 'Look, I'm sorry, she's upset today. I don't know what has happened in the past, what's on her mind, but we're not signing this document today. She needs to go out and seek an attorney' . . . I would have never let this young lady sign this agreement if she was crying . . . ." Trew stated that he went over the worth of Husband's assets with Wife. On cross-examination, Trew stated: "My job was to prepare a document that protected his interests, but to also prepare a document that I thought would be enforceable." Trew could not recall whether he knew that Husband and Wife were leaving in two days for vacation to get married. Trew stated that he did not believe it would have been appropriate to tell Wife she could bargain with Husband over the Agreement, stating: "There's a fine line between trying to go over something with somebody and giving them advice, and you don't want to cross that line."

         Husband, age 55, testified. Husband had graduated college with a degree in zoology in 1985. Husband stated: "After I graduated UT, I went into business in Rockwood with my brother, in the Rent To Own business." When Husband first met Wife at the dry cleaners, Husband was 40 and Wife was 18. In late 2001, Husband proposed to Wife. Husband testified that Wife knew and understood he wanted an antenuptial agreement. Husband paid for everything after Wife moved in with him. Husband stated that he had discussions with Wife during their engagement about an antenuptial agreement and possibly paying for her to get her own attorney to counsel her. Husband testified as follows:

Q. All right. And there's a reference, you're a man of a list -- you had a list you were trying to get done before you left town?
A. Yes. Yes, I did.
Q. And had you shared that list with your wife?
A. Yes.
Q. And on that list was going to Chris Trew's Office?
A. Yes.
Q. To execute the prenuptial agreement?
A. Yes.
Q. Now, at this time, even at this date here, you've now got the final rendition, you've got the appointment on August the 26th, had you had a conversation with her during those days we've got this agreement, of course, it says it in here, about her getting an attorney and her -- you paying for it?
A. Most definitely we had that conversation. I wanted her to feel comfortable and not to worry about the expense of it to go get her own attorney and her own counsel.
Q. All right. And the day that you went to Chris' office, do you remember what time of day it was?
A. I would guess it was morning when we went to Chris' office.
Q. Did you all go together?
A. We did.
Q. And what was her demeanor going to the office?
A. I mean we were elated, we were excited to be getting married.
Q. Was she in any way emotional, crying, anything of that nature?
A. No.
Q. Was she complaining about having to go sign a prenuptial agreement?
A. No. No, sir.
Q. And what happened when you got to Chris Trew's office?
A. When we got to Chris Trew's office, Chris came out into the lobby where we were at, and I very briefly chit-chat, "How are you doing? Doing good." And he said, "Jim, if you will, just remain here, I want to talk to
Rhonda alone." And then they exited and went to his, I assume his conference room, that's where they went, was to his conference room.
Q. And how long did he meet with her in his conference room?
A. I would say, and I remember this because I expressed it to Rhonda, you know, we were -- "You know, you guys were there -- back in there 45 minutes or an hour." It was a long wait sitting out there. I didn't expect that to be that long. But I sat out in his lobby by myself and I remember tapping my feet and -- it took a long time.
Q. And when you say you asked Rhonda "what happened back there, what took so long, " what was her remark?
A. Well, when we left, she made the comment to me that Chris had said to her that, "Why are you signing this? Are you going to sign this because you know it's not going to last, you know your marriage isn't going to last?" And I think Chris said that jokingly. She said they went over the agreement, the prenuptial agreement.
Q. And, again, by this time, was she in tears or upset or --
A. No, no, no, we were elated, we were getting married.
Q. Ever any objection from her about signing this prenuptial agreement?
A. I'm sorry?
Q. Was there ever any objection by her --
A. No.
Q. -- to signing this prenuptial ...

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