TRESSIE G. SMITH
MICHAEL LEE SMITH
Session November 15, 2017
Appeal from the Circuit Court for Hamilton County No.
13-D-744 W. Neil Thomas, III, Judge
appeal involves an unnecessarily lengthy and convoluted
divorce proceeding. The appellant-wife argues that the trial
court failed to properly classify and divide the parties'
marital property. Due to the lack of factual findings
regarding the basis for the trial court's marital
property distribution, we vacate that portion of the judgment
and remand the issue to the trial court for entry of
appropriate findings of fact and conclusions of law.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit
Court Vacated in part, and Remanded
Jacqueline Strong Moss, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the
appellant, Tressie G. Smith.
Lee Bowe, III, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellee,
Michael Lee Smith.
Brandon O. Gibson, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which D. Michael Swiney, C.J., and John W. McClarty, J.,
BRANDON O. GIBSON, JUDGE.
Facts & Procedural History
Smith ("Husband") and Tressie Smith
("Wife") married when Husband was 42 and Wife was
28. This was the second marriage for both parties. Wife was a
stay-at-home mother throughout the marriage, while Husband
worked outside the home. After twenty years of marriage,
Husband moved out of the parties' marital home, and Wife
remained in the home with the parties' adult son. Wife
filed a complaint for divorce in April 2013, and Husband
filed a counter-complaint for divorce. Both parties sought a
division of their marital property, and Wife sought alimony.
Despite the fact that the parties had relatively few assets
to be divided, the litigation continued for approximately
four years, with Wife having five different attorneys during
that time and Husband having two different attorneys.
in May 2013, Husband was ordered to pay Wife $1, 000 per
month in temporary alimony. In March 2014, Husband retired
from his employment with the Hamilton County Sheriff's
Department, where he had worked as a jailer. He began
receiving social security retirement benefits, and the trial
court entered a wage assignment order requiring that the
previously ordered temporary alimony payment of $1, 000 per
month be withheld from Husband's social security check.
According to the testimony at trial, the applicable social
security regulations would only allow one-half of
Husband's social security payment to be deducted through
a wage assignment, so Wife was permitted to receive half of
Husband's monthly check, with each party receiving $759
from each monthly social security payment. Husband paid the
remaining $241 of the $1, 000 alimony obligation by personal
divorce trial was held on March 4, 2016. At the outset, the
trial judge stated, "Somebody tell me what the remaining
issues are." Wife's attorney stated that the
remaining issues were permanent alimony, the division of
outstanding marital debts, and the award of the
marital home. Wife testified that she had been prequalified
to refinance the marital home and asked that it be awarded to
her. Wife testified that she was still living in the marital
home with the parties' adult son and that she was
unemployed other than working at a few "odd jobs."
Husband conceded that Wife could have the marital home if she
was able to refinance it. Both parties testified to owing a
few debts such as medical bills and personal loans.
deal of the testimony pertained to the temporary alimony that
was paid during the proceedings and whether Husband fulfilled
all of his payment obligations. Regarding Husband's
income, Wife testified that Husband received monthly (and
annual) income from four sources - social security retirement
income; part-time employment work; a TVA pension; and a
pension from the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department.
However, aside from mentioning these pensions and the amounts
received by Husband as a component of his income, Wife
presented no evidence regarding a valuation of these
pensions, how they were structured, or the extent to which
any of the benefits may have been derived from employment
that occurred during the period of the marriage. Neither Wife
nor her attorney ever asked the trial court to value or
divide these pensions as marital property. In fact, at the
conclusion of the testimony, the trial judge stated:
Now, let me get to the issue of division of marital property,
the only property that I've heard of testified to are two
cars, a house, and a fluctuating bank account.
attorney replied, "Yes, sir." Wife's attorney
did not mention the pensions or even respond to the
court's statement. The trial judge added, "I'm
not accustomed to asking for proof, but in this case I think
I need it to make a rational decision." Specifically,
the trial judge directed Wife's attorney to provide the
court with documentation regarding the specific refinancing
conditions underlying Wife's prequalification so that the
judge would know with certainty how its alimony award and
property division would impact Wife's efforts at
refinancing. The trial judge suggested that upon receipt of
the information, he could inform the parties' attorneys
of his decision in chambers. On March 31, 2016, the trial
court entered a ...