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Bradley v. Bradley

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

May 7, 2018

RENEE ANN BRADLEY
v.
RICHARD BRADLEY

          Assigned on Briefs March 1, 2018

          Appeal from the General Sessions Court for Morgan County No. 15-DV-19 Michael A. Davis, Judge

         A husband and wife were divorced in 2016, and the divorce decree permitted the husband to purchase the parties' real property, which was in the wife's name. The parenting plan provided the parties the opportunity to travel domestically or abroad with their minor son. The husband filed a contempt petition against the wife based on her refusal (1) to provide information to his lender that was necessary for him to close on the purchase of the property and (2) to cooperate with him to renew their child's passport when the husband wanted to travel with the child to Europe. The trial court found the wife in contempt on both grounds and awarded the husband damages. The wife appealed, arguing that she was not willful in refusing to cooperate with the husband's lender. The evidence showed that the wife believed the husband was trying to refinance her loan and add his name to her deed rather than purchase the property outright. We hold that the trial court erred in finding the wife willfully disobeyed the court's order that she cooperate with the husband's lender. We affirm the trial court's order holding the wife in contempt for failing to cooperate with the husband in renewing the child's passport.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the General Sessions Court Affirmed in Part, Reversed in Part, and Remanded

          Jeffrey Vires, Crossville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Renee Ann Bradley.

          James William Brooks, Jr., Wartburg, Tennessee, for the appellee, Richard Bradley.

          Andy D. Bennett, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., and John W. McClarty, J., joined.

          OPINION

          ANDY D. BENNETT, JUDGE.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Renee Ann Bradley ("Wife") and Richard Bradley ("Husband") were granted a divorce on July 27, 2016. The parties entered into a Marital Dissolution Agreement ("MDA") that the trial court made a part of its final decree of divorce. The parties had one child who was still a minor at the time of the divorce. The parties submitted a permanent parenting plan to the court, and the court approved the parenting plan and incorporated it into the final decree.

         The MDA provided that the parties would sell their real property, which was in Wife's name, and distribute the proceeds between them. The parties later decided to amend the MDA to allow Husband to purchase the real property from Wife. The trial court entered an Amended Final Decree of Absolute Divorce on September 6, 2016, nunc pro tunc for July 27, 2016. As amended, the MDA included the following paragraph:

Husband will have three (3) weeks from the date of this Agreement to qualify for a loan to purchase the property from Wife. If Husband purchases the property, he must pay off the indebtedness to Farm Credit Services, pay Wife Twenty-Five Thousand Dollars ($25, 000.00), and pay Wife the difference between One Hundred Twenty Thousand Dollars ($120, 000.00) and the actual payoff to Farm Credit Services if the payoff is less than One Hundred Twenty Thousand Dollars ($120, 000.00).

         The permanent parenting plan included a provision regarding the child's travel, domestically and abroad. It stated:

There will be no restriction on travel, domestic or abroad, with the minor child by either parent. However, both parents must follow the notice provisions before going abroad with the minor child.

         Husband filed a contempt petition on October 5, 2016, alleging that Wife was refusing to cooperate with his lender to conclude the financing transaction and allow him to purchase the real property that was in Wife's name. Husband amended his petition on March 7, 2017, to add another ground for contempt after Wife refused to cooperate with him to renew their child's passport. Husband asserted that Wife's refusal constituted a violation of the provision of the parenting plan, quoted above.

         The trial court conducted a trial on August 4, 2017, and both Wife and Husband testified. The evidence revealed that Wife had a mortgage on the real property through Farm Credit Services, and Husband was working with RedRock Mortgage ("RedRock") to obtain a loan and purchase the property from Wife. The record shows that Husband was in a position to close on the property by the end of August 2016 but that Wife would not cooperate with RedRock and refused to provide information it requested from her.

         Wife testified that she was contacted by RedRock, and she believed that, rather than purchasing it outright, Husband was trying to refinance her loan by having his name added to her name on the deed to the property. Wife was aware of a federal lien against Husband that predated the parties' marriage, and Wife was concerned that her interest in the property could be negatively affected if Husband's name was added to the deed along with her name. Wife did not understand that RedRock was working with Husband to transfer the deed from her to him. When RedRock asked Wife for her payment history with Farm Credit Services, she refused to provide the requested information. Wife was questioned by Husband's attorney and testified as follows:

Q: [Husband] had been approved for a loan, correct?
A: He was approved for something that I would have had to sign him onto a deed for the property.
Q: Ma'am, you would have - -
A: And that would have taken months.
Q: You would - - ma'am, you would have just had to sign a deed conveying the property to him at closing, wouldn't you?
A: No. It would have been - - there would have been a discrepancy in the -- in the exchange of moneys at closing, because I would - - he would have been on the deed of the property for - - they said it could take months to get all of that approved. And I didn't want that, because that made - - that made it an issue for me.

         Wife testified that she believed she "would have stayed an owner of the property with his name on the deed until a loan was closed, " and that this could take months. In support of this belief, Wife described a conversation she had with a representative of RedRock:

She said, "You're not going to be happy about this." And she said, "This is -- this is not a purchase. You're - - you're going to have to sign his name onto the deed. And it could take up to a couple of months, okay, to get his name on that deed. And during that time, if something were to happen to you or ...

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