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Ingram v. Ingram

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

June 7, 2018


         Session April 18, 2018

          Appeal from the Chancery Court for Madison County No. 72673 James F. Butler, Chancellor

         In this divorce case, the trial court awarded Wife alimony in futuro and partial attorney's fees as alimony in solido. The trial court additionally awarded Wife the marital home despite the fact that Wife was unable to refinance the home to remove Husband from the mortgage. Discerning no error, we affirm the trial court's judgment in all respects.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery Court Affirmed

          David W. Camp and Alexander D. Camp, Jackson Tennessee, for the appellant, Joey Evi Ingram.

          Sara E. Barnett and Charles H. Barnett, III, Jackson, Tennessee, for the appellee, Gretelle Brashell Ingram.

          J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Arnold B. Goldin and Kenny Armstrong, JJ., joined.




         Joey Evi Ingram ("Husband") and Gretelle Brashell Ingram ("Wife") were married on June 2, 1990 and divorced on October 17, 2017. Husband and Wife separated in January 2015. The couple had no children during their twenty-six year marriage. At the time of the divorce, Wife was sixty years old and Husband was fifty-nine.

         Both parties were employed for the majority of the marriage, and on occasion, Husband and Wife each worked two jobs. Wife had three years of college education. In 2007, Wife was in a car accident leaving her with disabling back and neck injuries. Wife was unemployed at the time of the divorce due to the injuries resulting from the collision; however, she was receiving a small pension, social security disability benefits, and an income from rental properties. On the other hand, Husband was employed full-time at Durobag and part-time at DoubleTree Hotel.

         The parties also owned several pieces of real estate at the time of the divorce: a marital residence, three rental houses, and a tract of unimproved land. In addition, Husband and Wife each owned one separate rental house. Prior to the parties' divorce, one of their rental properties was destroyed in a fire. Wife received the insurance proceeds, paid off the balance of the loan and taxes, and retained the remainder of the money as funds to live on.

         In September, 2014, Husband placed a manila folder on the parties' kitchen counter, which contained a Property Settlement for Wife to review indicating that Husband wanted a divorce. Wife later testified that she believed their marriage was a good one until this incident occurred. Wife also stated that she did not know of a precipitating event that would have caused Husband to ask for a divorce, with the exception that Wife knew that Husband was communicating with someone on Facebook.

         Eventually, Wife filed a complaint for absolute divorce on January 15, 2015. Husband later answered and filed a counter-complaint. After unsuccessful mediation, the matter finally came to trial on April 5 and 25, 2016. At trial, Husband and Wife were the only two witnesses in the case, and some of the testimony was highly disputed.

         The trial court took the matter under advisement and issued a thorough written letter ruling on September 16, 2016. Ultimately, the trial court divided the marital property almost equally. Most notably, however, the trial court awarded the marital residence to Wife, requiring her to pay the substantial mortgage. The trial court also found that Wife's expenses of $4, 216.00 per month were reasonable. The trial court found, however, that Wife's income, which included Wife's pension, social security disability, and income from rental properties, totaled only $2, 741.00 per month. In contrast, the trial court found that Husband's expenses were $2, 718.00 per month with a net income of $3, 861.00 per month. Accordingly, the trial court awarded Wife alimony in futuro in the amount of $800.00 per month. The trial court issued its final judgment of absolute divorce on October 17, 2016.

         On November 14, 2016, Wife filed a motion for contempt due to Husband's alleged noncompliance with the October 17 final order. Husband responded on November 16 stating that he was unable to pay alimony payments because he was still making mortgage payments on the marital residence, and that Wife had not attempted to refinance the home loan or make any of the mortgage payments. On the same day, Husband filed a motion to alter or amend the trial court's award of attorney's fees and alimony in futuro and to order Wife to refinance the debt owed on the marital home, or in the alternative, to force a sale of the property to satisfy the debt owed. On March 1, 2017, the trial court denied in part Husband's motion to modify the alimony and attorney's fees awards; however, the trial court granted in part Husband's request that Wife reasonably attempt to refinance the marital home. The trial court therefore ordered Wife to provide Husband with documentation from three banks or mortgage companies of her attempts to refinance. Wife provided documentation of her attempts to refinance, as ordered by the trial court, but Wife was ultimately unable to refinance the mortgage. Husband thereafter timely appealed.


         Husband raises three issues, which we have restated for clarity:

(1) Whether the trial court erred in awarding alimony in futuro to Wife?
(2) Whether the trial court erred in ordering Husband to pay a portion of Wife's attorney's fees?
(3) Whether the trial court erred in its assignment of debt by requiring Husband to remain on the mortgage of the marital home although the trial court awarded ownership of the marital home to Wife?

         Wife presented one issue: Whether this Court should award her costs and attorney's fees on appeal should she prevail.



         First, we will discuss Husband's argument regarding the trial court's decision to award Wife alimony in futuro. Husband's argument here is two-fold. Husband initially argues that there was no basis for the trial court to award Wife alimony in general. Next, Husband asserts that even if Wife was entitled to alimony, the trial court erred in awarding Wife alimony in futuro. We will discuss each argument in turn.


         Tennessee courts have "consistently recognized that trial courts have broad discretion to determine whether spousal support is needed and, if so, to determine the nature, amount, and duration of the award." Parrish v. Parrish, No. W2013-00316-COA-R3-CV, 2013 WL 3203352, at *5 (Tenn. Ct. App. June 21, 2013) (citations omitted). Further, a trial court's "'decision regarding spousal support is factually driven and involves the careful balancing of many factors.'" Id. (quoting Gonsewski v. Gonsewski, 350 S.W.3d 99, 105 (Tenn. 2011)). Accordingly, upon review, appellate courts are "disinclined to second-guess a trial judge's spousal support decision." Kinard v. Kindard, 986 S.W.2d 220, 234 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1998). Instead, when reviewing a spousal support award, an appellate court's role is to "determine whether the trial court abused its discretion in awarding, or refusing to award, spousal support." Parrish, 2013 WL 3203352, at *5 (citing White v. Vanderbilt Univ, 21 S.W.3d 215, 223 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1999)). A trial court abuses its discretion when it "causes an injustice by applying an incorrect legal standard, reaches an illogical result, resolves the case on a clearly erroneous assessment of the evidence, or relies on reasoning that causes an injustice." Id. (citing Wright ex rel Wright v. Wright, 337 S.W.3d 166, 176 (Tenn. 2011); Henderson v. SAIA, Inc ., 318 S.W.3d 328, 335 (Tenn. 2010)). Therefore, when an appellate court is "reviewing a discretionary decision by the trial court, such as an alimony determination, the appellate court should presume that the decision is correct and should review the evidence in the light most favorable to the decision." Gonsewski, 350 S.W.3d at 105-06 (citing Wright, 337 S.W.3d at 176; Henderson v. SAIA, Inc., 318 S.W.3d 328, 335 (Tenn. 2010)).

         Because a trial court's decision regarding the type, length, and amount of alimony turns upon the unique facts of each case, courts may consider many factors, "including, but not limited to the factors contained in Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-5-121(i)." Parrish, 2013 WL 3203352, at *6. These statutory factors include:

(1) The relative earning capacity, obligations, needs, and financial resources of each party, including income from pension, profit sharing or retirement plans and all other sources;
(2) The relative education and training of each party, the ability and opportunity of each party to secure such education and training, and the necessity of a party to secure further education and training to improve ...

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