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Hopwood v. Hopwood

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

May 14, 2019


          Session April 2, 2019

          Appeal from the Chancery Court for Williamson County No. 41444 Joseph A. Woodruff, Chancellor

         This is another appeal arising from the divorce of Corey Daniel Hopwood ("Father") and Andrea Renea Hopwood ("Mother"). In a previous opinion, we remanded for a new determination concerning the duration and amount of an award to Mother of rehabilitative alimony and the calculation of an award to Mother of attorney's fees attributable only to child custody and child support issues. The Chancery Court for Williamson County ("the Remand Court") addressed these two issues on remand. Father appeals to this Court, arguing in large part that he simply cannot afford to pay what the Remand Court ordered him to pay. Discerning no abuse of discretion, we affirm the Remand Court's rulings with respect to rehabilitative alimony and attorney's fees attributable to child support and child custody. However, we modify the Remand Court's judgment to reduce the amount of life insurance Father is required to carry to secure his alimony obligation in light of the reduction of his alimony obligation. We further modify the Remand Court's judgment to eliminate $750 in attorney's fees assessed against Father for filing an improperly-styled motion when he was acting pro se. The judgment of the Remand Court is affirmed as modified.

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

          Karla C. Miller, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Corey Daniel Hopwood.

          Russ Heldman, Franklin, Tennessee, for the appellee, Andrea Renea Hopwood.

          D. Michael Swiney, C.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Frank G. Clement, Jr., P.J., M.S., and W. Neal McBrayer, J., joined.




         Mother and Father married in 1999. Four children were born of the marriage. In 2012, Mother filed for divorce from Father. As this matter has been extensively litigated and appealed already, we will not detour into the issues leading up to the divorce.

         Trial was held in February 2015, and final judgment was entered on April 21, 2015. Among other things, Father was ordered to pay $2, 056 per month in child support; $2, 500 per month in rehabilitative alimony for 15 years, to be secured in large measure by a life insurance policy of $350, 000; and $42, 901.50 in attorney's fees. Mother also was awarded $169, 000 as alimony in solido. Father appealed to this Court. In our opinion filed June 23, 2016 deciding the prior appeal, we stated, as relevant:

[W]e must also agree with Father that the evidence suggests that he simply does not have the ability to pay alimony in the amount awarded to Mother. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-5-121(i)(1). Here, even considering the uppermost figure used by the trial court to calculate Father's income, deducting his purported expenses and child support obligation, Father is left with only approximately $1, 200.00 per month in surplus gross income before paying any alimony award. This Court has previously held that a trial court abuses its discretion in awarding alimony in an amount that a spouse "cannot realistically afford to make." Woods v. Woods, No. M2002-01736-COA-R3-CV, 2005 WL 1651787, at *9 (Tenn. Ct. App. July 12, 2005). Here, the trial court found that Father had the ability to pay Mother $2, 500.00 per month considering Father's expenses. It is unclear from the trial court's order, thorough though it may be, whether the trial court also considered Father's child support obligation or the tax consequences to the parties in making such an award. Under these circumstances, we vacate the award of $2, 500.00 per month in alimony to Mother and remand for reconsideration of what, if any, of Mother's need for alimony Father has the ability to pay given his income of $110, 000.00 per year. Given that many of Father's expenses were estimated at the time of the divorce proceedings, the parties shall be permitted to introduce additional proof regarding expenses. The issue of Father's income for alimony purposes or the duration of the alimony obligation, however, may not be relitigated except as provided by Tennessee Code Annotated Section 36-5-121(e)(2).
Balancing both Father's lack of funds and the alimony in solido awarded to Mother against Father's admitted role in the duration of these proceedings, we discern no abuse of discretion in the trial court's decision to award Mother some reasonable attorney's fees pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated Section 36-5-103(c). Not all of Mother's attorney's fees, though, are attributable to issues of child custody and support. Indeed, significant issues in this case concerned fault for the demise of the marriage, alimony, and property division. Because we are remanding this case for reconsideration of Father's alimony award, we vacate the trial court's award of all of Mother's requested attorney's fees. Instead, we remand to the trial court for a calculation of Mother's attorney's fees that are attributable only to issues involving child custody and child support.

Hopwood v. Hopwood, No. M2015-01010-COA-R3-CV, 2016 WL 3537467, at *15-16 (Tenn. Ct. App. June 23, 2016), no appl. perm. appeal filed.

         Thus the Remand Court's instruction was to render new determinations as to rehabilitative alimony and attorney's fees to Mother. As to the alimony, both duration and amount were to be readdressed, with the evidence relating back to the original hearing. By agreement of the parties, no new hearing was conducted on remand. Instead, the parties submitted briefs and affidavits. In January 2018, the Remand Court entered its detailed memorandum and order. The Remand Court stated, in pertinent part:

Father has an ability to pay an award of rehabilitative alimony based upon his imputed income of $110, 000.00 per year, Affidavit for Remand from TN Appellate Court, Statement of Income and Expenses, as to his regular income, and Statement of Income and Expenses, as to his imputed income, filed on September 11, 2017. Further, Mother has a need for rehabilitative alimony based upon her regular income at the time of the trial of $15, 963.87 per year, and her Notice of Filing, which included Wife's Statement of Issues, Income, Property, and Expenses, marked as Exhibit 12 at trial of February 2, 201[5], and an Affidavit of Current Expenses.
[T]his Court finds the duration of the award of rehabilitative award for Mother should extend to ninety-six (96) months, or eight (8) years, from the time of the entry of the Final Judgment of April 21, 2015 because this duration allows ...

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