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Pearson v. Pearson

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

June 6, 2019


          Session April 9, 2019

          Appeal from the Chancery Court for Shelby County No. CH-15-0482 JoeDae L. Jenkins, Chancellor

         This is a divorce case. Husband filed for divorce after 20 years of marriage. Following a three-day trial, the trial court determined Wife could not be rehabilitated and ordered Husband to pay $9, 700 per month in alimony in futuro. We conclude that the trial court erred by failing to consider Wife's earning capacity in setting Husband's alimony obligation. Accordingly, we modify Husband's alimony obligation by the amount of Wife's earning capacity as determined by the trial court. Affirmed as modified.

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

          Donald Capparella and Kimberly Macdonald, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Richard Alan Pearson.

          Leslie Gattas Coleman and Timothy M. Ginski, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellee, Christen Creighton Pearson.

          Kenny Armstrong, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which John W. McClarty and Arnold B. Goldin, JJ., joined.



         I. Background

         Appellant Richard Alan Pearson ("Husband") and Appellee Christen Creighton Pearson ("Wife") were married on May 27, 1995. At the time of the divorce, Husband was 51 years old, and Wife was 58 years old. Wife has three children from a prior marriage, and the parties have two children, both of whom are now adults.

         Although neither party graduated from college, Husband began working for his family business in 1985. The family business was eventually bought by Husband's current employer, Ram Tool & Supply. In 2013, Husband began travelling extensively for work managing multiple stores in Texas and a store in Memphis. In 2014, Husband leased an apartment in New Braunfels, Texas and travelled between Memphis and Texas. While in Texas, Husband began an affair with another woman.

         On April 10, 2015, Husband filed a complaint for divorce alleging inappropriate marital conduct and irreconcilable differences as grounds. At or around the time he filed the complaint for divorce, Husband moved in with his paramour. On September 9, 2015, Wife filed an answer and counter-complaint for divorce. In her pleading, Wife denied inappropriate marital conduct on her part but alleged that irreconcilable differences existed and that Husband was guilty of inappropriate marital conduct. In August 2017, Wife filed an amended complaint for divorce alleging adultery as an additional ground for divorce.

         The trial was held on November 1 and 2, 2017 and January 24, 2018. As this was a long term marriage, two of the major issues at trial were Wife's need for alimony and Husband's ability to pay it. Husband was the sole provider during the parties' marriage earning an average of $358, 459.54 per year. His income was comprised of two components: (1) his base salary; and (2) his annual bonus. Typically, Husband took a monthly draw in anticipation of his annual bonus. To support his contention that his future bonuses would not be comparable to those received in years past, Husband introduced a letter from his employer ("Ram Letter"). As discussed below, the letter warned Husband that he should review his monthly draw amount so that he would not face a negative balance for his 2017 bonus. The trial court sustained a hearsay objection from Wife's attorney and refused to admit the letter into evidence.

         Although she was a stay-at-home mother during the parties' marriage, at the time of the divorce, Wife was working part-time at Starbucks, where she earned $9.00 per hour. The trial court determined that due to Wife's advanced age, lack of professional experience, and prior academic record, Wife could not be rehabilitated. However, the trial court also determined that Wife had an earning capacity of $28, 000.00 per year. According to the trial court's findings of fact and conclusions of law, which it filed on June 7, 2018, Wife needed $9, 700.00 per month to sustain a lifestyle similar to that enjoyed during the marriage. The trial court ordered Husband to pay $9, 700.00 per month in alimony in futuro. Husband appeals.

         II. Issues

         Husband presents three issues for review; however, we perceive that there are 2 dispositive issues, which we state as follows:

1. Whether the trial court committed reversible error in sustaining Wife's hearsay objection to the Ram Letter.
2. Whether the trial court erred in calculating either the type and or the amount of alimony.

         III. Standard of Review

         This case was tried by the court sitting without a jury. As such, we review the trial court's findings of fact de novo on the record with the presumption that those findings are correct, "unless the preponderance of the evidence is otherwise." Tenn. R. App. P. 13(d). We review the trial court's conclusions of law de novo with no presumption of correctness. Gonsewski v. Gonsewski, 3 ...

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