DONNA L. STEARNS-SMITH
JAMES RONNIE SMITH
Session April 10, 2018
from the Circuit Court for Bedford County No. 2015-CV-12895
Franklin L. Russell, Judge
Wife filed for divorce from her husband, the parties
stipulated to an equitable division of personal property and
to the grounds for divorce. The court conducted a trial to
resolve questions surrounding the classification and division
of two parcels of improved real property and Wife's
requests for alimony and attorney's fees. The trial court
determined one parcel of real property was separate property
while the other was marital and provided for its division.
The court also awarded Wife alimony in solido and
attorney's fees. On appeal, Husband challenges the
classification and division of the real property and the
awards of alimony and attorney's fees. We conclude that
the court erred in calculating the amounts due from Husband
to Wife to accomplish its division of marital property, so we
modify the judgment in that respect. Otherwise, because of a
failure to fully comply with Rule 7 of the Rules of the Court
of Appeals of Tennessee, Husband's issues related to the
classification, valuation, and division of property are
deemed waived. As to the remaining issues, we affirm the
award of lump sum alimony in solido but reverse the award of
attorney's fees as alimony in solido.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit
Court Affirmed in Part as Modified and Reversed in
Raymond W. Fraley, Jr., Fayetteville, Tennessee, for the
appellant, James Ronnie Smith.
Barbara G. Medley, Lewisburg, Tennessee, for the appellee,
Donna L. Stearns-Smith.
Neal McBrayer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which Andy D. Bennett and Thomas R. Frierson II, JJ., joined.
NEAL McBRAYER, JUDGE
January 20, 2015, in the Circuit Court of Bedford County,
Tennessee, Donna L. Stearns-Smith ("Wife") filed a
complaint for divorce from her husband of five and one-half
years, James Ronnie Smith ("Husband"). The marriage
was not the first for either party. Wife met Husband a
year-and-a-half after the death of her first husband. Her
previous marriage lasted 30 years. This would be
Husband's third divorce.
parties differed over the events leading up to the filing.
Wife claimed that, eleven days prior, she had just returned
home from a mission trip to Louisiana when Husband told her,
"I've packed up and left you." Wife described
herself as shocked and devastated by the news. She thought
their marriage "was fine," although she
acknowledged it was not perfect.
to Husband, he merely suggested taking some time off so they
could think about their relationship. And he had only packed
his clothes, what he needed for work, and his yard tools. He
would have taken more if he had realized he would never be
returning. Husband also did not understand Wife's shock
at his suggestion of time away from one another. He described
their marriage as "rocky" and claimed that divorce
had been discussed "on multiple occasions."
parties eventually stipulated to the grounds for divorce.
See Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-129 (2017). They
also stipulated to an equitable division of their personal
property. So the case proceeded to trial on the division of
real property and Wife's requests for alimony and
Wife and Husband testified at trial. When they married in
August 2009, Wife was 53, and Husband was 55. Going into the
marriage, Husband let Wife know that he planned to retire
soon, hopefully to Guntersville, Alabama. Wife described
herself as open to the idea of retiring to Alabama.
and Husband both had accumulated assets worth in excess of $1
million. And leading up to the marriage, they took steps to
sell their Tennessee assets. Husband sold his home in Estill
Springs not long before the marriage and moved into
Wife's Shelbyville home, which was also listed for sale.
Additionally, Wife owned two Merle Norman franchises, one in
Shelbyville and another in Tullahoma. Wife sold the
Shelbyville franchise before the wedding, and her daughter
took over operations of the Tullahoma store. The proceeds of
the sale of Husband's home and the Shelbyville store were
placed in certificates of deposit.
after returning from their honeymoon, Husband and Wife closed
on the purchase of a lot in Guntersville. The now-married
couple had house plans drawn up, but several events
frustrated their move to Alabama. Wife had difficulty selling
her Shelbyville home that she now shared with Husband. More
significantly, in May or early June 2010, Wife's mother
was diagnosed with lung cancer. Then during that same year, a
week before Wife's mother died, Wife's sister also
received a lung cancer diagnosis. In her testimony, Wife
agreed that the illnesses of her mother and sister caused the
couple to "put things on hold." According to
Husband, the couple "just kind of set everything else
aside at the time and decided that maybe we should just make
the home in Shelbyville our marital residence."
the decision to remain in Tennessee was permanent or
temporary, the parties agree that they spent approximately
$183, 000 on the Shelbyville home. Wife and Husband added a
pool to the property, but otherwise Wife described the
changes to the home as "cosmetic things." According
to her, the work on the home provided a needed distraction
from her mother's worsening condition. Husband's view
was that they were renovating what was now to be their
the parties remained interested in Alabama. Around the time
of the passing of Wife's mother, the couple purchased
another lot, this time in Grant, Alabama. Although the lot
was purchased with joint funds, only Husband's name
appeared on the deed. From November 2010 to March 2011, the
couple spent approximately $215, 000 constructing what would
become known as the lakehouse. At trial, the parties
generally agreed the property was worth $320, 000.
the parties separated in 2015, Wife sold the Shelbyville home
for $455, 000 and purchased a condominium in Murfreesboro.
Later Wife sold the condominium to buy a larger home. Wife
also returned to work. By this point, she had sold the Merle
Norman franchise in Tullahoma being run by her daughter, so
she took an hourly position as a buyer and merchandiser for a
retail store ...