Session: May 21, 2019
from the Probate and Family Court for Cumberland County No.
2014-PF-4162 Larry M. Warner, Judge
divorce case involves the trial court's classification
and division of the separate and marital property of the
parties. The trial court did not place a valuation on any of
the property that was contested, nor did it refer to or make
any findings regarding the factors provided by the governing
statute, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-121 (2017). We vacate
the trial court's order and remand with instructions to
make sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law as
required by Tenn. R. Civ. P. 52.01.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Probate and
Family Court Vacated; Case Remanded
Earl Patton, Crossville, Tennessee, for the appellant,
Carolyn Diane Long.
F. Hicks, Cookeville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Steven
Charles D. Susano, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the
court, in which John W. McClarty and Thomas R. Frierson, II,
CHARLES D. SUSANO, JR., JUDGE.
Diane Long (wife) and Steven Lawrence Long (husband) were
married for the first time in 1984. Following a divorce a
year later, they remarried in 1987. Wife's family was
involved in real estate development and investment. In 1993,
wife's mother and stepfather created and funded a
partnership entity known as "Pioneer Properties."
The partners were wife, her brother, sister, two
stepbrothers, and her stepfather. Wife testified that the
primary activity of Pioneer Properties was "buying land,
subdividing it, and then selling it." It is undisputed
that neither husband nor wife contributed any funds to
Pioneer Properties. When wife received distributions from the
partnership, she deposited them into an account jointly held
by the parties.
1988, while they were married, the parties acquired a
property on George Smith Road. At that time, they were
contemplating divorce and, according to wife, they "were
separated for a long time." Wife intended to move into
the house on George Smith Road and live in it by herself.
Husband executed a deed quitclaiming his interest in the
George Smith Road property to wife in 1988. The parties
reconciled and lived together in the house for several years.
Later, they moved to another house and rented the George
Smith Road property.
October 31, 2014, wife filed her complaint for divorce. The
only issues contested were the classification of two assets
‒ wife's interest in Pioneer Properties and the
George Smith Road property ‒ and the division of the
marital estate. By agreement, the trial was bifurcated. At
the first hearing on March 10, 2017, the trial court was
asked to decide whether the two contested assets were marital
or wife's separate property. The parties agreed that the
interests held by wife in three other business entities,
Pioneer Realty, Inc., Robinson Properties Family LP, and RLW
Properties, were her separate property. No value for these
three assets was presented to the trial court, and it did not
find or set a value for any of them.
only witnesses at the relatively brief first hearing were
husband and wife. Wife argued that, notwithstanding the fact
that the two contested assets were acquired during the course
of the marriage, they were gifts to her and should be
classified as her separate property. Husband argued that he
made substantial contributions to the preservation and
appreciation of the assets, and therefore their increase in
value during the marriage should be classified as marital
property. Additionally and in the alternative, husband argued
that the assets were converted to marital property by
operation of the doctrines of commingling and transmutation.
only factual findings pertaining to the disputed assets in
the trial court's order following the first hearing are
That with regard to the home and real property on George
Smith Road, in Cumberland County, titled solely in the name
of the [wife]: The [husband] conveyed his interest in said
real property to the [wife], by quitclaim deed in 1988; and
the parties further exhibited an intent throughout the
marriage that said real property would remain the
[wife's] sole and separate property.
That with regard to the parties' interest in the
partnership entity known as Pioneer Properties: This entity
was a more fluid asset, with properties being bought and sold
at various times throughout the marriage. The Court finds
that this entity is marital property due to the fluidity of
the asset and due to the fact that proceeds were regularly
deposited from said partnership into a joint account of the
(Numbering in original omitted).
second hearing took place on August 17, 2018. The trial court
heard testimony from the parties and a real estate appraiser.
The parties agreed on the values of many, but not all, of the
numerous marital real estate assets. The only factual
findings contained in the trial court's final judgment
state as follows:
That for at least 27 years of this 31 year marriage the wife
treated all of the property the parties collectively owned as
if it were owned equally by her and husband and that all of
their property should now be divided equally.
Pioneer Properties is a real estate investment business owned
and run by wife and her family, and it would not be feasible
for husband to continue in that business relationship after
(Numbering in original omitted).
trial court awarded wife the entire interest in Pioneer
Properties. Wife estimated the value of this asset to be
$311, 295.81. It does not appear from the record that husband
proffered a written estimated value of the Pioneer Properties
interest. During the second hearing, husband's counsel
argued that the value of wife's interest was $429,
527.50. To offset this award, the court awarded husband
apartments on Old Mail Road that the parties agreed were
worth $300, 000; two parcels of land on Woodlawn Road worth
$90, 000, and a parcel on Rockledge Drive worth $3, 000. The
trial court further ordered several other real estate
holdings to be sold and the proceeds split equally. The
marital residence was ordered to be sold and the proceeds
equally divided after payment of debts associated with the
residence. The parties did not agree on the value of all
these assets, including the marital residence. As noted, the
trial court made no findings of fact regarding the value of
any asset of the marital or separate estates. Consequently,
it is difficult to state an accounting of the division of the
assets with any certainty. As appendices to her brief, wife
submits two charts showing her argument as to the division
according to her values, and according to husband's.
Using wife's values, she states that she was awarded
property worth $622, 147.08, and husband awarded property
worth $641, 851.27. Using husband's values, wife states
that the property was divided $659, 109.58 to her, and $678,
813.77 to husband. Wife timely filed a notice of appeal.
raises these issues:
Whether the trial court erred in classifying her interest in
the Pioneer Properties partnership as marital property.
Whether the trial court failed to make sufficient findings of
fact and conclusions of law as required by Tenn. R. Civ. P.
raises the following additional issue:
Whether the trial court erred in classifying the George Smith
Road property as wife's separate property.
Court has set forth the standard of review of a trial
court's division of marital property as follows:
Once the marital property has been valued, the trial court is
to divide the marital property in an equitable manner. Tenn.
Code Ann. § 36-4-121(a)(1); Miller [v.
Miller], 81 S.W.3d [771, ] at 775 [(Tenn. Ct. App.
2001)]. A division of marital property in an equitable manner
does not require that the property be divided equally.
Robertson v. Robertson, 76 S.W.3d 337, 341 (Tenn.
2002). Dividing a marital estate is not a mechanical process
but, rather, is guided by considering the factors in Tenn.
Code Ann. § 36-4-121(c). Kinard [v.
Kinard], 986 S.W.2d [220, ] at 230 [Tenn. Ct. App.
1998]. . . . Trial courts have wide latitude in fashioning an
equitable division of marital property, Fisher v.
Fisher, 648 S.W.2d 244, 246 (Tenn. 1983), and this court
accords great weight to the trial court's division of
marital property. Wilson v. Moore, 929 S.W.2d 367,
372 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1996). Thus, we defer to the trial
court's division of the marital estate unless it is
inconsistent with the factors at Tenn. Code Ann. §
36-4-121(c) or is not supported by a preponderance of the
evidence. Brown v. Brown, 913 S.W.2d 163, 168 (Tenn.
Ct. App. 1994).
Luplow v. Luplow, 450 S.W.3d 105, 109-110 (Tenn. Ct.
App. 2014). "However, we accord no presumption of
correctness to the trial court's conclusions of
law." Harper v. Harper, No.
W2017-02193-COA-R3-CV, 2018 WL 5307090, at *1 (Tenn. Ct.
App., filed Oct. 24, 2018), (citing Snodgrass v.
Snodgrass, 295 S.W.3d 240, 245-46 (Tenn. 2009)).
first address the trial court's treatment of wife's
interest in the Pioneer Properties partnership. As we have
often noted, "a trial court must identify all of the
assets possessed by the divorcing parties as either separate
property or marital property before equitably dividing the
marital estate." Mangum v. Mangum, No.
E2018-00024-COA-R3-CV, 2019 WL 1787328, at *8 (Tenn. Ct.
App., filed Apr. 24, 2019) (quoting McHugh v.
McHugh, No. E2009-01391-COA-R3-CV, 2010 WL 1526140, at
*3 (Tenn. Ct. App., filed Apr. 16, 2010)); Swafford v.
Swafford, No. 2017-00095-COA-R3-CV 2018 WL 1410900, at
*3 (Tenn. Ct. App., filed Mar. 21, 2018). Tenn. Code Ann.
§ 36-4-121(b) provides, in pertinent part, the following
definitions of these terms:
(1)(A) "Marital property" means all real and
personal property, both tangible and intangible, acquired by
either or both spouses during the course of the marriage up
to the date of the final divorce hearing and owned by either
or both spouses as of the date of filing of a complaint for
divorce, except in the case of fraudulent conveyance in
anticipation of filing, and including any property to which a
right was acquired up to the date of the final divorce