September 4, 2019 Session
from the Circuit Court for Sequatchie County No. 17-CV-55
Justin C. Angel, Judge
divorce appeal, Wife argues that the trial court erred in
dividing the equity in the marital home and in calculating
her net award. We find no error in the trial court's
division of the equity in the marital home, but we have
determined that the court erred in its calculation of the net
award by crediting the marital debt against Wife twice. We,
therefore, affirm in part and reverse in part.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit
Court Affirmed in Part and Reversed in Part and
Michael Keith Davis, Dunlap, Tennessee, for the appellant,
F. Hudson, Dunlap, Tennessee, for the appellee, Scott
D. Bennett, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which
W. Neal McBrayer and Arnold B. Goldin, JJ., joined.
D. BENNETT, JUDGE
and Procedural Background
Ackerman ("Husband") and Joanne Ackerman
("Wife") married in November 2011 while living in
Florida. No children were born of the marriage, but both
parties had children from previous relationships. Husband and
Wife both accumulated funds in retirement accounts while
working for the Florida Department of Corrections.
four years after their marriage, Husband and Wife decided to
move to Tennessee. They both liquidated their retirement
accounts. After taxes, Husband received $87, 756.17 out of
his account valued at $109, 695.21. Wife's account, with
a gross value of $56, 768.56, paid her $45, 414.85 after
taxes. With their combined funds, Husband and Wife purchased
unimproved land, cleared the property, and installed a new
mobile home. Both obtained employment in Sequatchie County.
problems arose in the marriage approximately one year after
the parties moved into their new home, and Wife decided to
relocate to Florida with her children. She and the children
moved back to Florida in September 2016 and did not return to
Tennessee. Husband continued to reside in the marital home.
On September 19, 2016, Husband obtained a loan for $25,
000.00 in his name using the marital home as security. (The
use of the loan proceeds was an issue at trial.)
filed for divorce in March 2017. The case went to trial on
November 26, 2018, on stipulated grounds for divorce, and
both parties testified. The parties agreed that the marital
home was worth $107, 000.00. The balance due on the loan was
$22, 972.03. Thus, the value of the remaining equity in the
home was $84, 027.97. Wife requested that the marital home be
sold and the proceeds divided equally between the parties.
Husband argued that he should be awarded 65.9% and Wife
should be awarded 34.1% of the equity in the marital home
based upon their respective contributions toward the
purchase. He further asserted that Wife should be responsible
for the entire balance of the loan, whereas she argued that
the parties should be equally responsible for the debt.
the statutory factors (discussed below), the trial court
found factor five most significant in that "Husband
contributed a substantially greater percentage of funds to
the parties' purchase of the real property and mobile
home . . . ." The court awarded the marital home to
Husband and ordered that the outstanding debt on the loan be
equally divided between the parties. Wife was awarded 25% of
the net equity in the marital home ($21, 006.99) minus her
one-half of the marital debt ($11, 486.02), resulting in a
net recovery of $9, 520.97.
appeals, arguing that the trial court erred in its
determination of her share of the equity in the marital home
and in calculating her net award.
court has a great deal of discretion in determining the
manner in which it divides marital property, and an appellate
court will generally defer to a trial court's decision
regarding what is equitable unless that decision is
inconsistent with the factors set out in Tenn. Code Ann.
§ 36-4-121(c) or the evidence preponderates against the
division. Jolly v. Jolly, 130 S.W.3d 783, 785-86
(Tenn. 2004). Appellate courts "'are disinclined to
disturb the trial court's decision unless the
distribution lacks proper evidentiary support or results in
some error of law or misapplication ...