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Ackerman v. Ackerman

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

September 24, 2019

JOANNE ACKERMAN
v.
SCOTT ACKERMAN

          September 4, 2019 Session

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Sequatchie County No. 17-CV-55 Justin C. Angel, Judge

         In this 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.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Affirmed in Part and Reversed in Part and Remanded

          Michael Keith Davis, Dunlap, Tennessee, for the appellant, Joanne Ackerman.

          Samuel F. Hudson, Dunlap, Tennessee, for the appellee, Scott Ackerman.

          Andy D. Bennett, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which W. Neal McBrayer and Arnold B. Goldin, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          ANDY D. BENNETT, JUDGE

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Scott 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.

         Approximately 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.

         Unfortunately, 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.)

         Husband 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.

         Assessing 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.

         Wife 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.

         Standard of Review

         A trial 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 ...


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