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Jones v. Jones

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

November 4, 2019

CARLA JO CAPPS JONES
v.
JOSEPH R. JONES

          Session August 22, 2019

          Appeal from the General Sessions Court for Campbell County No. 2014-DR-102 Amanda Sammons, Judge

         In this post-divorce action, the husband sought to modify his alimony obligation to the wife. The trial court denied the husband's petition to modify, determining that the husband had failed to prove that a substantial and material change in circumstance had occurred since entry of the divorce decree. The husband has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the General Sessions Court Affirmed; Case Remanded

          Robert R. Asbury, Jacksboro, Tennessee, for the appellant, Joseph R. Jones.

          Terry M. Basista, Jacksboro, Tennessee, for the appellee, Carla Jo Capps Jones.

          Thomas R. Frierson, II, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Charles D. Susano, Jr., and John W. McClarty, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          THOMAS R. FRIERSON, II, JUDGE

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         On August 1, 2014, the plaintiff, Carla Capps Jones ("Wife"), filed a complaint seeking a divorce from the defendant, Joseph R. Jones ("Husband"), in the Campbell County General Sessions Court ("trial court"). According to Wife, the parties had been married since March 1989 and had one minor child.[1] Wife concomitantly filed the parties' signed and notarized marital dissolution agreement ("MDA"), wherein the parties agreed that Husband would pay to Wife $3, 577 monthly, representing both his alimony and child support obligations. The MDA specifically stated that "after determination of child support[, ] remaining balance shall be alimony." The MDA provided that Wife would retain the marital residence and two additional lots of real property and would also be responsible for the attendant debt related thereto. It further provided that Husband would retain his retirement account and that each party would keep the personalty in his or her possession.

         On August 12, 2014, Wife filed an agreed permanent parenting plan ("PPP"), which provided that Wife would be the primary residential parent of the minor child and would exercise 280 days per year of co-parenting time, with Husband enjoying 85 days of co-parenting time annually. The PPP failed to set forth a specific schedule for Husband's co-parenting time; rather, it simply stated that Husband "shall exercise parenting time by agreement." The PPP specified that Husband would pay child support to Wife in the amount of $765 per month based upon the parties' respective incomes and the calculation contained in the attached child support worksheet.

         Thereafter, the parties filed an amended MDA, which additionally provided that Husband had quitclaimed his interest in the marital home to Wife. The trial court entered a final decree of divorce on November 5, 2014, referencing and approving the parties' amended MDA.

         Three years later, on November 1, 2017, Husband filed a petition in the trial court seeking to modify his alimony obligation. Husband averred that he had not been represented by counsel during the divorce proceedings. He argued that the alimony provision in the parties' amended MDA was deficient because it did not state whether the alimony award was in the nature of in futuro, rehabilitative, or transitional alimony. Husband also contended that the alimony award should be modified because Wife was awarded a greater share of the marital property and Husband was paying over one-half of his monthly income to Wife. Wife filed an answer, wherein she pointed out that Husband had appeared in court and agreed to the MDA's provisions at the time of the divorce.

         The trial court conducted a hearing concerning Husband's petition on June 29, 2018, and October 22, 2018. The court subsequently entered an order on December 7, 2018, determining that the petition for modification should be denied. The court noted that Husband's monthly child support obligation had been set at $765 per month pursuant to the agreed PPP and that neither party had disputed this obligation. Furthermore, the court found that because the alimony award was for an indefinite time period, it was properly characterized as alimony in futuro. Although acknowledging that an award of alimony in futuro was modifiable upon a proper showing of a substantial and material change in circumstance, the court determined that Husband had failed to prove such a change in this case. The court specifically found in pertinent part:

Although Husband testified under oath that he is no longer able to pay the alimony that he obligated himself to pay back in 2014, the Court finds that Husband has failed to meet his burden of proving that a substantial and material change in circumstances has occurred such as would allow a modification of alimony at this time. To the contrary, Husband's finances have improved since the parties divorced. His income has risen, though slightly. He is now remarried, although he declines to testify about or even acknowledge his current household income. Husband's main assertion is that his debt-to-income ratio has been detrimentally affected by several factors, including his name remaining on the deed to the former marital residence, his current credit card and personal debt, and his requirement to continue paying alimony and the fee for Wife's car tags. Yet none of these rises to the level of constituting a substantial and material change of circumstances.
Thus, based on the testimony of the parties, the evidence presented, the argument of counsel and the applicable law, the Court does not find that any substantial or material change in circumstances has arisen such as would allow the court to amend the prior agreement of these parties. Husband agreed to pay alimony to the Wife in the amount specified in the Amended Marital Dissolution Agreement for an indefinite period of time. Wife was married to Husband for twenty-five (25) years, relinquishing income-earning potential in exchange for operating a home and rearing the ...

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