Batson v. Batson

CourtCourt of Appeals of Tennessee
Writing for the CourtKOCH
Citation769 S.W.2d 849
PartiesJack Miller BATSON, Sr., Plaintiff/Appellant, v. Mary Neal BATSON, Defendant/Appellant.
Decision Date30 September 1988

Page 849

769 S.W.2d 849
Jack Miller BATSON, Sr., Plaintiff/Appellant,
v.
Mary Neal BATSON, Defendant/Appellant.
Court of Appeals of Tennessee,
Middle Section,
at Nashville.
Sept. 30, 1988.
Permission to Appeal Denied by
Supreme Court
Feb. 21, 1989.

Joseph L. Lackey, Jr., Butler, Lackey, Rodgers and Snedeker, Nashville, for plaintiff/appellant.

Maclin P. Davis, Jr., Dennis J. Meaker, Wayne A. Bullard, Waller, Lansden, Dortch and Davis, Nashville, for defendant/appellant.

OPINION

KOCH, Judge.

This appeal involves a middle-aged couple who were divorced after seven years of marriage. The Davidson County Probate Court, sitting without a jury, granted the wife the divorce, divided the property, and awarded the wife alimony in solido and attorneys fees. Both parties take issue with the manner in which the trial court classified and divided their property. In addition, the wife takes issue with the amount of the alimony in solido award, and the husband questions the trial court's award for attorney's fees. We have determined that the trial court's judgment should be affirmed as modified herein.

I.

Jack Miller Batson, Sr. met Mary Neal Klausner Batson in September, 1979. He was a forty-five-year-old physician specializing in internal medicine. She was a forty-six-year-old employee of the Tennessee Department of Human Services. Both parties had been married twice before and had children from their earlier marriages. Dr. Batson had a young son and several step-children from his second marriage, and Mrs. Batson had three older children, two of whom were still living with her.

The parties decided to marry after a whirlwind courtship. They signed a prenuptial agreement on December 16, 1979. 1 On December 27, 1979, they executed an addendum to the agreement in which Dr. Batson agreed to purchase a half interest in Mrs. Batson's Currywood home. They were married on December 28, 1979. Mrs. Batson left her job in January, 1980 because Dr. Batson told her that taking care of him would be a full-time job.

Dr. Batson moved into the Currywood home with Mrs. Batson and her two children. His young son came to live with them some time later. In January, 1980, he paid Mrs. Batson $25,000 and agreed to assume the mortgage on the Currywood home. In return, Mrs. Batson conveyed him a half interest in the Currywood property. In November, 1980, Dr. Batson purchased another home on Davidson Road. He paid cash for the property using his separate funds, but the title was made out in the names of both Dr. and Mrs. Batson.

The Batsons sold their Currywood home in April, 1981. The cash proceeds from the sale were used to retire the mortgage on the Currywood home. The purchasers also executed a $52,000 promissory note ("Boatman note") made payable to Mrs. Batson. Dr. Batson explained at trial that he wanted Mrs. Batson to have the income from the note because she was not working.

Dr. Batson provided Mrs. Batson each month with funds for the household expenses and for her own personal use. During the marriage, she used portions of the

Page 852

money, as well as the funds she received from Dr. Batson for part interest in the Currywood house, to assist her children with their educational expenses.

Married life in the Batson household was not tranquil. Dr. Batson underwent open-heart surgery in April, 1981, and his recovery was problematic. His relationship with Mrs. Batson's children deteriorated and became acrimonious and strained. His increasing problems with alcohol made matters worse. Mrs. Batson filed for divorce in May, 1981 but later dismissed her complaint. In October, 1981, Mrs. Batson went back to work for the Department of Human Services. While she did not return to her old job, she was able to return at her old salary.

In April, 1982, Dr. Batson began treatment for his alcoholism at an out-of-state psychiatric center. He asked Mrs. Batson to move out of the Davidson Road house, and so Mrs. Batson moved into a rented apartment with her children and Dr. Batson's son. Dr. Batson returned from treatment in July, 1982 and moved back into the Davidson Road house. In September, 1982, Mrs. Batson and her children moved back to the Davidson Road house at Dr. Batson's request.

The Batsons' married life did not improve, even though Dr. Batson had his drinking under control. His relationship with Mrs. Batson's children worsened. Mrs. Batson filed for divorce during the summer of 1983 2 following an incident involving Dr. Batson's second wife, and Dr. Batson moved into a rented apartment.

Dr. and Mrs. Batson attempted to reconcile in the fall of 1983. Dr. Batson refused to live with Mrs. Batson's children. Accordingly, he agreed to purchase a condominium in Mrs. Batson's name for the use of her children, and, in return, Mrs. Batson agreed to give Dr. Batson the Boatman note.

In November, 1983, Dr. Batson, using borrowed funds, purchased a condominium on Acklen Avenue for $66,000. The title to the property was placed only in Mrs. Batson's name. He also gave Mrs. Batson $3,500 to furnish the condominium. In December, 1983, Mrs. Batson and her daughter moved out of the Davidson Road house and into Dr. Batson's rented apartment with Dr. Batson and his son.

The Batsons sold their home on Davidson Road in February, 1984 for $170,000. They received $130,000 in cash and a $40,000 note ("Marianelli note") payable to them jointly. Dr. Batson used the cash to repay the loan he had obtained to buy the Acklen Avenue condominium for Mrs. Batson and to meet the margin calls on his accounts with three stock brokers.

Dr. Batson suffered a serious heart attack in April, 1984. His recovery hampered his ability to work, and the income from his medical practice dropped off sharply during 1984. When he did return to work, he was able to work only part-time and was required to adjust his practice accordingly.

During the summer of 1985, Dr. Batson bought a condominium on Elmington Avenue in his own name for approximately $133,000. He paid for the condominium using funds from the sale of some of his stock and the federal income tax refund from the Batsons' 1984 joint tax return. Dr. Batson told Mrs. Batson that she could move into the Elmington Avenue condominium with him and his son if she wanted to. Mrs. Batson declined to do so based on a marriage counselor's recommendation that they separate while trying to work out their problems. Thus, in June, 1985, Dr. Batson and his son moved into the Elmington Avenue condominium, and Mrs. Batson moved into the Acklen Avenue condominium.

Believing that Mrs. Batson had "ran off and left a sick man with a helpless little boy", Dr. Batson filed for divorce in July, 1985. Mrs. Batson counterclaimed for divorce,

Page 853

and the trial court heard the matter in April, 1986. The trial court filed a lengthy memorandum opinion in January, 1987 granting Mrs. Batson the divorce, distributing the property, and awarding Mrs. Batson alimony in solido and attorney's fees.

II.

The Reconciliation Agreement

Dr. Batson has asserted throughout these proceedings that he and Mrs. Batson are bound by the terms of a purported reconciliation agreement they entered into sometime in the latter part of 1983. The trial court did not address the issue. However, the only conclusion we can draw from the memorandum opinion is that the trial court did not follow the purported agreement. We have chosen to take up this issue first because its resolution affects the division of the Batson's property.

The Batsons' relatively short marriage was punctuated by discord. On several occasions, they separated and began divorce proceedings, only to dismiss them later. One such occasion was during the summer of 1983 after Dr. Batson permitted his second wife to spend the weekend in their home. Both parties retained counsel, and Mrs. Batson filed a complaint for divorce.

Several months later, in late October or the first three weeks of November, Dr. Batson and Mrs. Batson began to discuss a reconciliation. They did not involve their lawyers in these conversations. The main point of contention was where Mrs. Batson's children would live because Dr. Batson did not want them living with him. They resolved the problem by providing Mrs. Batson's children with another place to live.

Mr. Batson described the agreement as follows: "[o]ur agreement for reconciliation was that if I would purchase a condo for her children to have a place to live while they were here in Nashville, then she would come back to me." Mrs. Batson's version of the agreement is similar. She testified that Dr. Batson and she agreed to reconcile and that she agreed to give Dr. Batson the Boatman note in return for his purchase of the condominium on Acklen Avenue.

Dr. Batson insists that their agreement went beyond the Boatman note and the purchase of the Acklen Avenue condominium. He supports this claim with an undated note, scribbled on a sheet from a legal pad, purporting to contain other agreements with regard to their property. The note provides:

NOTE: OPINION CONTAINS TABLE OR OTHER DATA THAT IS NOT VIEWABLE

Page 854

Mrs. Batson conceded that her signature appears on the note Dr. Batson prepared, but she testified that she could not remember signing it. While she readily admitted giving Dr. Batson the Boatman note in exchange for the Acklen Avenue condominium, she denied agreeing to relinquish her interest in the house on Davidson Road during the reconciliation discussions.

Following the principles applicable to prenuptial agreements, the Tennessee Supreme Court has held that reconciliation agreements are valid and enforceable. In re Estate of Montesi, 682 S.W.2d 906, 910 (Tenn.1984); Hoyt v. Hoyt, 213 Tenn. 117, 126, 372 S.W.2d 300, 304 (1963). However, the agreements construed by the Tennessee Supreme Court in these two cases bear little resemblance to the handwritten note relied upon by Dr. Batson.

Both parties in In re Estate of Montesi and Hoyt v. Hoyt were...

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321 practice notes
  • Cohen v. Cohen
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • 16 Septiembre 1996
    ...at 637, 544 P.2d at 565, and as a form of deferred compensation provided by the employer for work already performed. Batson v. Batson, 769 S.W.2d 849, 857 (Tenn.App.1988), perm. to appeal denied, (Tenn.1989). Since the benefits are acquired with the fruits of the wage earner's labor, were i......
  • Kendrick v. Kendrick
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Tennessee
    • 16 Noviembre 1994
    ...("Johnson"). Pension rights are property because they are a form of deferred compensation for work already performed. Batson v. Batson, 769 S.W.2d 849, 857 (Tenn.Ct.App.1988); Page 921 Hunley v. Hunley, App. No. 88-206-II, slip op. at 7, 13 T.A.M. 52-4, 3 T.F.L.L. 3-20, (Tenn.Ct.App. Nov. 2......
  • Earls v Earls, 99-00035
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Tennessee
    • 31 Mayo 2000
    ...at 170, and we will not interfere with the trial judge's decision unless the evidence preponderates against it. See Batson v. Batson, 769 S.W.2d 849, 862 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1988). A party is entitled to attorney's fees when he or she lacks sufficient funds to pay his or her legal expenses or w......
  • Wilson v. Moore
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Tennessee
    • 3 Mayo 1996
    ...decisions are guided by the factors in Tenn.Code Ann. § 36-5-101(d)(1) and are entitled to great weight on appeal. Batson v. Batson, 769 S.W.2d 849, 859 (Tenn.Ct.App.1988). Accordingly, the appellate courts are disinclined to second-guess these decisions unless they are not supported by the......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
321 cases
  • Cohen v. Cohen
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • 16 Septiembre 1996
    ...at 637, 544 P.2d at 565, and as a form of deferred compensation provided by the employer for work already performed. Batson v. Batson, 769 S.W.2d 849, 857 (Tenn.App.1988), perm. to appeal denied, (Tenn.1989). Since the benefits are acquired with the fruits of the wage earner's labor, were i......
  • Kendrick v. Kendrick
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Tennessee
    • 16 Noviembre 1994
    ...("Johnson"). Pension rights are property because they are a form of deferred compensation for work already performed. Batson v. Batson, 769 S.W.2d 849, 857 (Tenn.Ct.App.1988); Page 921 Hunley v. Hunley, App. No. 88-206-II, slip op. at 7, 13 T.A.M. 52-4, 3 T.F.L.L. 3-20, (Tenn.Ct.App. Nov. 2......
  • Earls v Earls, 99-00035
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Tennessee
    • 31 Mayo 2000
    ...at 170, and we will not interfere with the trial judge's decision unless the evidence preponderates against it. See Batson v. Batson, 769 S.W.2d 849, 862 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1988). A party is entitled to attorney's fees when he or she lacks sufficient funds to pay his or her legal expenses or w......
  • Wilson v. Moore
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Tennessee
    • 3 Mayo 1996
    ...decisions are guided by the factors in Tenn.Code Ann. § 36-5-101(d)(1) and are entitled to great weight on appeal. Batson v. Batson, 769 S.W.2d 849, 859 (Tenn.Ct.App.1988). Accordingly, the appellate courts are disinclined to second-guess these decisions unless they are not supported by the......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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