Wiggins v. Wiggins, 012221 TNCIV, M2019-02006-COA-R3-CV

Docket Nº:M2019-02006-COA-R3-CV
Opinion Judge:FRANK G. CLEMENT JR., P.J., M.S.
Party Name:ANTONIO MAURICE WIGGINS v. CAROL ANN WIGGINS
Attorney:Sharon T. Massey, Clarksville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Antonio Maurice Wiggins. Kimberly G. Turner, Clarksville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Carol Ann Wiggins.
Judge Panel:Frank G. Clement Jr., P.J., M.S., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Andy D. Bennett and W. Neal McBrayer, JJ., joined.
Case Date:January 22, 2021
Court:Court of Appeals of Tennessee

ANTONIO MAURICE WIGGINS

v.

CAROL ANN WIGGINS

No. M2019-02006-COA-R3-CV

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

January 22, 2021

Session November 9, 2020

Appeal from the Chancery Court for Montgomery County No. MC-CH-CV-DI-19-6 Ted A. Crozier, Chancellor

This appeal arises out of a divorce action in which the wife requested alimony. Following a trial, the trial court awarded the wife alimony in futuro and alimony in solido to assist her in paying for health insurance premiums and attorney's fees, respectively. On appeal, the husband claims the wife had no need for such support; rather, the trial court used the alimony awards as a means to punish the husband for his infidelity. We find that, while the trial court considered the husband's fault in making its decision, it did so in conjunction with other relevant factors in accordance with Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-5-121(i), including the wife's financial need, her relative earning potential, her contributions to the marriage, and the parties' standard of living. Having determined that the trial court applied the correct legal principles, made factual findings supported by the evidence in the record, and reached a decision within the range of acceptable dispositions, we affirm the trial court's decision.

Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery Court Affirmed

Sharon T. Massey, Clarksville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Antonio Maurice Wiggins.

Kimberly G. Turner, Clarksville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Carol Ann Wiggins.

Frank G. Clement Jr., P.J., M.S., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Andy D. Bennett and W. Neal McBrayer, JJ., joined.

OPINION

FRANK G. CLEMENT JR., P.J., M.S.

Antonio Maurice Wiggins ("Husband") and Carol Ann Wiggins ("Wife") married on December 3, 2003, in Las Vegas, Nevada. Husband served in the United States Army on active duty for nine and a half years of the marriage and later retired after 26 years of service. Husband earned a bachelor's degree and worked at the Department of Defense Retirement Services as a GS-5 at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Wife earned a high school diploma, had some college education, and worked for the Department of Defense as a civilian contractor. The couple purchased a home in Clarksville, Tennessee, and had no children together. At the time of the final divorce hearing, Wife was 49 years old and Husband was 50 years old.

Husband filed for divorce on January 2, 2019, in Montgomery County Chancery Court alleging irreconcilable differences as the only ground. Wife filed an answer and counter complaint on January 31, 2019, alleging irreconcilable differences and inappropriate marital conduct. Husband filed an answer to Wife's counter complaint denying inappropriate marital conduct.

The parties participated in mediation with a Rule 31 mediator and agreed to the division of their personal property, debts, bank accounts, taxes for 2018, and retirement accounts. As for the retirement accounts, the parties agreed Wife would receive 18.43% of Husband's military retirement, and they would each retain their respective 401(k) accounts, with Wife's account valued at $10, 000 and Husband's account valued at $13, 500. When addressing their debts, the parties agreed Husband would be responsible for the $25, 000 debt they owed for installing a swimming pool, and Wife would be responsible for the $27, 000 debt they owed on a Jeep Cherokee. They reserved the issues of alimony and the division of the proceeds from the sale of their home for the trial.

The court held a trial on September 9, 2019, and entered a Final Decree of Divorce on October 11, 2019. At the trial, Husband admitted to engaging in three extra-marital affairs, the first occurring just two years after the parties married, the second occurring in 2010 and lasting for a year or two, and the third occurring in 2018. Based on Husband's testimony, the court granted the divorce to Wife on the ground of inappropriate marital conduct.

The court approved the parties' mediated agreement and ordered Husband and Wife to sell their home and to split the proceeds equally. In the interim, Husband would have exclusive possession of the home and pay the mortgage.

As for Wife's requests for alimony in futuro, transitional alimony, and alimony in solido, after considering the factors listed in Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-5-121(i), the court determined Wife was the economically disadvantaged spouse based on her gross monthly income of $4, 861 with no benefits and Husband's gross monthly income of $9, 240.68 with substantial health and retirement benefits. Finding that Wife would lose her health insurance benefits and, based on Wife's testimony, the most comparable insurance plan would cost Wife more than $1, 000 per month in premiums, the court ordered Husband to pay Wife $700 per month in alimony in futuro to assist Wife in paying for health insurance. Furthermore, recognizing that Wife intended to use the proceeds from the sale of the parties' home as a down payment on a new home and that she could not buy a home until receiving her share of the proceeds, the court ordered Husband to pay Wife $650 per month in transitional alimony for 36 months to assist Wife with the transition in housing.

The court also awarded Wife her attorney's fees in the form of alimony in solido finding as follows: The Husband is at fault for the demise of the marriage. The Wife testified that she did not want this divorce and that she asked the Husband to attend counseling with her. The Wife has forgiven the Husband's infidelity two times in the past and it appears she would have forgiven the Husband again had he gone to counseling and worked on the marriage. As the Husband's actions caused the demise of this marriage and the Husband filed for divorce, the Wife is hereby awarded her attorney's fees in the amount of $7, 500.00 as alimony in solido. . . .

This appeal followed.

Analysis

On appeal, Husband only takes issue with the court's award of alimony in futuro and alimony in solido.[1]

Trial courts "have broad discretion to determine whether spousal support is needed and, if so, the nature, amount and duration of the award." Gonsewski v. Gonsewski, 350 S.W.3d 99, 105 (Tenn. 2011). A trial court's decision to award spousal support "is factually driven and involves the careful balancing of many factors." Id. (footnote and citations omitted). For that reason, appellate courts will not second-guess a trial court's decision regarding spousal support. Id. However, a trial court's decision is not immune from any meaningful appellate scrutiny. Lee Med., Inc. v. Beecher, 312 S.W.3d 515, 524 (Tenn. 2010). [R]eviewing courts should review a [trial] court's discretionary decision to determine (1) whether the factual basis for the decision is properly supported by evidence in the record, (2) whether the [trial] court properly identified and applied the most appropriate legal principles...

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