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Bennett v. Bennett

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

June 8, 2016



          Brett D. Watson, Attorney at Law, PLLC, by: Brett D. Watson, for appellant.

          Robert M. Abney, P.A., by: Robert M. Abney, for appellee.

          BART F. VIRDEN, Judge

         Appellant Danny Bennett appeals from the White County Circuit Court's December 1, 2014 order that divided the parties' marital property and debt, awarded permanent alimony, and awarded attorney's fees.[1] Danny raises four points on appeal: (1) the second circuit court judge misinterpreted the prior judge's temporary order concerning the mortgage payments, and, after the marital home was sold, Danny should not have been ordered to continue making $1600 more each month in payments toward the marital debt than Sheila was required to pay; (2) the circuit court abused its discretion in awarding Sheila the amount of attorney's fees that it did; (3) the circuit court erred in not making Sheila equally liable for the Audio Express debt; and (4) the circuit court abused its discretion in awarding the amount of alimony that it did. We affirm.

         I. Facts

         In August 2013, Sheila Bennett filed for divorce after thirty years of marriage to Danny Bennett. Danny answered and filed a counterclaim for divorce, citing general indignities, though he eventually withdrew his counterclaim. Sheila requested temporary alimony. On September 17, 2013, the circuit court (at that time Judge Craig Hannah) held a hearing on the matter.

         Sheila Bennett testified at the hearing. Sheila stated that her weekly income was about $420 and that her ex-husband made about twice her income. Sheila requested that the circuit court allow her to live in the marital home, that it award her the truck she drove, that it grant her temporary possession of the home's furnishings, and that it grant her spousal support and attorney's fees. Sheila requested that the circuit court order Danny to continue paying the mortgage and other bills. Sheila testified that she gave Danny $200 a week and that he had been using that money to pay bills. Sheila testified that although she could live with her mother temporarily she could not live there long-term.

         Danny Bennett also testified. He denied that he had spent any money on his girlfriend, and he denied that she accompanied him on any trips. He also testified that he could make many of the repairs to the marital home that were necessary before selling it. Danny requested that the court allow him to stay in the marital home to make the necessary repairs in order to prepare it for sale. Danny disagreed that Sheila paid him $200 once a week, stating that she actually paid him $400 a month and that he was paying the bulk of the debt. Danny stated that he made either two or three times Sheila's income.

         The circuit court made the following statement in response to the testimony presented at the hearing:

It appears that the parties have more debts than they can pay and neither one alone can pay all of these debts. The fair thing to do on some of these bills is to make the minimum payments on each one. Mr. Bennett will pay the first $1600 and then both will be equally obligated to pay their half. By doing that I think that it will get this to where their disposable income is down to about the same amount. On the home, if the parties can't agree within thirty days then both parties will have to move out. The house will go on the market within forty-five days.

         Later, at the end of the hearing, the following clarification occurred:

The Court: Mr. Bennett will be liable for some sort of alimony, or shifting of the debt, or something, because that is what the law is going to require. On a temporary basis, I think Mr. Bennett can pay the first $1600 of the debt. That gets him fairly close to the same equivalent as paying alimony.
Counsel for Sheila: I am trying to make sure I understand what the Court is telling me.
The Court: He will pay the first $1600 and then the balance of the debt they are equally responsible for.
Counsel for Sheila: So it's up to us to determine what that $1600 is going to be made up of?
The Court: Pay the house payment and the second mortgage and that just about eats it right there.
Counsel for Danny: Certainly they can work toward listing it while the repairs are being made. Looking at the Affidavit of Financial Means and the supplements provided by the parties, the monthly debt obligation of the parties is $5375, but what this Court is ordering is that Danny Bennett will pay the first $1, 600.00 of that sum?
The Court: I think the mortgage . . .
Counsel for Danny: The mortgage and the second mortgage.
The Court: The first and the second mortgage gets you right there at that amount. I don't know if these other ...

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