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Branch v. Branch

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

December 14, 2016

JAMES BRANCH, APPELLANT
v.
STEPHANIE BRANCH, APPELLEE

         APPEAL FROM THE SALINE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 63DR-14-71] HONORABLE BOBBY D. MCCALLISTER, JUDGE

         AFFIRMED IN PART; REVERSED AND REMANDED IN PART

          Wagoner Law Firm, P.A., by: Jack Wagoner III and Angela Mann, for appellant.

          LaCerra, Dickson, Hoover & Rogers, PLLC, by: Traci LaCerra, Natalie Dickson, and Lauren Hoover, for appellee.

          PHILLIP T. WHITEAKER, Judge

         This appeal arises out of divorce proceedings following the eleven-year marriage of Stephanie Quinn (Quinn) Branch and James (Jimmy) Branch.[1] On appeal, we are charged with determining whether the circuit court erred by (1) finding that the parties' premarital agreement was unenforceable pursuant to the Arkansas Premarital Agreement Act; (2) finding that Jimmy breached the premarital agreement rendering it unenforceable; and (3) equally dividing the equity in a house acquired during the parties' marriage. We affirm in part and reverse and remand in part.

         I. Background

         Quinn and Jimmy were married in July 2003. Prior to the marriage, the parties executed a premarital agreement. In January 2014, Quinn filed a complaint for divorce. In her complaint, Quinn sought to have the premarital agreement declared void pursuant to Arkansas Code Annotated section 9-11-406(a)(2) (Repl. 2015). Jimmy filed an answer to Quinn's complaint, denying that the premarital agreement was void; he also counterclaimed for divorce.

         The circuit court held a final divorce hearing in September 2014. In October 2014, the circuit court issued a letter opinion, and later in November 2014, a decree of divorce was entered, memorializing the circuit court's decision. Thereafter, Jimmy appealed to this court. This court dismissed that appeal without prejudice because of a deficient Rule 54(b) certificate. See Branch, supra. Following this court's dismissal, the case returned to the Saline County Circuit Court wherein the court issued an amended divorce decree that included a Rule 54(b) certificate complying with our rules. Jimmy timely appealed from the amended decree.

         On appeal, Jimmy raises three general arguments in support of reversal. He contends that (1) the circuit court improperly invalidated the parties' premarital agreement pursuant to Arkansas Code Annotated section 9-11-406(a)(2); (2) the circuit court erred in finding that he breached the premarital agreement rendering it unenforceable; and (3) the circuit court improperly distributed his premarital property, specifically, the house acquired during the marriage that was solely in his name.

         II. Standard of Review

         Our standard of review is well settled. We try domestic relations cases de novo on appeal, and will not r ever se a cir cu it co u r t's f ind in gs unless they are clearly erroneous. Taylor v. Taylor, 345 Ark. 300, 47 S.W.3d 222 (2001). A finding is clearly erroneous when, although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed. Norman v. Norman, 342 Ark. 493, 30 S.W.3d 83 (2000).

         III. Whether the Circuit Court Improperly Invalidated the Parties' Agreement

         Quinn and Jimmy's premarital agreement is governed by the Arkansas Premarital Agreement Act. See Ark. Code Ann. § 9-11-401 et seq. The Arkansas Premarital Agreement Act places the burden on the party contesting the agreement to prove its invalidity. Ark. Code Ann. § 9-11-406(a). Here, Quinn bore that burden. Under the Arkansas Premarital Agreement Act, Quinn could invalidate the agreement by proving that it was not executed voluntarily. Ark. Code Ann. § ...


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