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Pilkinton v. Pilkinton

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

December 12, 2018



          Ballard & Ballard, P.A., by: Andrew D. Ballard, for appellant.

          Ethredge & Copeland, P.A., by: David L. Ethredge and Johnnie A. Copeland, for appellee.


         Appellant James Pilkinton and appellee Hope Pilkinton were divorced by a decree of the Baxter County Circuit Court. James appeals the final decree, [1] arguing that the circuit court erred in the division of the couple's marital and nonmarital property. We find no error and affirm.[2]

         Hope and James began living together in 2002 and married in 2011. They subsequently separated, and Hope filed a complaint for divorce in 2014; James answered and filed a counterclaim for divorce. The parties proceeded to a contested hearing on the issues of their real and personal property. As to the real property, Hope testified that she owned the land on which she and James lived before they were married, and his name was never placed on the real estate. James did not contest the evidence that Hope owned the real estate before the marriage and that his name was not on the deed. He did present evidence that he had made contributions to the value of the real estate during the marriage.

         Regarding their personal property, Hope testified that she owned a small hay-farming business called Steel Dust Farms before the marriage. She acknowledged that in 2005 or 2006, before they were married, James founded a lawn-care business called James Tree and Lawn Service. She contended, however, that during the marriage she and James together purchased items to be used for that business. Hope presented the court with a list, designated Plaintiff's Exhibit 1, of the property and equipment that she contended were purchased for James's business during the marriage. James did not object to the exhibit. Likewise, James described some of the equipment that he used for his business. He asserted that he had paid for some of the equipment but admitted that Hope had paid for some. He further testified about some of the equipment that was on Hope's exhibit 1 without disputing her inclusion of the equipment on that list or her characterization of it.

         With regard to other personal-property interests, Hope introduced Plaintiff's Exhibit 2, which was a handwritten list of personal property that James removed from their house after she filed for divorce; she captioned this list "A tentative list of what he took (there is so much more)." On this list, she denoted items that were hers before the marriage, items she considered to be James's nonmarital property, and items that were deemed marital property. James did not object to the introduction of the exhibit.

         In connection with exhibit 2, Hope explained that she had inherited much of her personal property from her father. She reported that many of the items were no longer present on the property because James had removed them before the hearing.[3] She asked the court to order that all of the items on the list that had been bought during the marriage be returned and sold, the items of personal property that were hers returned to her, and the items that belonged to James awarded to him. At the end of the hearing, the circuit court invited both parties to submit briefs on some "recent developments in the marital property law." Neither party submitted a brief.

         The circuit court entered a final decree on July 11, 2017, addressing the nonmarital-and marital-property interests of the parties. As to the nonmarital property, the court found the home and land on which the couple resided and their individually owned and operated businesses to be nonmarital property. The court noted that both parties contributed to improvements to both the land and the businesses but concluded as follows:

Without more evidence than [was] presented at trial, the contributions Mr. Pilkinton and Ms. Pilkinton made to the improvement of the other's property or business can only be considered voluntary and in the nature of gifts. Thus, Mr. Pilkinton has no interest in Ms. Pilkinton's real property and the improvements thereon, and Ms. Pilkinton is awarded the same. Neither party has an interest in the other's business. Therefore, Ms. Pilkinton is awarded the assets of Steel Dust Farms. Mr. Pilkinton is awarded the assets [of] James Lawn and Tree Service, including the equipment listed on Exhibit "A" attached hereto and incorporated herein.[4]

         The court then went on to award to Hope, as her nonmarital property, the items she identified on plaintiff's exhibit 2 as belonging to her, including the items that she had inherited from her father; the court awarded to James, as his nonmarital property, the items Hope had marked as "his" on the same exhibit.

         As to the marital property, the court attached to its decree an exhibit "B." The items on the court's exhibit "B" were the remaining items from Hope's exhibit 2 that she had designated as marital property-i.e., those that were designated neither Hope's nor James's individual property. Regarding these items, the court provided as follows:

The items listed on Exhibit "B" which is attached hereto and incorporated herein are marital property. The items listed in Exhibit "B" shall be assembled and sold at public auction within forty-five days of the filing of this Decree. Any sums remaining after the costs of ...

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