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Pratt v. Pratt

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

May 8, 2019



          Richard E. Worsham, for appellant.

          Eugene D. Bramblett, for appellee.

          Kenneth S. Hixson, Judge.

         Appellant Benjamin Wilson Pratt appeals from a June 19, 2018 divorce decree filed by the Union County Circuit Court in favor of appellee Tamra Renee Pratt (now Corley). On appeal, Benjamin contends that the circuit court erred in its unequal division of the parties' marital property.[1] We affirm.

         I. Facts

         The parties were married on April 27, 2013, and separated on July 4, 2017. No children were born of the marriage, but Tamra's son by a prior marriage resided with the parties. Tamra is a beneficiary of a family trust that produced significant income. Benjamin was employed at a chemical plant and received some Social Security disability benefits during the marriage due to diabetes and kidney complications. Tamra filed a complaint for divorce on July 7, 2017, on the grounds of personal indignities and requested the circuit court to make a distribution of the real and personal property acquired during the marriage. A trial was held on March 9, 2018.[2]

         Tamra testified that she has a 10 percent interest in the Corley Trust, which distributes oil and gas royalty dividends as part of her family's oil-production company. She receives the dividends quarterly, and the amount varies based on the price of oil by the barrel. Tamra testified that Benjamin was employed at Great Lakes Chemical plant during their marriage. According to their 2013 through 2016 tax returns, Benjamin cumulatively earned $198, 528 in gross income, including his wages and Social Security disability benefits. Comparatively, Tamra cumulatively earned $802, 182 in gross income.

         Tamra further testified that she owned a premarital residence that the parties lived in before she sold it for $250, 000. The parties purchased their marital residence on Pleasant Oak Drive in Smackover, Arkansas, for $250, 000 in addition to the adjacent lot for $30, 000 that was titled in both of their names. They made some improvements to the residence, including the construction of a shop building, a fence, and a swimming pool. It was undisputed that the costs of those improvements totaled $81, 206.10. Tamra testified that the improvements were funded by her dividend income from the Corley Trust.

         Tamra additionally testified that Benjamin's father owned a home on East 10th Street in Smackover, Arkansas. Benjamin's father had a reverse mortgage on the residence. During the marriage, Tamra used her dividend income to pay off the reverse mortgage on January 14, 2016, in the amount of $41, 167.52, and the property was deeded back to Benjamin's father. Thereafter, on February 15, 2017, Benjamin's father conveyed the property to Benjamin by warranty deed in Benjamin's name only. Tamra further used a total of $11, 950.91 of her dividend income to improve the East 10th Street residence.

         Tamra testified that she paid Benjamin's premarital debts totaling $6, 112.18 and that she paid a total of $3, 883.31 for credit-card charges that Benjamin made after the parties' separation. The parties further had $52, 758.26 and $170, 475.34 in their joint checking and savings accounts, respectively. Tamra explained that Benjamin never contributed any money to the savings account, but his payroll checks were deposited into the checking account. Tamra stated that she purchased Benjamin's new Ford F150 truck the summer after they were married. Therefore, she requested that the circuit court make an unequal division of the real and personal property that she purchased from her dividend income. She also requested that her name be restored to her former surname of Corley.

         Benjamin did not dispute any of the specific amounts mentioned by Tamra. Benjamin further admitted that he did not have the funds to make all the purchases without Tamra's savings of the dividend income. Benjamin testified that he generally contested the grounds for divorce. However, he testified that if a divorce was granted, he requested that he be awarded one-half of the marital property.

         In its divorce decree filed on June 19, 2018, the circuit court specifically made the following findings:

4. The property issue is subdivided into four areas: real property, real property improvements, bank accounts, and personal property. Plaintiff is a beneficiary of a family trust which produced significant but variable annual income. Defendant was employed at a chemical plant and then drew social security disability benefits. The difference in their income is substantial and is a factor in the division of property. The factors in A.C.A. ยง ...

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