COA affirms division of marital assets

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In a divorce dispute that has lasted nearly as long as the marriage, the Court of Appeals of Indiana found the trial court did not abuse its discretion by awarding more assets to the wife than she had originally brought into the union.

Eddie Kearney and Annette Claywell married in October 2016 with each bringing assets of $841,362.48 and $394,951.60, respectively, which they did not commingle. Claywell had to move from her home in Tennessee to Indiana and even though she did obtain an Indiana nursing license, she was not able to find employment.

In April 2019, Claywell filed a petition for dissolution of marriage. The Decatur Circuit Court found that at the time of their marriage, Kearney had contributed 68% to the marital pot through premarital assets and Claywell contributed 32%. However, in determining that Claywell suffered more financially from the divorce, the trial court decided an equitable division of the assets and liabilities would be an award of 40% to Claywell and 60% to Kearney.

Kearney appealed, arguing the trial court abused its discretion by awarding a division of the marital estate that does not mirror the premarital assets each party brought into the marriage.

The unanimous Court of Appeals affirmed the division of property in Eddie L. Kearney v. Annetta L. Claywell, 21A-DN-1086.

In particular, the panel pointed out the trial court considered the parties “economic circumstances” and determined Claywell was financially disadvantaged by the divorce. She had relocated from Tennessee, leaving her job, selling her home and allowing her nursing license to expire when she married Kearney.

In addition, Claywell was unemployed for a time after filing for divorce, had to live with her sister and a friend before being able to purchase a home in Tennessee and although she regained her nursing license, she had to take a job with a lower salary than her previous position.

Kearney, on the other hand, was able to keep his residence in Indiana and continue working for his same employer.

“Husband, in essence, asks this Court to only consider the percentage of premarital assets and divide the marital pot by the same percentage,” Judge Elizabeth Tavitas wrote for the court. “Although Husband did rebut the presumption of an equal division of the marital property, Husband’s request asks us to ignore the other statutory factors in Indiana Code Section 31-15-7-5 that the trial court was required to consider.Once the trial court finds that the presumption of an equal division of the marital pot is rebutted, the court has broad discretion to determine a ‘just and reasonable’ division. The trial court’s division of marital property, which awarded sixty percent of the marital property to Husband and forty percent of the marital property to Wife, is not an abuse of discretion.”

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