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Trial Court Errs in Dividing Property During Divorce in Alabama


Upset couple

If you have a lot of assets, divorce cases can become very difficult.  Between property division and alimony, it can be hard for the court to assess who should get what.  Mediation has grown in popularity as a way to avoid these issues.  The idea behind mediation is that the parties themselves should get to decide for themselves how things should be divided because it is their lives that it is affecting.  A Court will always try to be fair, but if you go to mediation, you control your outcome.   

Importantly, however, courts still have the power to enforce the agreements made during mediation.  In a case out of Baldwin County, the Court of Civil Appeals had to rule on a case in which a mediation agreement was in dispute.

In Cottom v. Cottom, the parties filed for divorce in 2011.  They entered into a mediation agreement, which was to be put into place pending the final hearing of the divorce.  In that agreement, the husband agreed to pay the wife $8,000 each month and $25,000 every September until the divorce was final.  In 2013, the wife filed a motion asserting that the husband had not been following the terms of the agreement.  In October 2015, the trial court ordered the husband to pay the wife $8,000 a month and $25,000 each September “henceforth.”  The wife filed more motions in 2017, arguing that the husband had not paid any of the payments in 2014, 2015, and 2016.  The trial court ordered the husband to pay the wife $75,000. 

On appeal, the husband argued that the trial court made a mistake in ordering him to pay $75,000.  His theory was that since the court order was not entered until October 2015, he was not required to make any payments until September 2016.  The Court of Civil Appeals agreed and vacated the order awarding $75,000 to the wife.

The trial court also divided property interests at the final divorce hearing.  The husband owned several businesses, and the parties together owned several pieces of land.  The titles to four of the lots were in the wife’s name, and the titles to the other five lots were in the husband’s name.  The trial court ordered that the business interests be awarded to the husband, but that he pay the wife $755,650 for her interest in the businesses. 

The court also awarded all of the lots to the husband and ordered him to pay the wife $1,000,000 to buy her interest in the lots.  Because there was no evidence to prove that the lots were worth $1,000,000, the Court of Civil Appeals reversed that order.  The Court also reversed the payment to the wife for the interest in the husband’s businesses because of the error in determining the award for the land interest.

Clearly, if you are seeking to enforce an agreement, you need to be very careful to ensure the wording on the court order is exactly what you need it to be.  On the other hand, if you are trying to get out of an agreement, there could potentially be some wiggle room depending on the wording of the order. 

If you own a business or have significant marital assets, call Ingram Law LLC.  If you believe that the property division in your divorce case was done unfairly, there is a chance you can get that order reversed on appeal.  You just need to make sure you have the evidence that it was divided unfairly.  Most importantly, you need to have an experienced attorney to make sure you are putting forth your best arguments.  Joseph Ingram of INGRAM LAW LLC is well versed in family law issues.  Call him today at  (205) 335-2640 to set up a consultation.

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