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Classification of Property is Key in Tennessee Prenuptial Agreements

April 14, 2011 by The McKellar Law Firm, PLLC

When entering into a prenuptial agreement in Tennessee, it is very important to focus on the classification of property within the agreement. Divorce courts in Tennessee will enforce the provisions of the agreement so long as they are unambiguous and express the intent of the parties. This is highlighted by a recent Court of Appeals case entitled Weingart v. Forester, 2011 WL 1361583 (Tenn.Ct.App., April 11, 2011).

In that case, the parties entered into a Prenuptial Agreement where they decided that each spouse would keep their separate property and retirement. After seven years, the Wife filed for divorce. At the hearing, the Husband argued that Wife's income and retirement contributions were marital property subject to division due to an ambiguity in the Prenuptial Agreement. The trial court found that all retirement was separate property under the wording of the Agreement even though an ambiguity did exist regarding Wife's income.
Subsequently the Husband appealed, alleging that the trial court erred in classifying Wife's retirement as separate property when large sums of income, determined to be marital property, contributed to that retirement. The Wife also argued against the trial court's finding that the Agreement was ambiguous and that the Husband's appeal was frivolous. The appellate standard automatically gives a presumption of correctness to the trial court's findings of fact, unless shown otherwise by a preponderance of the evidence. However, when reviewing a matter of law (here, the interpretation of a written agreement), the Appeals Court reviews de novo with no presumption of correctness.

The Appeals Court found the language in this Agreement to be clear and unambiguous as it explained that the parties' intent was to keep their property separate during the marriage except if they agreed in writing that certain property was martial. No mention of any written designation of marital property was found in the Court's opinion. Further, an Exhibit attached to the Agreement specifically listed Wife's income as her separate property. The Court also did not find that the Husband's appeal was frivolous, as it was not wholly without merit.