McDaniel v. McDaniel – High-Conflict Divorce Weighed by Alabama Civil Appeals Court

Posted by Steven D. Eversole | Feb 14, 2015 | 0 Comments

Few divorces are totally amicable. After all, couples who are separating tend to have good reason for it.

But when divorces are high-conflict, disputes can be drawn-out, emotionally exhausting and expensive. 

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This is why we tend to advocate when possible for mediated resolutions later formalized by court order. Your attorney still advocates for you during this process. It's just not all heard in court before a judge.

However, we do recognize there are some cases in which that level of cooperation is virtually impossible. Our clients know we are dedicated to fighting for their best interests every step of the way.

In the recent case of McDaniel v. McDaniel, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals took on a highly contentious divorce case appealed from the Cherokee Circuit Court. As our Birmingham divorce attorneys understand it, the couple was married for 15 years and had no children together.

According to court records, wife filed for divorce in 2013, alleging, among other things, her husband had committed adultery. (Alabama is a no-fault state, meaning no such reasoning is required in order to secure a divorce, though sometimes, such allegations are still made.) The very next day, trial court entered an order barring both parties from harassing one another and forbidding them to dispose of any marital property. Soon after, the court also entered an order spelling out how both parties were to cover expenses related to the marital home while divorce action was pending. Both later filed motions seeking to hold the other in contempt of court.

In the final divorce judgment, trial court issued a plan for division of property, denied wife's request for alimony and all other relief she'd requested. The court decided wife's testimony was not credible and further, her actions while divorce was pending constituted a “significant fraud.”

Court denied wife's post-judgment motion for reconsideration and wife appealed. She argued trial court erred in the way it divided marital property and by failing to award spousal support.

Records indicate wife was disabled as a result of a work-related accident, and she'd received a workers' compensation settlement of $120,000 – money she reportedly invested into the construction of the marital home. It's undisputed wife is totally disabled and receives $1,100 monthly Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. Out of that is subtracted nearly $200 monthly for medications.

Marital home was initially valued at $320,000 as a new construction, but when the market bottomed-out, it lost nearly $80,000 in value. Both parties were trying to sell the home at the time of divorce.

Husband worked as a plumber throughout the marriage, and three years prior to the split, had started his own business. He was reportedly vague in answering questions about his income, indicating the poor economy meant his monthly income fluctuated. He disputed wife's assertions he was often paid in cash and failed to report all income to government for tax purposes. Over the course of the three years he owned his business, he reported annual income ranging from $7,100 to negative-$79. He failed to respond to requests for banking records, and wife presented evidence that the same year he alleged losing income, he made more than $7,000 deposits in a single month, and a total of $60,000 for the year.

Husband conceded an affair four years prior to divorce, but stated he and his wife had reconciled. However, he did admit he had begun once again talking to his ex-girlfriend prior to divorce and he moved in with her immediately after the separation.

Husband alleged several expensive pieces of his gun collection had gone missing since he left the marital home, as well as a  personal recreational vehicle and other hunting equipment – which he posited had a total value of more than $55,000. Wife denied she had taken or removed anything belonging to husband.

Trial court ordered divorce on incompatibility grounds, and ordered wife to receive 33 percent of home sale profits after satisfaction of mortgage, and husband to receive the remaining amount. Husband was further awarded 100 percent interest in his business and wife's request for alimony was denied.

On appeal, wife disputed the rejection of alimony and division of property/debts, alleging it was not equitable. (Equitable does not mean “equal” but rather fair given the circumstances.)

While the appellate court noted the apparent inequitable findings, it noted the trial court's finding of wife's alleged fraud, which trial court indicated “weighed heavily” against her requests for a greater portion of property and alimony. Trial court was well within its discretion to do so, appellate court ruled. Specifically, the trial court found wife hid assets. This worked against her in the division of property.

Our Birmingham divorce attorneys know that separations can be acrimonious, but attempts to hide information or assets from the court will almost always backfire. If you are concerned about the way in which the court will divide assets and divvy up debts, consult with an experienced lawyer to learn more about how you might protect your interests.

Additional Resources:

McDaniel v. McDaniel, Jan. 9, 2015, Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

About the Author

Steven D. Eversole

J.D., Samford University's Cumberland School of Law, Birmingham, Alabama B.A., University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

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