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Recent Tennessee Divorce Law
Court of Appeals Decisions

Leon Williams v. Jannie Williams
Authoring Judge: Presiding Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Philip E. Smith

In this post-divorce proceeding, Wife filed a petition for civil contempt to compel Husband to comply with the parties’ marital dissolution agreement (“MDA”) by either refinancing, paying in full, or selling real property mortgaged in her name in order to remove her from any liability on the indebtedness. Husband responded by filing a series of petitions for contempt, contending, inter alia, breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing, unclean hands, breach of contract, and abuse of process for Wife’s alleged failure under the MDA to execute certain documents which would have facilitated Husband’s “assumption” of the existing mortgage. On the eve of the evidentiary hearing on Wife’s petition for contempt, Husband paid off the indebtedness. At the hearing that followed, the trial court ruled that the issue of Husband’s civilcontempt was moot due to the fact that he belatedlycomplied with the MDA; nevertheless, the court also ruled that Wife was entitled to recover her reasonable attorney’s fees, pursuant to the enforcement provision of the MDA, because she was the prevailing party. The enforcement provision of the MDA states: “In the event it becomes reasonably necessary for either party to institute legal proceedings to procure the enforcement of any provision of this Agreement, the prevailing party shall also be entitled to a judgment for reasonable expenses, including attorney’s fees, incurred in prosecuting the action.” Husband appeals contending Wife was not the prevailing party because there was never a ruling on the merits of her claim, and, therefore, she is not entitled to recover any of her attorney’s fees; he also challenges numerous other rulings by the trial court. For her part, Wife seeks all of her attorney’s fees incurred in the trial court, as well as attorney’s fees related to this appeal. We affirm the trial court’s determination that Wife was the prevailing party because, as the trial court correctlyfound,it was reasonablynecessaryfor Wife to institute legal proceedings to enforce Husband’s compliance with the MDA, and even though there was no hearing or ruling on the merits of her enforcement claim, “but for” Wife’s petition, Husband would not have fulfilled his obligation under the MDA to remove Wife from all liability on the mortgage debt. See Fannon v. City of LaFollette, 329 S.W.3d 418 (Tenn. 2010). We also affirm the trial court’s discretionary decision to award Wife a portion of her attorney’s fees. As for Husband’s remaining issues, we find that these are moot or they have been waived. Finally, we have determined that Wife is entitled to her attorney’s fees on appeal because she is the prevailing party on appeal.

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