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Patterson v. Patterson

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

May 23, 2018


          Appealed from the Third Judicial District Court for the Parish of Lincoln, Louisiana Trial Court No. 53, 946 Honorable Cynthia T. Woodard, Judge

          DONALD L. KNEIPP Counsel for Appellant.

          HUDSON, POTTS & BERNSTEIN, LLP By: Robert M. Baldwin L. Casey Auttonberry Counsel for Appellee.

          Before WILLIAMS, PITMAN, and COX, JJ.

          PITMAN, J.

         Concerning the division of property after divorce between Plaintiff Melodye Patterson, nee Tanner, and Defendant Gary Edward Patterson, Plaintiff appeals the judgment of the trial court which declared their matrimonial agreement ("the Agreement") valid and which classified the shares of a company owned by Plaintiff prior to the marriage as community property. For the following reasons, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.


         Plaintiff and Defendant were involved in a relationship in 1988 while Defendant was still married to his first wife. In 1988, Plaintiff formed a company called Financial Resources Management of Louisiana, Inc. ("FRM"), and is its sole shareholder. Between 1988 and 1990, Plaintiff purchased three tracts of immovable property through FRM known as the Heard tract, the DeSoto tract and the Caney Lake property. The properties were found and purchased with the assistance of Defendant, although he was not monetarily obligated for the purchases of the land owned by FRM.

         Defendant eventually divorced his first wife, and a property settlement was reached. Plaintiff and Defendant planned to marry in August 1993 and agreed to enter into a matrimonial agreement that would delineate which of their properties would be deemed separate and which properties would be deemed community. They met with Defendant's attorney and friend, Paul Spillers, who informed Plaintiff that he was there representing and advising his client, Defendant, and that he could not be her attorney in this matter. Plaintiff allegedly told Spillers that she understood and that she had an attorney, but was unsure about using him for this matter.

         The Agreement was prepared by Spillers. By letter dated July 21, 1993, a copy was mailed to his client, Defendant, along with two attached exhibits, A and B, which allegedly described all the separate property owned by each party. FRM was not listed on Plaintiff's Exhibit B. In fact, it listed only one tract of land, called the Sibley Tract, which she had inherited from her grandmother. Defendant's Exhibit A is several pages long and contained legal descriptions of 13 pieces of immovable property. Plaintiff did not receive a copy of the Agreement from Spillers since she was not his client. Defendant claims that she must have seen a copy at their office because she handled all the mail delivered there. Defendant made corrections to the legal descriptions and returned his exhibit to Spillers, who thereafter sent Defendant a final draft of the Agreement by letter dated July 26, 1993.

         Plaintiff claims that she saw and read the Agreement for the first time on August 5, 1993, two days before their wedding, when she and Defendant were driving to the courthouse in Ruston, Louisiana, to execute it in front of a notary public and two witnesses.

         Except for the attached exhibits, the Agreement is three pages long. The first page names the parties and states that it is to take effect upon their marriage. The second and third pages contain signatures and the following clauses, which led to this extensive lawsuit:

Appearers shall be separate in property with respect to the property described on the attached Exhibits "A" and "B". The attached Exhibit "A" describes the separate property of GARY EDWARD PATTERSON. The attached Exhibit "B" describes the separate property of MELODYE TANNER BARNES. Appearers declare and acknowledge the property listed and described on the attached exhibits shall henceforth be the separate property of each. Each Appearer hereby expressly reserves to himself/herself, individually, the entireadministration and control of his/her respective separate properties.
Any income recognized by either Appearer with respect to their separate property shall constitute community income. For these purposes income shall be recognized at that point in time when income is recognized for federal income tax purposes.
Appearers hereby adopt the legal regime of community property with respect to all other assets of whatever nature they may own, it being their specific intent that all assets other than the assets described on the attached exhibits shall be and are hereby converted to community property.
Any debts, obligations, and liabilities of your Appearers that exist as of the date of marriage shall retain their character as separate obligations. Any obligations, debts, or liabilities incurred after marriage shall constitute community obligations.

         Pursuant to the Agreement, a community of acquets and gains was established during the existence of the marriage. In October 2009, Plaintiff filed a suit for divorce, alleged adultery and requested that their community be terminated. The judgment of divorce was signed on May 7, 2010.

         In April 2010, prior to rendition of the divorce judgment, Plaintiff filed a separate suit entitled, "Petition to Declare the Matrimonial Agreement Invalid in Part and/or to Declare the Matrimonial Agreement in Part a Donation Subject to Revocation for Ingratitude." This suit was given a different docket number from her suit for divorce. In July 2012, she amended her petition in the action to declare the Agreement invalid or a donation. Eventually, the divorce matter, in which she sought the division of the community property, and the matrimonial agreement matter were consolidated by order of the trial court.

         In February and April 2016, a trial was held which concerned the division of property between Plaintiff and Defendant. The testimony given at the trial on the facts leading up to the ...

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