Jeffrey L. McMahel, Appellant-Defendant,
Mary A. Deaton, Appellee-Plaintiff.
from the Orange Circuit Court Trial Court Cause No.
59C01-1403-PL-73 The Honorable Larry R. Blanton, Judge
Attorney for Appellant Zachary J. Stock Zachary J. Stock,
Attorney at Law, P.C. Carmel, Indiana
Attorneys for Appellee David A. Smith Patrick J. Smith
McIntyre & Smith Bedford, Indiana
Jeffrey L. McMahel appeals the trial court's order
awarding certain property to Mary A. Deaton following their
cohabitation. McMahel raises one issue which we revise and
restate as whether the court's order is clearly
erroneous. We affirm.
and Procedural History
In 1996, McMahel and Deaton met and Deaton moved into
McMahel's house on Hudleson Street in Paoli, Indiana.
McMahel and Deaton had one child together born in April 1998.
McMahel and Deaton's relationship ended in February 2014.
On March 20, 2014, Deaton filed a Complaint for Partition
and/or Unjust Enrichment alleging she and McMahel resided
together for a number of years, they have one child together,
they had a joint bank account until September 2013, they
acquired property together including real property and
vehicles, and requesting an equitable distribution of the
property. McMahel filed a counterclaim for trespass and
On August 20, 2015, the court held a hearing at which the
parties presented testimony and documentary evidence. Deaton
called McMahel as a witness and asked when he and Deaton
began residing together, and McMahel replied that "[t]o
be honest from April 9th she would not leave, " that
"I never asked her to come to my home, ever, " and
that "[s]he never left." Transcript at 49. McMahel
testified that Deaton moved around, and when asked how often
she left, he replied "[a]t least half the time but would
not stay gone. She would come back." Id. at 51.
When asked when Deaton's name was added to his account at
Hoosier Hills Credit Union, McMahel replied he did not know
the exact date but probably 2008 or 2009. When asked how long
he was in a relationship with Deaton, McMahel replied
"[p]robably never, " and when asked what he called
it, he answered "[a] mistake." Id. at 53.
McMahel testified that he worked for Essex, the plant closed
in 2003, he received a severance, he was unemployed for one
year and received unemployment benefits, and that he worked
for Production Heating and Cooling from 2004 until 2009, when
he became disabled. He testified that he purchased a home on
Sandyhook Road at an auction in 2002 and the closing occurred
in 2003, that Deaton was present during the auction, and that
they probably discussed the purchase but did not discuss the
Deaton testified that she was in a relationship with McMahel
from April 1996 until February 2014 and that they resided
together during that time. She testified they did everything
as a family, made purchases together, and took vacations. She
stated that, when she first moved in with McMahel, he was
living on Hudleson Street and that he had purchased the
residence the previous month, that their son was born in
1998, and that she, McMahel, and their son moved to the
Sandyhook Road residence. She also testified that, around
Christmas time of 1997 or 1998, she and McMahel purchased a
living room suite and that her sister co-signed a loan to
help McMahel establish his credit after he filed for
bankruptcy. She also testified that she and McMahel purchased
a truck that he drove and a car as her main transportation
and that they made these decisions together.
With respect to her earnings, Deaton testified that she began
working at Hoosier Uplands in August of 1998, her salary in
2000 was about $14, 000 and gradually increased, and that she
earned just under $19, 000 in 2013. She stated that she
worked from August through May, was off in the summers,
received unemployment benefits, and that her income was
deposited into the joint account with McMahel. When asked
when the joint account was created, Deaton responded that
McMahel already had the account in his name and then they
added her name and that she was "pretty sure" that
occurred before her son was born. Id. at 69. The
court admitted into evidence certain tax and employment
documents showing that Deaton earned wages of approximately
$2, 919 in 1998; $13, 719 in 2000; $14, 261 in 2001; $15, 637
in 2002; $18, 131 in 2003; $15, 990 in 2004, $16, 403 in
2005; $18, 263 in 2006; $17, 053 in 2007; $18, 870 in 2011;
$15, 727 in 2012; and $18, 755 in 2013.
Deaton presented bank statements of McMahel and Deaton from
Hoosier Hills Credit Union for July of 2005 through July of
2013, into which the parties made deposits and later direct
deposits from Hoosier Uplands and social security. Deaton
testified that she and McMahel paid all of the bills and made
all of their purchases from the checking account, including
utilities, household items, groceries, insurance, and medical
expenses. She also testified that the money for purchasing
vehicles and four-wheelers came from the joint account and
that the only debt was the home mortgage.
Deaton also presented an itemized list of assets showing a
value for each based upon an appraisal, statement, guide, or
personal belief, including a house, Deaton's 401(k),
McMahel's IRA and savings, a 1996 Chevy, a Subaru
Tribeca,  a 2009 Harley Davidson, an ATV, a Genesis
Boat, a 1998 Suzuki dirt bike, a 2001 Honda EX, two
4-wheelers, two trailers, a golf cart, and two riding mowers.
She presented print-outs of guides from the National
Automobile Dealers Association regarding the value of the
1996 Chevy, the Subaru, the 2009 Harley Davidson, the ATV,
the 1998 Suzuki, one of the 4-wheelers, and the 2001 Honda.
Deaton also presented Hoosier Hills bank statements for 2014,
and the statement for the period of February 1, 2014, through
February 28, 2014, the month in which the parties'
relationship ended, showed an IRA with a previous balance of
$13, 671.58, and a mortgage loan with a previous balance of
$8, 300.21. Deaton testified that McMahel had her name taken
off of the account near the end of 2013.
Deaton further testified that McMahel opened the IRA in 2003
and had rolled over funds from a 401(k) into the IRA. When
asked if the IRA had about seven thousand dollars at the
time, she answered that she was unsure. She also stated
that she worked for Hoosier Uplands for several years before
she signed up for her retirement account and that she started
working there after she began her relationship with McMahel.
She presented a statement from her 401(k) showing it had a
value of $28, 521.37 on January 1, 2014. She presented an
appraisal report dated March 23, 2015, for the residence on
Sandyhook Road which stated that the value by a sales
comparison approach was $105, 000.
Deaton testified that she owned some property together with
her sister that they had received from their parents, that
likewise McMahel owned some property with his father, there
were no joint efforts to acquire them, and those properties
should be set aside. She testified that $4, 100 was spent
from her joint account with McMahel toward the construction
of a garage on the property owned by McMahel and his father
but that she was not including that in her list of assets to
be divided. She testified that McMahel's earnings were
probably higher than her earnings, that she kept the home,
she was the person who cleaned the gutters, painted the
house, cleaned the toilets, and cooked, and that she was
their son's primary caretaker.
McMahel presented evidence that he received proceeds of $7,
333.34 from the sale of real estate in October 2002 and
testified that he had "sold ten (10) acres of [his]
grandpa's property that actually paid for the down
payment" on the Sandyhook Road property. Id. at
130. He testified that he took a mortgage with Hoosier Hills
to finance the remaining portion of the purchase price and
presented a mortgage dated February 7, 2013, identifying him
as the borrower and securing a promissory note in favor of
Hoosier Hills in the original amount of $59,
He also testified that he gave a cashier's check of $20,
900 to a car dealership when the Subaru was purchased and
that he received the money from back pay for
disability. He testified that he received disability
benefits of $1, 630 per month, and that he earned around $40,
000 per year when he worked for Essex, that he earned about
$65, 000 per year at Production Heating and Cooling, and that
in his final year of working he earned $67, 500
"counting everything." Id. at 146. With
respect to the IRA, McMahel testified that he had "an
account with Essex before [Deaton], " id. at
147, that he transferred the funds to an IRA after his
employment with Essex ended, and that he has not contributed
to the IRA since then. On cross-examination, McMahel indicated
that the mortgage payments were made from the Hoosier Hills
account, and that his salary of $67, 500 included his
vehicle, that he was hired at a rate of around $16.75 per
hour, and that he received a commission check as well.
Following the hearing, the parties submitted proposed
findings of fact and conclusions, and on December 11, 2015,
the court entered its findings and conclusions, awarded
certain property to Deaton, and ordered McMahel to pay Deaton
the sum of $13, 102.30. The court's findings of fact and
conclusions state in part:
1. There is agreement, by the Parties, that they met in April
of 1996, and entered into a relationship. They began living
together (co-habitation) almost immediately. They resided
together, in the house owned by Mr. McMahel.
** * * *
4. Plaintiff Deaton, during the term of co-habitation earned
from $13, 000 to $18, 000 per year. Her work was irregular
and sometimes seasonal, depending on the needs of services
provided by Hoosier Uplands . . . .
Defendant McMahel, during the tenure of the relationship
earned from his employment $40, 000 to $67, 000 per year. His
employment options and opportunities are severely limited due
to complications arising from multiple sclerosis. He now
receives disability benefits of (approximately) $1, 600 per
** * * *
6. However the Parties choose to define their physical and
psychological relationship they lived in at least two
residences together, they purchased vehicles, furniture and
residential accouterments and they became parents to a son.
7. Factually, the Parties presented a family unit. They
shared a home, they parented a child, they purchased vehicles
and they traveled together.
8. At some point in time (the exact time is in dispute) the
parties began to comingle their assets. They established and
maintained a joint checking account. Ms. Deaton claims that
arrangement began in 1997. Mr. McMahel estimates that
arrangement began some time around 2005. During this period
of their co-habitation there were assets purchased - some
jointly - some in ...