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HELEN TISDALE CRAFT v. WYATT EUGENE CRAFT

OCTOBER 02, 1985

HELEN TISDALE CRAFT
v.
WYATT EUGENE CRAFT



BEFORE PATTERSON, PRATHER AND SULLIVAN

SULLIVAN, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

These parties were divorced on September 14, 1977, on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. The divorce was granted by the Chancery Court of the First Judicial District of Hinds County, Mississippi.

The parties have three children: Steven, who was born April 11, 1962; Suzanne, born February 20, 1964, and Stacey, born December 9, 1969. The parties separated in November of 1976. In December of that year they began negotiations for a property settlement and support agreement. Unable to obtain Mr. Craft's business records, Mrs. Craft filed a bill for discovery in the Chancery Court of Hinds County. A demurrer to this bill was sustained but Mrs. Craft was given time to plead over.

 In the interim, a property settlement agreement was reached and joint motion was made for the dismissal of the bill for discovery which was granted.

 Some two years later, Mr. Craft filed a petition to modify the decree, asking the chancery court to spell out his visitation rights with his daughter, Stacey. Thereupon, Mrs. Craft filed a cross-claim charging Mr. Craft with fraud in procuring the settlement agreement for the divorce. She further requested that she be awarded an additional property settlement and child support by an upward adjustment based upon the fraud. Mrs. Craft also sought attorney's fees in this action for $45,841.25.

 After the claim and cross-claim were filed Mrs. Craft filed a notice to take Mr. Craft's deposition and to produce documents and memoranda showing property interests and income. On April 23, 1981, Mr. Craft moved for a protective order. No order was entered on this motion, and Mr. Craft failed to appear at the deposition. Mrs. Craft then moved for sanctions, asking for among other things attorney's fees and expenses. The chancellor found that Mr. Craft did not seasonably move for a protective order nor did he attempt to procure a protective order from the court. He, therefore, ordered Mr. Craft to pay Mrs. Craft the sum of $3,224.45 in attorney's fees and expenses. The case then came on for trial and we include herein the chancellor's finding:

 On September 14, 1977, Helen Tisdale Craft and Wyatt Eugene Craft were granted a divorce by this Court. . . . This Final Decree provided inter alia that Mrs. Craft would have custody of the three minor children of the parties and that Mr. Craft would have

 reasonable rights of visitation. It was also provided that Mr. Craft would pay to Mrs. Craft $500.00 per child per month for each of the three children of the parties. He was also to pay for their education and automobiles under certain conditions. Mrs. Craft received all of the furniture with a few exceptions. Mrs. Craft had, prior to the settlement, received a house and lot, certain royalty interest, a 1976 Cadillac automobile, and a 50% interest in another home. . . . Mrs. Craft also received the sum of $205,000.00 as a cash settlement. Mr. Craft was to pay $100.00 per child per month to an educational fund for said children.

 Some twenty-seven months after the Divorce Decree was entered, Mr. Craft filed a Petition to Modify. . . .

 Mrs. Craft responded, . . ., and made her Answer a Cross Bill. . . . She alleged that the" Property Settlement and Child Custody Agreement "incorporated as a part of the Final Decree was inequitable. She asserted that Mr. Craft fraudulently concealed his assets from her and misrepresented his financial status.

 . . .

 Mrs. Craft testified that the parties married in 1958. She worked until the spring of 1962 and helped to pay their joint bills. She and Mr. Craft filed joint tax returns although she stated she knew little about his business or income. On February 15, 1977, she filed a Bill of Complainant for Bill of Discovery in an effort to gain knowledge of the worth of Mr. Craft. On joint motion, this cause was dismissed with prejudice by Decree dated May 16, 1977.

 Mrs. Craft has a beauty shop from which she receives about $500.00 per month. This together with interest payments, oil royalty, and other income gave her a total of some $35,441.82 as income for 1981.

 Mr. Craft has increased the $500.00

 per month payment for the two girls to $600.00 making a total of $1,200.00 per month. Mrs. Craft says that the expenses for Susan, age 18, is $1,226.00 per month and Stacey, age 12, $913.00 per month.

 . . .

 Mrs. Craft said that she sold one house for $80,000.00 and purchased a home for $199,000.00. She sold the other house referred to above for a net of $9,000.00. She has a Certificate of Deposit for $100,000.00. She never made any complaint about the agreement until Mr. Craft filed the Petition to Modify.

 . . .

 . . . Kent Stribling, who has represented Mrs. Craft in the divorce action, and . . . Sam Scott, who represented Mr. Craft in the divorce action and discovery action, testified. . . . Suffice it to say, there was a good faith effort by the attorneys to reach the settlement. Mr. Scott stated that the first time he heard of the offer of $205,000.00 was when Mr. Stribling sent it to him.

 Mr. Craft testified that Mrs. Craft would not let Stacey visit with him at his home or stay overnight with him. . . .

 He further testified that he started making enough money in 1961 to support both of them, that by 1974 he had become a wealthy man and by 1981 had an annual income of about One Million Dollars. He stated that Mrs. Craft knew about his business during their eighteen years of marriage, that she signed the joint tax returns, and that they had a meeting of the minds with reference to the settlement and that the attorneys for each approved same. He further stated the $205,000.00 figure was what she asked for as a settlement.

 Mr. Craft testified that he paid dental bills, medical bills, and auto expenses and many other bills over and above the $1,000.00 per month child support. He stated that he

 had no objection to an increase in the child support so long as it was a benefit to his children.

 Mr. Wilbur Howie, a Certified Public Accountant, was called as a witness by Mrs. Craft. Mr. Howie had examined the tax returns of Mr. Craft. These returns showed a net income of $442,351.00 in 1977, $291,000.00 in 1978, $190,335 in 1979, $350,256.00 in 1980, and $864,396.00 in 1981. Mr. Howie stated that the returns were proper in the way they had been prepared and that Mrs. Craft could have obtained the tax returns before the Divorce.

 . . .

 . . . The paramount question in this case is the prayer of Mrs. Craft that this Court award her a decree of not less than an additional $795,000.00 as a property settlement.

 . . .

 It is apparent to this Court that the parties by the Divorce and Property Settlement intended to settle once and for all all property questions existing between them. They were represented by experienced attorneys who worked out the agreement over a period of several months. Mrs. Craft testified, at the time of the divorce, that she thought the settlement was fair. She executed the agreement and it was approved by her attorney. It is the opinion of this Court that there was no fraud involved on the part of Mr. Craft and that the prayer of Mrs. Craft for additional settlement funds be denied.

 Based upon these findings, the chancellor ordered the appellee to increase Stacey's child support payments to $900 per month, and awarded ...


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