ROBERTSON, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:
This divorce action falls into a familiar pattern. The husband decreed divorced vigorously argues that his wife did not prove her grounds, not because he has the remotest thought of resuming a normal marital relationship but to undercut the financial provisions decreed for her benefit. The husband further challenges that he give his wife an equitable proportion of real property held in his name, this notwithstanding his wife's monetary and in kind economic contributions to the material success of the marriage.
Fred Milton Jones (Fred) and Eunice Rebecca Lucius Jones
(Becky) were married on December 24, 1954, in Webster County, Mississippi. The Jones have two daughters, Deeta Rebecca Jones Davis, born in 1959, and Lucia Lynn Jones, born in 1967. The couple permanently separated on May 24, 1983.
Fred Jones is now living in the family home in Pearl, Mississippi. Becky is living in Pensacola, Florida. Deeta Jones Davis is now married and living in Laurel, Mississippi, where she is employed as a chemist. Lucia Jones is a student at the University of Alabama.
Both Fred and Becky agree that the major point of friction in their marriage resulted from differences of philosophy regarding the upbringing of the daughters. Fred characterized himself as a "strict disciplinarian" and accused his wife of being "liberal" . Becky testified that Fred's displays of violence began in October 1980. As the result of some disagreement, he instructed Deeta, then a senior at Mississippi College, to leave home, take all of her belongings with her, and never return. At this time Fred also forbade Becky from attempting to see her daughter.
Becky testified that through 1981, Fred's displays of violence became more frequent and Becky began to surreptitiously tape-record the couple's arguments.
In June 1982, the couple separated for a period of three months. The couple reconciled and Becky returned to the home in Pearl in August 1982.
In October 1982, Fred and Becky had a disagreement over the disciplining of their daughter Lucia, then fifteen years old. A loud confrontation occurred at a local department store. Fred accused Lucia of being sexually promiscuous and accused his wife of condoning this promiscuity by arranging meetings for the young couple. Lucia refused to return home with her parents and was taken into the custody of the Mississippi Department of Welfare at that time. After hearings were conducted by the local Youth Court, Lucia was placed in the Vicksburg home of her uncle Ray Lucius. Becky testified that as a result of the incident with Lucia, Fred beat her with a belt. In his testimony Fred denied ever subjecting his wife to mental or physical abuse. In her rebuttal testimony, however, Becky introduced into evidence photographs taken of her by a neighbor after the October 1982 beating. The photographs reveal eight to ten silver dollar-sized bruises on Becky's thighs and buttocks.
Becky testified that after the October 1982 incident involving Lucia, Fred began to threaten her with a loaded gun.
She also stated that in December 1982, Fred forced her at gunpoint to take a car trip to a remote levee in Louisiana. According to her testimony, Fred told her that the purpose of the trip was to find an appropriate place to leave her body once he had shot her between the eyes. Becky offered to provide Fred with the tape recordings that she had made of their arguments if he would spare her life. These tapes were stored in a safety deposit box in a bank in nearby Vicksburg. While Fred was collecting the tapes from the safety deposit box, Becky alerted a bank employee and the police were called. Becky left with the police and entered the Catholic Home for Battered Women. Fred unequivocally denied that this event ever took place.
On January 3, 1983 Becky returned home at Fred's insistence and upon his reassurance that he would reform. Four months later, she decided to flee her home when on May 6, 1983, her husband placed two loaded shotguns on a table and demanded that they stand at opposite ends of the family room and have a western-style "shoot-out" . The winner of the "shoot-out" would take all of the property. The confrontation lasted until the early hours of the following morning. Fred denied that this event ever took place.
Becky stated that after this incident she began to make preparations for leaving Fred. She transferred funds from their joint checking account to an account she had opened at a Vicksburg bank and she rented an apartment in Vicksburg. Becky left the home on May 24, 1983, and has not returned. She filed for divorce two weeks after her departure. Becky stated that she moved to Pensacola in an effort to distance herself from Fred, who she fears may still try to harm her. Fred's testimony at trial was primarily composed of his observations made while conducting his own "surveillance" of Becky in Vicksburg and Pensacola.
At the time of the marriage in December of 1954, Fred had just returned from service in Korea and Becky worked as a billing clerk at a transport company. During the first years of their marriage Becky supported the couple while Fred attended high school and college with funds provided by the G.I. bill. Fred completed his education in 1958, receiving a degree in Business Administration.
During this time the Joneses purchased a number of vacant lots and developed a mobile home park. Also during this time the Joneses purchased their residence in Pearl, Mississippi. Becky testified that, apart from one business loan for the
mobile home park development and a V.A. mortgage for the residence, all of the money spent on the acquisition of these assets came from her earnings at the transport company. Becky ended her employment at the transport company two months before the birth of Deeta, the Joneses' eldest daughter. This occurred in 1959.
Soon after receiving his business degree in 1958, Fred went into business for himself developing real estate and building homes. Becky contributed to the family business with her secretarial and bookkeeping skills - typing deeds, keeping the books and financial records and verifying invoices.
In 1961, the couple purchased six acres in downtown Pearl, Mississippi. Fred was the sole grantee listed in the deed. On this land the Joneses developed "Jones Center" , a shopping center that has grown to include twenty-two separate buildings which are leased to various retail merchants. In 1983, Jones Center had an appraised value in excess of $700,000.00 and provided the Jones with over $5,000.00 per month in income from the leases.
By 1969 Fred and Becky had accumulated six to ten separate undeveloped tracts of land in addition to the shopping center. They held these lots as joint tenants. It was about this time that Fred was hospitalized for ninety days suffering from depression and seizures. By his own account, Fred had a "nervous breakdown" . Becky testified that after being released from the hospital, her husband was unable to carry on the business of managing the shopping center and she assumed those duties. Subsequent to his hospitalization Fred was ...