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RAY WILSON SHEARER v. PATSY SUE SHEARER

FEBRUARY 22, 1989

RAY WILSON SHEARER
v.
PATSY SUE SHEARER



BEFORE DAN M. LEE, P.J.; ROBERTSON AND ZUCCARO, JJ.

ROBERTSON, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

I.

This is an appeal from a Chancery Court order first reducing to judgment a substantial arrearage in alimony payments and, then, reducing, but not eliminating, the ex-husband's permanent alimony obligation. All of this follows by some two years a prior agreed order setting total arrearages in the ex-husband's obligations at that time at $32,000.00.

 The case has potential for making scientific history, for the ex-wife's substantive success would be the first time to our knowledge anyone has extracted blood from a turnip. We consider the ex-husband's appeal by more mundane legal principles which decree that we grant him but modest relief.

 II.

 Ray Wilson Shearer, Jr. (Ray) and Patsy Sue Shearer (Sue) were married on June 2, 1961, in Jones County. Pursuant to the provisions of a final judgment entered August 6, 1982, in the Chancery Court of Simpson County, Mississippi, the parties were granted a divorce on grounds of irreconcilable differences. Miss. Code Ann. 93-5-2 (Supp.1988).

 Under the provisions of a "Child Custody and Property Settlement Agreement" , which the Chancery Court incorporated into its final judgment, Sue was granted custody of the only child of the marriage unemancipated at the time. In addition, the settlement agreement specified that Ray was to pay the following items: $500.00 per month as child support; all medical expenses of the child; $1,100.00 per month alimony; all of Sue's medical and hospitalization insurance and costs; the mortgage on their home; and the premiums of a life insurance policy naming Sue as beneficiary.

 Ray earns his livelihood as an independent contractor and drilling consultant in the oil industry. Due to the recession in that industry, Ray's income has dropped precipitously - from a high net income of $72,619.00 in 1982 dropping to $14,648.00 in 1985 and to a low of $12,695.00 in 1986; hence, Ray's resemblance of a financial turnip. Ray has been unable to fulfill his obligations under the 1982 settlement agreement. Sue has filed numerous motions for citations of contempt against Ray.

 On February 25, 1985, the parties entered into an agreed order setting the total arrearages in alimony and child support at $32,000.00 and reducing it to judgment. In that

 agreed order, Ray promised to pay $2,000.00 to Sue immediately and $1,000.00 every month up to and including September, 1985.

 Ray paid the $2,000.00 and paid $1,000.00 per month pursuant to the order, missing only the July and September payments. During this time, however, further alimony payments came due and went unpaid. On July 11, 1985, after the marriage of his daughter, Ray petitioned the Court to modify the final judgment of divorce regarding his future obligations. On July 15, 1985, the Court issued an order granting the modification and setting the alimony at $1,500.00 per month beginning with the July payment.

 The next skirmish between the parties, and the subject of this appeal, occurred one year later. On July 21, 1986, Sue moved that Ray be cited for contempt for his failure to pay the modified alimony. Ray responded with another motion to modify the final judgment of divorce, asking the Court to terminate his alimony obligation on the ground that Sue was self-sufficient.

 The case was set for a hearing on February 23, 1987, in the Simpson County Chancery Court. At the hearing Sue sought to establish that the alimony falling due after the entry of the February 25, 1985, order amounted to $41,940.00. ("These figures start March, 1985, and come through today.") The parties agreed that the disposition of the motion for contempt before the Court would not disturb the February, 1985, order reducing to judgment arrearages amounting to $32,000.00. At the conclusion of the hearing the Court ruled on the two motions before it. As to the Motion for Citation for Contempt, the Court determined that Ray was not in contempt because of his demonstrated inability to pay. The Court did, however, enter ...


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