DATE OF JUDGMENT: 08/28/96 TRIAL JUDGE: HON. JOHN C. ROSS JR. COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: ALCORN COUNTY CHANCERY COURT
Before Thomas, P.j., Coleman, And Hinkebein, JJ.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hinkebein, J., For The Court:
NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - DOMESTIC RELATIONS
TRIAL COURT DISPOSITION: DIVORCE ON GROUNDS OF CRUEL AND INHUMAN TREATMENT GRANTED TO REBECCA, CUSTODY TO REBECCA, NO CHILD SUPPORT
DISPOSITION AFFIRMED IN PART REVERSED IN PART
MOTION FOR REHEARING FILED:
¶1. William Rakestraw brings this appeal from the Alcorn County Chancery Court's judgment of divorce entered against him and in favor of his wife of 25 years, Rebecca Rakestraw. The sole basis for his appeal is that the chancellor erred in awarding the divorce in favor of Mrs. Rakestraw on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment. Mrs. Rakestraw cross-appeals, characterizing the chancellor's failure to require that her husband pay support for the benefit of the couple's three minor children as an unacceptable deviation from statutory guidelines.
¶2. William and Rebecca were married on June 25, 1972. Taking only the verifiable portions of Rebecca's trial testimony into consideration, difficulties apparently arose shortly thereafter. By his own admission, William held upwards of thirty-five separate jobs over the course of the relationship. Few of these money-making ventures allowed William to contribute in any significant way to his growing family's financial needs. Worse yet, due to an apparent lack of initiative on William's part, this frequent "job-hopping" was punctuated with lengthy periods of unemployment. Adding to the adversity, William, against Rebecca's wishes, brought his mentally ill brother to live with the family upon his release from the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield. Since her modest teacher's salary failed to provide sufficient funds to support the entire group, Rebecca and her children were often left to survive without what would seem to be necessities in this day and age. For example, when the older appliances in her home ceased working, she managed to sustain the family for nearly a year without the aid of either a refrigerator or stove. After Rebecca's sympathetic relatives finally purchased these units, William became upset with what he considered their interference and left the premises while the items were unloaded.
¶3. William's neglect touched other aspects of the marriage as well. Beyond the lack of monetary aid and resulting hardships, William refused entirely to assist with household chores. As Rebecca's sister recalled at trial, even during the earliest days of the marriage, "if Becky and Bill came in to visit . . . she brought in the luggage, she brought in the babies, she took care of everything." Without belaboring the details of each occasion on which he exhibited such neglect, suffice it to say that this pattern apparently continued for the next two and a half decades. Moreover, the exterior of the family home, which Rebecca left to William's care, remained in a constant state of clutter and disrepair according to all accounts. During these years William also withheld emotional support from Rebecca as well as their daughters. His indifference can be most clearly identified in an unwavering refusal to attend functions such as holiday gatherings and childhood recitals/programs. The most glaring examples of this non-attentiveness are William's unexplained failure to appear at either his wife's college graduation or his oldest daughter Lydia's high school graduation ceremonies.
¶4. William's familial role was not entirely passive, though. He frequently belittled Rebecca before family and friends by referring to her as "stupid" or "ignorant." While Rebecca admitted to occasionally returning these insults, his unkind behavior extended beyond mere bickering. Although there is no confirmation that he ever struck his wife, William was prone to throwing household items about during what might best be described as temper tantrums. And his hostility was directed at the entire family, not merely his wife. During one of these episodes he questioned the paternity of the youngest daughter. In the midst of another, he accused the oldest child of causing his marriage to deteriorate.
¶5. In July of 1995, the deaths of their parents left Rebecca and her sister as joint owners of the home in which they had grown up. Rebecca saw a previously unimaginable opportunity to become a homeowner, thereby ending the constant threat of eviction which had long plagued her family. After the two siblings arrived at a workable and mutually agreeable method by which her sister's one-half interest in the home might be purchased, Rebecca and her children moved in. But, for unknown reasons, William remained behind. Apparently the choice was his own, as Rebecca repeatedly asked that he join the family. In fact, during the next several months she invited him into the home on numerous occasions for the purpose, among other things, of engaging in sexual relations. But with the altered perspective gained from the additional distance between them, ...