Before Thomas, P.j., Coleman, And Hinkebein, JJ.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Coleman, J., For The Court:
DATE OF JUDGMENT: 04/02/96
TRIAL JUDGE: HON. JANE R. WEATHERSBY
COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: WASHINGTON COUNTY CHANCERY COURT
NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - DOMESTIC RELATIONS
TRIAL COURT DISPOSITION: DENIED DECREASE IN ALIMONY AND
AWARDED ATTORNEY'S FEES OF $8,057 TO LOTTIE GRICE.
¶1. Jimmy F. Grice appeals from an order rendered by the Chancery Court of Washington County by which that court denied his petition to reduce or terminate alimony payments to his former wife, Lottie Louise Grice, appellee, but ordered him to pay her attorney's fee in the amount of $7,000 plus expenses in the amount of $1,057. Mr. Grice presents to this Court for its review and resolution the following four issues, which we quote verbatim from his brief:
I. WHETHER OR NOT THE CHANCELLOR COMMITTED MANIFEST ERROR IN REFUSING TO REDUCE JIMMY'S ALIMONY OBLIGATIONS?
II. WHETHER OR NOT THE CHANCELLOR COMMITTED MANIFEST ERROR IN FINDING THAT LOUISE GRICE'S MONTHLY LIVING EXPENSES WERE APPROXIMATELY $2,045.00 PER MONTH?
III. WHETHER OR NOT THE CHANCELLOR COMMITTED ERROR IN AWARDING LOUISE $8,057.00 FOR HER ATTORNEY'S FEES AND EXPENSES?
IV. WHETHER THE CHANCELLOR ERRED WHEN SHE REQUIRED THE APPELLANT TO PAY THE EXPENSES OF THE APPELLEE'S AMENDED DESIGNATIONS?
This Court resolves all four issues adversely to Mr. Grice and affirms the order of the Washington County Chancery Court.
¶2. Jimmy F. Grice, appellant, and Lottie Louise Grice, appellee, married on September 4, 1964. One child, Jimmy F. Grice, Jr., was born of their marriage on October 18, 1967. In 1979, Mr. Grice began a commercial seining operation for farmers who were just beginning the commercial production of catfish in the Mississippi Delta. His then-wife, Louise Grice, participated in the operation and management of the seining business as her husband's bookkeeper. Mr. Grice's seining business operated two crews, each of which was composed of one foreman and four workers.
¶3. Ms. Grice had been married once previously to Andrew Suber. Four children, George, Bobby, Glenda, and Danny, were born of that marriage. Bobby Suber, a recipient of Social Security disability benefits, lived with Ms. Grice. Ms. Grice's brother, Joe Johnston, a recipient of Supplemental Security disability benefits, lived either with Ms. Grice or with Ms. Grice's sister, Varine Stroad. In the past, other members of Ms. Grice's family, including her daughter, Glenda Bennett, and Ms. Bennett's two children also lived with her.
¶4. After the chancery court awarded Ms. Grice a divorce from Mr. Grice on January 9,1987, Mr. Grice married his present wife, Freida Grice, in February of 1987. In 1991, Freida Grice purchased the equipment used in her husband's seining business from her husband and incorporated the business as Grice Seining, Inc. Freida Grice had a daughter, Jacqueline Drake Grice, by her previous marriage. Mr. Grice adopted Jacqueline, who was attending Mississippi State University when this case was tried.
¶5. Mr. and Ms. Grice separated in February of 1986, and Ms. Grice filed for divorce on April 10, 1986. On January 9, 1987, the Washington County Chancery Court issued a "Ruling of the Court" by which it awarded a divorce to Ms. Grice on the ground of cruel and inhuman treatment. The chancellor awarded Ms. Grice custody of the couple's minor child, Jimmy Grice, Jr., and use of the marital home until June 1, 1987, after which the house would be subject to partition at the request of either party. Child support was not awarded as Jimmy was working for his father's business, for which Mr. Grice paid him $180 per week. The Court awarded Ms. Grice periodic alimony in the amount of $1,000 until May 1997 when that amount would be reduced to $750 per month. The chancellor also awarded Ms. Grice attorney's fees in the amount of $1,000.
¶6. In an order rendered on July 26, 1989, the chancery court found that Mr. Grice had failed to pay Ms. Grice the $1,000 in attorney's fees previously awarded and awarded her a judgment "for said sum" against Mr. Grice. Next, the chancellor found that there had been a material change in Ms. Grice's circumstances because Ms. Grice's physical condition had deteriorated and thus diminished her present ability to work. He further found that Ms. Grice's expenses had increased because of her deteriorating "physical and medical condition." Based on these findings, the chancellor increased Ms. Grice's award of periodic alimony to $1,500 per month from August 1, 1989, to February 1, 1990. Ms. Grice was then to submit a doctor's statement regarding her ability or inability to become employed. If the parties were unable to agree upon an amount of alimony, the chancellor's order stated that an immediate hearing would be held to determine the appropriate amount of alimony. Finally, the chancellor awarded Ms. Grice $750 in attorney's fees.
¶7. On April 30, 1990, the Grices were before the chancery court once again - this time to address Ms. Grice's petition to the court to extend alimony payments. The court found "[t]hat Ms. Grice [was] unable to have surgery at [that] time due to her heart condition." As a result, the chancellor awarded Ms. Grice periodic alimony in the amount of $2,000 per month beginning May 1, 1990, for a period of three months, after which it was to be reduced to $1,500 per month. The court further "direct[ed] that from the sale of any of her real estate, Louise Grice use the proceeds to retire [her] debt to the Bank of Hollandale and direct[ed] any sums remaining after retiring [Ms. Grice's] debt to the Bank of Hollandale to be paid to her other creditors." The chancellor also awarded Ms. Grice attorney's fees in the amount of $750. Mr. Grice has continued to pay his former wife permanent alimony at the rate of $1,500 per month.
¶8. On September 13, 1994, Mr. Grice filed a petition to terminate or reduce the monthly alimony of $1,500 which he had been paying Ms. Grice. He alleged that a substantial material change in circumstances had occurred because "as a result of deteriorating health, [he had] been forced to cease his active role in his seining business [and] [t]hat as a necessary result thereof, he ha[d] had a reduction in his monthly and yearly income." Mr. Grice further alleged that his former wife, Louise Grice, had "never attempted to obtain any gainful employment." Mr. Grice denied that Ms. Grice was medically disabled from obtaining gainful employment. As yet another material change in circumstance, Mr. Grice asserted that his former wife had "experienced an increase in her assets and financial ability to support herself."
¶9. After Ms. Grice filed her answer and cross-motion for increase in alimony payments, to which Mr. Grice responded by filing a first amended petition to terminate or reduce periodic alimony payments, the chancellor conducted a two-day hearing on the issues which the Grices had raised. We reserve our review of the testimony and evidence which the Grices adduced during this hearing for our analysis and resolution of Mr. Grice's four issues. After the hearing concluded, the chancellor recessed court so that she might review the extensive exhibits and prepare to deliver her opinion from the bench. Again, we reserve further recitation of her findings of fact for our consideration of Mr. Grice's four issues. Pursuant to the chancellor's ruling from the bench, she entered an order in which she: (1) denied Mr. Grice's petition and first amended petition to reduce or terminate his payment of alimony to Louise Grice, (2) awarded Louise Grice her attorney's fee in the amount of $7,000 and his expenses in the amount of $1,057, and (3) deemed her bench ruling which she attached to the order "to be this Court's findings of fact and Conclusions of law as were requested by Mr. Grice in his [Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a)] request."
¶10. Jimmy Grice designated parts of the record as necessary to be included in the appeal pursuant to Rule of Appellate Procedure 10(b)(1), and as Rule of Appellate Procedure 10(b)(4) requires, Mr. Grice filed his declaration of issues to present on appeal. *fn1 Counsel for Ms. Grice responded by designating all exhibits introduced into evidence by either party. As a result, Mr. Grice received an additional estimate of cost for including all the exhibits in the amount of $1,466. The original estimate of cost had been $1,099. Counsel for Mr. Grice filed an "appellant's application to trial court for order requiring appellee to pay expense of additional designations," but the chancellor denied Mr. Grice's application by entering an order that "[t]he Appellant shall pay the expense of the Appellee's additional designations." The additional exhibits which Ms. Grice designated for inclusion in the report were all the Grices' personal income tax returns and the corporate income tax returns for Jimmy Grice Seining, Inc., for the years 1989 through 1995, medical records from Dr. Ben Folk on Louise Grice, a handwritten list of Ms. Grice's medications to which she testified during the trial, and a collective exhibit of various bills which Ms. Grice owed.
II. REVIEW, ANALYSIS, AND RESOLUTION OF THE ISSUES
A. Mr. Grice's second issue
¶11. This court first reviews Mr. Grice's second issue because it is included within his first issue. Mr. Grice's second issue is whether "the chancellor committed manifest error" when she found "that Louise Grice's monthly living expenses were approximately $2,045.00 per month." In her bench ruling, the chancellor noted, "Her [Ms. Grice's] expenses according to her financial statement are approximately $2,045 per month." The chancellor found in the order which she rendered on April 2 pursuant to her bench ruling that "Louise Grice's expenses, according to her financial statement, are approximately $2,045.00 per month." (emphasis added). Mr. Grice attacks the chancellor's finding that Ms. Grice's living expenses were "approximately $2,045.00 per month" on three fronts: (1) Ms. Grice's debt owed to Bank of Hollandale, (2) her exaggeration of her monthly medical expenses based upon the amounts of her pharmaceutical bills introduced into evidence, and (3) her son, brother, daughter, and other family members from her first marriage to Andrew Suber lived in her home and thus paid their share of Ms. Grice's living expense, for which she failed to account in her financial statement required by Rule 8.05 of the Uniform Chancery Court Rules. The yarn with which Mr. Grice weaves his attacks together is Ms. Grice's paying all of her bills in cash because she elected not to maintain a checking account in any bank.
¶12. Even if the chancellor's finding that Ms. Grice's living expenses were "approximately $2,045.00 per month" was manifestly wrong because it was not supported by substantial evidence, Mr. Grice fails to explain the impact of this specific actual error on the chancellor's dismissal of his petition and first amended petition to modify or to reduce his payment of alimony to Ms. Grice.
¶13. Ms. Grice counters Mr. Grice's argument about her debt owed Bank of Hollandale, which we will subsequently review, by pointing out that two of her four monthly payments to the bank were never included in her Rule 8.05 financial statement but were instead reported against her income which she realized from the rental and sale of portions of her land. About her Suber family members who were living with her, Ms. Grice emphasizes that she testified that her monthly living expense of $2,045 represented only her share of the household expense and that the Social Security benefits which her brother received and the Supplemental Security Income benefits which her son received were used to support them and to pay their share of Ms. Grice's household expenses. Ms. Grice does not respond to Mr. Grice's criticism of her monthly medical expense. Before this Court reviews Mr. Grice's three base's of attack upon the chancellor's finding that ...