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Houston v. Houston

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

September 10, 2013

Kellye Meek HOUSTON, Appellant
v.
Brockman Mason HOUSTON, Appellee.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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William R. Wright, Jackson, Trhesa Barksdale Patterson, Amanda Jane Proctor, attorneys for appellant.

Kay Farese Turner, Madeline Luckett Nolan, attorneys for appellee.

Before GRIFFIS, P.J., ROBERTS, MAXWELL and FAIR, JJ.

ROBERTS, J.

¶ 1. Kellye Meek Houston divorced Brock Houston due to Brock's uncondoned adultery. The Lafayette County Chancery Court awarded Brock custody of the couple's two minor children, and ordered Kellye to pay Brock $600 per month in child support. Based on the chancellor's equitable distribution of the marital estate and Kellye's substantial separate estate, the chancellor denied Kellye's request for alimony. Kellye appeals and claims the chancellor should have awarded her alimony. Kellye further claims the chancellor erred by ordering her to pay Brock $600 per month in child support. Finally, Kellye claims the chancellor should have ordered Brock to pay for the two minor children's college expenses. Finding no error, we affirm.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶ 2. Kellye and Brock were married in December 1987. Shortly after they married, Brock enlisted in the United States Air Force, where he was trained as a pilot. In 1989, Kellye and Brock had a daughter, Hillary. A few months after Hillary's first birthday, Kellye was injured in a serious car accident. Among other injuries, she broke her jaw and one of her ankles. Despite Kellye's injuries, Kellye and Brock added to their family. Their oldest son, Jake, was born in 1991. In 1998, they had another son, John Hale.

¶ 3. In 1995, FedEx hired Brock as a pilot. Brock's earnings substantially increased. Brock flew out of Memphis, Tennessee, which is within driving distance of the marital home in Oxford, Mississippi. Since 1995, Brock has consistently worked for FedEx.

¶ 4. Kellye's parents, Ed and Becky Meek, were frequently discussed throughout

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the divorce proceedings. The Meeks consistently provided a substantial amount of supplemental income to Kellye and Brock's family. Conservatively, the Meeks gave Kellye between $2,000 and $4,000 per month. The Meeks provided financial assistance when Kellye and Brock bought the marital home. The Meeks also bought all of Kellye and Brock's children's clothes from the time the children were born. Later, the Meeks bought a vehicle for Jake and paid for Jake to attend boarding school in upstate New York. Kellye's 2002 Toyota Land Cruiser was a gift from her parents. The Meeks also paid for numerous trips for the entire Houston family. Additionally, Kellye was able to rely on her parents for any supplemental financial assistance that she needed. The Meeks also established seven trusts that benefit either Kellye or Kellye and Brock's children. Suffice it to say that it is undisputed that the Meeks' financial assistance allowed Kellye and Brock's family to live a lifestyle that they would have otherwise been unable to afford.

¶ 5. Kellye's work history is limited. As of 2009, Kellye was within thirty-five hours of obtaining a bachelor's degree. Sometime prior to 2000, Kellye's father hired her to work as an administrative assistant at his publishing company in Oxford. Although the record does not specify when Kellye began working for her father, she stopped working for him sometime during 2000, after she and he argued.

¶ 6. Over time, Kellye began experiencing greater jaw pain due to the injuries that she sustained in the 1990 car accident. According to Kellye, the pain left her unable to adequately care for the children. Because of Kellye's inability to care for the children and Brock's schedule as a pilot, their children began to spend significant time with the Meeks. During 2001, John Hale began living with the Meeks.[1] Between 2003 and 2005, Kellye had numerous surgeries to repair her jaw. Ultimately, both of Kellye's temporomandibular joints were replaced.

¶ 7. As time passed, Kellye and Brock's relationship deteriorated. In late 2007 or early 2008, Brock had an affair that was characterized as a " one-night stand." Kellye confronted Brock after she heard a rumor that he had been unfaithful to her. Brock confessed, and Kellye asked him to leave the marital home. Brock complied. Although Kellye later asked Brock to return to the marital home, Brock refused to do so.

¶ 8. Kellye told her parents that she could not continue to live in the marital home. Consequently, Kellye moved out of the marital home. Kellye's mother, Becky, bought a house for Kellye. At the time of the trial, Kellye was living in the house that her mother bought for her. Brock had moved into a loft apartment in a barn that was located on property that he and his siblings had inherited from his family. Meanwhile, the marital home remained empty. Hillary lived in her own apartment while she attended college at the University of Mississippi. Jake was in boarding school in upstate New York. And John Hale continued to live with the Meeks.

¶ 9. In September 2008, Brock filed a complaint for divorce based on habitual cruel and inhuman treatment or, alternatively, irreconcilable differences. Kellye filed a counter-complaint for divorce based on Brock's uncondoned adultery. Kellye and Brock both requested physical custody of the children. In November 2009, they went to trial.[2] Over the course of four

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days, the chancellor heard testimony from Brock, Kellye, and Kellye's mother, Becky. Additionally, Brock and Kellye each called expert witnesses to testify regarding the trusts that the Meeks established for Kellye and the couple's three children.

¶ 10. Ultimately, the chancellor granted Kellye's request for a divorce based on Brock's uncondoned adultery, which Brock admitted during his testimony. By the time the chancellor entered her judgment, Hillary had reached the age of majority. The chancellor awarded Brock physical custody of Jake and John Hale. Additionally, the chancellor ordered Kellye to pay Brock $600 per month in child support. Based on Kellye's separate estate and the division of the marital estate, the chancellor denied Kellye's request for periodic or rehabilitative alimony. Kellye appeals.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶ 11. An appellate court will not disturb a chancellor's findings of fact when those findings are supported by substantial evidence unless the chancellor abused her discretion, was manifestly wrong, or the chancellor applied an erroneous legal standard. Rogillio v. Rogillio, 101 So.3d 150, 153 (¶ 11) (Miss.2012).

ANALYSIS

I. ALIMONY

¶ 12. Kellye claims the chancellor erred by declining to award alimony. " [T]he decision to award alimony is left to the discretion of the chancellor." Id. at 154 (¶ 18). " In the case of a claimed inadequacy or outright denial of alimony, we will interfere only where the decision is seen as so oppressive, unjust or grossly inadequate as to evidence an abuse of discretion." Id. at 153 (¶ 11).

¶ 13. " The purpose of alimony is not punitive, but instead, is designed to assist the spouse in meeting his or her reasonable needs while transitioning into a new life." Faerber v. Faerber, 13 So.3d 853, 863 (¶ 36) (Miss.Ct.App.2009) (quoting Holley v. Holley, 892 So.2d 183, 185 (¶ 7) (Miss.2004)). " Accordingly, the chancellor should consider alimony only after the equitable division of the marital property." Id. The chancellor awarded Kellye the following marital property: (1) two specified bank accounts and any other bank account in which she has an interest; (2) her two individual-retirement accounts; (3) one-half of Brock's two retirement accounts; (4) one-half of the net proceeds of the sale of the marital home; (5) one-half of the net sales proceeds from three rental properties; and (6) various items of personal property, including her 2002 Toyota Land Cruiser. Additionally, the chancellor ordered Brock to pay all of the marital debt. Kellye does not claim that the chancellor erred when she divided the marital estate. However, Kellye argues that the chancellor erred in valuing her separate estate based on the fact that she is the beneficiary of a " Generation-Skipping Trust" (GST).

¶ 14. Kellye and her sister are the beneficiaries of a trust that was characterized as a " Children's Trust." That trust owns a $4,500,000 life-insurance policy on the lives of Kellye's parents. Kellye notes that " [t]here was no testimony ... as to the cash value of that life[-]nsurance policy. Thus, there is no value that can be attributed to Kellye as a result of her being a beneficiary of the Children's Trust." However, there is no indication that the chancellor based Kellye's separate estate on the Children's Trust.

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¶ 15. Regarding the GST, Brock's expert witness, Joe M. Duncan, testified that Becky created the GST to provide Kellye with " sufficient income and principle to provide for her health, education, support, and welfare." Kellye's father is the trustee of the GST. Duncan went on to testify:

If [Kellye's father] determines that [Kellye's needs] ... are taken care of or satisfied, then the trust can be used for the benefit of [Kellye's children]. But the trust makes it clear that the interests of Kellye are ... to be considered paramount over any residuary beneficiary or any remainder beneficiary. In fact, the trustee is instructed or directed to make trust investments with Kellye in mind.

However, Kellye's expert witness, David V. Grisham, opined that Kellye's father is not obligated to release any of the trust funds to Kellye. Grisham noted that the language of the GST provided:

[T]his trust is not being created for the purpose of creating a disincentive for Kellye[ or Brock] to work and earn a living for themselves and their children, but is being created to provide for their needs, especially in the event that health problems should preclude one of them from being able to work, or in the event that health problems should cause them to need additional support and medical care because of their health situations.

¶ 16. Duncan and Grisham disagreed whether Kellye's father would be obligated to provide Kellye with funds from the GST in the event that Kellye reasonably needed money " for her health, education, support, and welfare." Duncan testified:

[I]f [Kellye] has a need that falls within the category of health, education, support[,] or maintenance, ... and [Kellye's father] says, " I'm ... just not going to give you any money[,]" ... chancery courts in Mississippi have the right to come in and oversee that discretionary standard to make sure that it is not exercised in an unreasonable manner.

But Grisham testified that Kellye's father has " total discretion" regarding whether to disburse funds from the GST, and Kellye has no right to withdraw from the GST or require that her father disburse any funds from it. Grisham also testified that " [i]t doesn't make any difference what other people extraneous to this document think about what the intentions were or that language that is used."

¶ 17. In any event, as of November 30, 2009, the corpus of the GST included a Morgan Keegan account with a balance of approximately $3,600,000 and a certificate of deposit worth approximately $244,000. During 2008, the GST generated approximately $370,000 in income. Tax returns indicated that the GST distributed approximately $460,000 in dividends during 2006, but Kellye testified that she had not received any distribution from the GST. It is unclear what happened to the 2006 dividends from the GST.

¶ 18. According to Kellye, although she is the primary beneficiary of the GST, " she may never receive any funds from it." Kellye notes that she received no money from the GST during the two years prior to the trial. Kellye reasons that the chancellor should not have included the GST when she calculated Kellye's separate estate. Alternatively, Kellye argues that the chancellor should have calculated the value of the GST more conservatively. According to Kellye, " the chancellor failed to recognize that Kellye's interests in the trusts are not worth the same as the trusts themselves." Kellye cites this ...


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