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Gardner v. Gardner

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

September 24, 2013

William GARDNER, Appellant/Cross-Appellee
v.
Teresa GARDNER, Appellee/Cross-Appellant.

Rehearing Denied Jan. 28, 2014.

Page 1163

Chuck McRae, attorney for appellant.

Danny E. Cupit, Jackson, attorney for appellee.

Page 1164

Before LEE, C.J., FAIR and JAMES, JJ.

LEE, C.J.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶ 1. Teresa and William Gardner married in 1987 and separated on December 15, 2007. Teresa filed for divorce on March 24, 2010, in the Hinds County Chancery Court, alleging habitual cruel and inhuman treatment, desertion, and irreconcilable differences. William filed a counterclaim seeking a divorce on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment. All grounds were subsequently dropped except the ground for desertion. After a trial, the chancellor granted Teresa a divorce on the ground of desertion. The chancellor divided the marital estate and ordered William to pay Teresa a total of $27,055.50. The chancellor denied both parties' requests for attorney's fees.

¶ 2. William appeals, asserting the following issues: (1) the chancellor erred in granting Teresa a divorce on the ground of desertion; (2) evidence was improperly admitted; (3) the chancellor erred in distributing marital assets; and (4) he was denied his right to a fair trial.

¶ 3. Teresa cross-appeals, asserting the chancellor erred: (1) in distributing the marital assets; (2) in the valuation of certain property; (3) in dividing the marital debt; and (4) by failing to award her attorney's fees.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶ 4. We afford chancellors much discretion in our review of domestic-relations cases. Steiner v. Steiner, 788 So.2d 771, 777 (¶ 18) (Miss.2001). This Court will not disturb a chancellor's findings unless they are manifestly wrong or clearly erroneous, or the chancellor applied an erroneous legal standard. Mizell v. Mizell, 708 So.2d 55, 59 (¶ 13) (Miss.1998).

DISCUSSION

I. DESERTION

¶ 5. In his first issue on appeal, William contends the chancellor erred in granting a divorce on the ground of desertion. Mississippi Code Annotated section 93-5-1 (Supp.2012) allows for a divorce on the ground of " [w]illful, continued and obstinate desertion for the space of one (1) year." William cites the following in support of his argument: Teresa opened her own checking account; Teresa testified she tried to reconcile; Teresa sold his tools and equipment; he picked his mail up at the marital home twice a month; he contributed money towards the couple's joint debts; and they filed a joint tax return for 2007.

¶ 6. The chancellor determined that William offered no testimony to contradict Teresa's assertion that William left the marital home on December 15, 2007, and failed to return or resume any marital duties. William also offered no proof that his failure to return to the home was Teresa's fault. The chancellor found William's contribution to the marital debt, including the house payment, " might well be otherwise expected in [William's] own financial self-interest in order to preserve such assets." Teresa testified she spoke on the phone frequently with William in an effort to persuade him to return to the marriage. Teresa also testified that William never entered the house to pick up his mail; ...


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