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Neville v. Blitz

Supreme Court of Mississippi

September 26, 2013

George Waddell NEVILLE
v.
Tina Foley (Neville) BLITZ.

Page 71

George W. Neville, Jackson, attorney for appellant.

Michael J. Malouf, attorney for appellee.

Before DICKINSON, P.J., PIERCE and COLEMAN, JJ.

COLEMAN, Justice.

¶ 1. George Neville filed a petition for modification of a final judgment of divorce seeking to have his ex-wife, Tina Blitz, pay their daughter's college expenses. The chancellor ordered the parties to divide the college expenses equally, after scholarships and a monthly housing stipend from the Post-9/11 GI Bill were deducted. George, who had assigned his Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to his daughter, appealed and asserted that the chancellor had erred by dividing the monthly housing stipend between Tina and himself.

Facts and Procedural History

¶ 2. George Neville and Tina Blitz divorced in 1996. Their only child, Joyce, was five years old at that time, and the final judgment of divorce did not make provisions for her college expenses. George serves as a member of the Army Reserve and was mobilized in 2005. Because of his active duty, George became eligible for educational assistance through the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which included payment of college tuition, fees, books, and a monthly housing allowance.[1] Having the option of transferring his benefits to a family member, George transferred his benefits to Joyce.

Page 72

¶ 3. Joyce graduated from high school in 2010. Tina preferred that Joyce attend a state university, where she would have been eligible for in-state tuition. George encouraged Joyce to attend Southern Methodist University in Texas, where she could maximize the benefits from the Post-9/11 GI Bill. [2] Joyce chose SMU and began college in August 2010. George and Joyce agreed to save the $1,200 monthly housing allowance provided by the GI Bill so Joyce could use the money to pay for school in the future when the benefits ceased. Tina did not refuse to pay for Joyce's college entirely, but she committed to paying only half of what it would have cost for Joyce to attend a state university.

¶ 4. In October 2010, George filed a petition for modification of the final judgment of divorce, asking the court to order Tina to pay half of Joyce's college expenses at SMU. Later, it became evident that George wanted Tina to pay all expenses that were not covered by the GI Bill, which he estimated to be $19,000 per semester. After a hearing, the chancellor entered a final judgment of modification on July 21, 2011. Therein, he held that, for the remaining three semesters before Joyce turned twenty-one (at which time neither party would be obligated to support Joyce or pay college expenses), her college expenses should be split equally between Tina and George, after Joyce's scholarship was applied. George was allowed to take full credit for the GI Bill benefits and to consider the benefits as payment for his half of Joyce's expenses. The chancellor held that they should continue to deposit the $1,200 monthly stipend into a savings account as they had been doing.

¶ 5. George filed a motion for reconsideration and for clarification, claiming that the chancellor's restriction on how the GI Bill benefits were used was a violation of federal law. The chancellor entered an amended final judgment of modification on September 22, 2011. He held that Joyce's expenses should be reduced by her scholarships, any loans or work-study aid that she might receive, and the $1,200 monthly stipend; then the remaining expenses were to be divided equally between George and Tina, with George taking full credit for all GI Bill benefits except the monthly housing allowance. George appealed, taking issue with the chancellor's appropriation of the $1,200 monthly housing stipend. George asserts that, by taking the monthly stipend off the top of Joyce's college expenses, the chancellor shared George's GI Bill benefits with Tina.

Analysis

¶ 6. George contends that federal law preempts state law with regard to the appropriation of Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, and he asserts that the chancellor violated federal law by dividing George's GI Bill benefits. A chancellor's findings of fact, if supported by substantial evidence, will not be disturbed " unless the chancellor abused his discretion, was manifestly wrong, clearly erroneous[,] or an ...


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