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Reeves v. Reeves

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

December 3, 2013

Howard Clarke REEVES, Appellant
v.
Brenda McCullough REEVES, Appellee.

J. Edward Rainer, Gary Lee Williams, Brandon, attorneys for appellant.

Joseph A. Fernald Jr., Brookhaven, attorney for appellee.

Before IRVING, P.J., ISHEE and FAIR, JJ.

ISHEE, J.

¶ 1. In February 2010, in the Lincoln County Chancery Court, Howard Clarke Reeves sought separate maintenance from his wife, Brenda McCullough Reeves, after Brenda left their marriage. The chancellor denied Howard's request, concluding that Howard's alcoholism and abuse throughout the eight-year period prior to his filing largely contributed to Brenda's departure. In April 2011, Howard filed a complaint for divorce on the ground of desertion. Brenda filed a motion to dismiss Howard's complaint, stating he had not proven the basic elements of desertion. Brenda claimed that under their circumstances, in order to claim desertion, the law required Howard to prove that he had made a good-faith reconciliation offer to Brenda at least one year prior to his filing for divorce. The chancellor agreed, and found that Howard had not met the one-year requirement as of April 2011. The

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chancellor granted Brenda's motion and dismissed the complaint. Howard now appeals, asserting the chancery court erred in its determination that he had not met the one-year requirement and erred in its failure to grant him a divorce on the ground of desertion. Finding no error, we affirm the chancery court's judgment.

STATEMENT OF FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶ 2. Howard and Brenda married in January 1977. The record reflects that around February 2008, Brenda left the marital home. Shortly thereafter, Howard filed for separate maintenance, seeking financial support from Brenda. Brenda filed a motion to dismiss Howard's petition, and the case was tried in February 2010.

¶ 3. During the trial, the evidence revealed Howard had a substantial temper, had consistently abused alcohol over an eight-year period prior to the trial, and had engaged in numerous violent rampages where he was physically and emotionally abusive toward Brenda. As such, the chancellor determined that Howard was the greatest cause of Brenda's departure from the marriage. On February 3, 2010, the chancellor granted Brenda's motion to dismiss Howard's petition for separate maintenance.

¶ 4. One month later, Howard filed his first complaint for divorce on the ground of desertion. For reasons not related to this matter, the complaint was dismissed. On April 11, 2011, Howard filed another complaint for divorce on the ground of desertion. Brenda filed a motion to dismiss. Brenda's motion was denied in September 2011, and the matter was set for trial on February 8, 2012.

¶ 5. At trial, Howard presented evidence in his case-in-chief that Brenda had maintained her separation from Howard and their marital residence for approximately four years. However, after Howard rested his case, Brenda moved again to dismiss Howard's case. Brenda asserted that under Mississippi law, if a separate-maintenance action was previously filed and ruled on adversely to a petitioner now seeking divorce on the ground of desertion, the petitioner must prove he made a good-faith reconciliation attempt with his spouse at least one year prior to his filing for divorce. Brenda then claimed Howard did not make a good-faith-reconciliation attempt at least one year prior to April 11, 2011, and, hence, he had failed to prove a prima facie case for divorce on the ground of desertion.

¶ 6. The chancery court agreed. The chancellor stated that Howard had not provided substantial proof to meet the one-year requirement under Mississippi law. Therefore, the chancellor dismissed Howard's complaint. Howard now appeals.

DISCUSSION

¶ 7. It is well settled that appellate courts are bound by a limited standard of review in domestic-relations matters. See, e.g., Ferguson v. Ferguson,639 So.2d 921, 930 (Miss.1994). The Mississippi Supreme Court has held that a chancellor's findings of fact, especially in divorce cases such as the instant case, " will generally not be overturned by this Court on appeal unless they are manifestly wrong." Fancher v. Pell, 831 So.2d 1137, 1140 (¶ 15) (Miss.2002) (citing Nichols v. Tedder, 547 So.2d 766, 781 (Miss.1989)). The chancellor must have been " manifestly wrong, clearly erroneous[,] or an erroneous legal ...


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