Marcus A. CRITTENDEN, Appellant/Cross-Appellee
Susan L. CRITTENDEN, Appellee/Cross-Appellant.
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
Carrie A. Jourdan, attorney for appellant.
J. Douglas Ford, Tupelo, attorney for appellee.
Before LEE, C.J., ROBERTS and CARLTON, JJ.
¶ 1. Marcus Crittenden appeals the Oktibbeha County Chancery Court's decision to deny his request to find his ex-wife, Susan Crittenden, in contempt for a number of reasons. Marcus also claims that the chancellor erred when he increased Marcus's periodic-alimony obligation and ordered him to transfer a portion of his retirement to Susan. Marcus further claims that the chancellor erred when he declined to modify custody of one of his and Susan's six sons. Additionally, Marcus claims the chancellor erred when he did not adequately modify his child-support obligation based on the fact that one of his and Susan's sons no longer lived with Susan.
¶ 2. Susan cross-appeals and claims the chancellor should have found Marcus in contempt for failing to pay the mortgages on the former marital home and the property that surrounds it. By extension, Susan argues that the chancellor should have awarded her attorney's fees for Marcus's contempt. Susan also claims the chancellor did not consider all of Marcus's potential income when the chancellor calculated Marcus's modified child-support obligation. Finally, Susan requests attorney's fees on appeal. Finding no error, we affirm on direct and cross-appeal.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
¶ 3. Marcus and Susan were married on New Year's Day of 1987. They had six sons during the course of their twenty-three-year marriage. The marital home was in the center of 115 acres of wooded property. Marcus is an emergency-room physician. During the marriage, Susan was primarily a homemaker.
¶ 4. In early 2010, Susan filed a complaint for divorce based on adultery or habitual cruel and inhuman treatment. Marcus reciprocated with a counter-complaint for divorce based on the same grounds. They later consented to divorce based on their irreconcilable differences. They agreed that Susan would receive custody of the minor children. But they requested that the chancellor resolve a number of other issues, including division of the marital estate, the amount of Marcus's child-support obligation, the necessity and
value of alimony payable to Susan, and Susan's request for attorney's fees.
¶ 5. Marcus and Susan stipulated to the value, debt, and equity of the marital home and the real property that surrounded it. The home and the five acres that it sits on appraised for approximately $475,000. The remaining 110 acres around the marital home appraised for approximately $253,000. The mortgage debt on the home and surrounding property was approximately $517,000. And the monthly mortgage payments were approximately $5,400. During April 2010, the chancellor entered a temporary order requiring Marcus to leave the marital home and continue to pay for the family's obligations.
¶ 6. Marcus and Susan went to trial during August 2010. On October 11, 2010, the chancellor entered his initial order. The chancellor awarded the couple joint legal custody of the five minor children. As Marcus and Susan agreed, Susan received primary physical custody of the five minor children. Marcus received visitation with the children. Because of Marcus's uncertain work schedule, the chancellor established a procedure by which Marcus was to request visitation in writing, and Susan was to respond to his request. The chancellor ordered Marcus to pay Susan $4,500 per month in child support and $1,000 per month in periodic alimony. The chancellor also evenly divided Marcus's retirement accounts.
¶ 7. The couple also owned property described as the " Crossgate Property." It was purchased for Susan's mother, who had a life estate on the property. The chancellor found that the Crossgate Property could not be sold without the consent of Susan's mother. So the chancellor held that Susan and Marcus would divide the equity from the Crossgate Property when it sold at a later date. Meanwhile, Marcus would be obligated to continue paying the mortgage on the Crossgate Property. Furthermore, Marcus would receive the equity that accrued after the date of the chancellor's judgment. Marcus was also ordered to pay the couple's debt to the Internal Revenue Service.
¶ 8. The chancellor held that the marital home and the property surrounding it would be sold. Marcus was obligated to continue paying the mortgage, insurance, and taxes related to the home until it sold. The house was to be listed with a realtor after January 8, 2011. If the home had not sold by October 8, 2011, the chancery clerk would be appointed as a special commissioner to sell the home per the laws of commissioner sales. The net proceeds were to be divided evenly, and Marcus would receive the equity that accrued after the date of the judgment.
¶ 9. Susan was unhappy with the chancellor's order to sell the marital home. According to Marcus, Susan said she would " fight" the order to sell the marital home " until her dying breath." Susan appealed the chancellor's judgment and moved to stay the sale of the marital home. The chancellor denied Susan's motion to stay, and the Mississippi Supreme Court later dismissed Susan's appeal.
¶ 10. Marcus claimed that Susan attempted to prevent the sale of the marital home. He alleged that she refused to let him put up " for sale" signs, and she took down the signs that he put up. Marcus also claims that Susan refused to allow him on the property so that he could maintain it. According to Marcus, Susan called the authorities and threatened to file criminal charges against him if he kept trying to contact her about the sale of the property.
¶ 11. On February 4, 2011, Susan filed a complaint for contempt based on the fact that Marcus had not obeyed the chancellor's order to pay the mortgages on the
marital home and the surrounding property. Marcus reciprocated with a counter-complaint for contempt alleging, among other things, that Susan was obstructing his efforts to sell the marital home and the surrounding property. Marcus also claimed that he could no longer afford the mortgages along with his other financial obligations. Marcus also sought to modify custody of Adam, who no longer lived with Susan. Additionally, Marcus sought to modify his child-support obligation.
¶ 12. According to Marcus, Susan's effort to obstruct the sale of the marital home was the catalyst that led to his financial problems, which culminated in his filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in April 2011. As a result, Marcus was legally divested of his ownership interest in the marital home and the surrounding property. Because the automatic stay associated with Marcus's bankruptcy prevented creditors from pursuing him for the mortgage debts, the creditors began to pursue Susan for the accumulating debt, late fees, penalties, and interest. The automatic stay also prevented Marcus and Susan from listing and selling the marital home and the surrounding property. Finally, the automatic stay delayed Susan's appeal and the reciprocal contempt proceedings.
¶ 13. The bankruptcy court confirmed Marcus's bankruptcy plan in July 2011. Marcus was relieved of his mortgage obligations. But Susan was immediately responsible for the mortgage debt. In September 2011, while the contempt claims were pending, the chancellor entered an ex parte order in response to an ore tenus motion filed by Susan's attorney. The chancellor stayed his earlier instruction that a special commissioner would sell the home to give Susan time to try to refinance the marital home and the surrounding property. The chancellor also ordered Marcus to sign a quitclaim deed related to the marital home and the surrounding property.
¶ 14. The chancellor heard Susan's complaint for contempt and Marcus's counter-complaint for contempt in October 2011. Marcus and Susan both testified. Additionally, Adam testified that he no longer lived with Susan. Ultimately, the chancellor declined to find Marcus or Susan in contempt. The chancellor held that Susan was still obligated to sell the marital home. Because Adam no longer lived with Susan, the chancellor reduced Marcus's child-support obligation from $4,500 per month to $4,300 per month. But the chancellor declined to modify custody of Adam. Based on the events regarding the marital home and Marcus's bankruptcy, the chancellor increased Marcus's periodic-alimony obligation from $2,500 per month to $4,000 per month. The chancellor also ordered Marcus to pay Susan $30,000 to help alleviate some of the debt that had accrued on the mortgages, and to help her pay for counseling for two of the children. And because Marcus's work schedule was certain and the initial visitation arrangement was not working, the chancellor established a specific visitation schedule. Susan later successfully moved to strike the chancellor's requirement to sell the marital home and the surrounding property.
¶ 15. Marcus appeals. He claims the chancellor erred by: (1) declining to find Susan in contempt; (2) increasing Marcus's alimony obligation from $2,500 per month to $4,000 per month; (3) awarding Susan $30,000 from his retirement; (4) declining to modify custody of Adam; and (5) declining to modify his child-support obligation more significantly than a decrease of $200 per month. Susan cross-appeals and claims the chancellor erred by: (1) declining to find Marcus in contempt for his failure to pay the mortgages; (2) declining to order Marcus to pay her
attorney's fees; and (3) failing to consider all of Marcus's income when determining his child-support obligation. Additionally, Susan requests that this Court award ...