COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: OKTIBBEHA COUNTY CHANCERY COURT. DATE OF JUDGMENT: 10/03/2012. TRIAL JUDGE: HON. KENNETH M. BURNS. TRIAL COURT GRANTED APPELLANT'S REQUEST FOR ARREARAGES, A FINDING OF CONTEMPT, AND ATTORNEY'S FEES, AND GRANTED APPELLEE'S PETITION FOR MODIFICATION OF ALIMONY.
FOR APPELLANT: GARY GOODWIN.
FOR APPELLEE: CARL LANGLEY COCKRELL (Pro se).
BEFORE LEE, C.J., CARLTON, MAXWELL AND FAIR, JJ. LEE, C.J., IRVING AND GRIFFIS, P.JJ., BARNES, ISHEE, ROBERTS, CARLTON AND MAXWELL, JJ., CONCUR. JAMES, J., CONCURS IN PART WITHOUT SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION.
NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - DOMESTIC RELATIONS
¶1 This appeal arises from alimony proceedings between Carl and Joyce Cockrell.
Joyce filed a complaint in the Chancery Court of Oktibbeha County, seeking arrearages of alimony with pre-judgment interest, a finding of contempt, and attorney's fees. Carl filed a counter-complaint for modification, to eliminate his alimony obligation. The chancellor adjudicated a material change in Carl's circumstances and ordered a downward modification of alimony. Recognizing Joyce was receiving $557 in Social Security benefits based on Carl's earnings, the chancellor reduced alimony from $750 to $193 a month. Carl was also ordered to pay the full arrearage of $10,500, with interest at five percent per annum. The chancellor found Carl in civil contempt and liable to Joyce for $2,000 in attorney's fees. Aggrieved, Joyce asserts: (1) the chancellor erred in finding a material change in circumstances, and, alternatively, (2) the downward modification is barred by the doctrine of res judicata. Finding no error, we affirm the decision of the chancellor.
¶2 Carl and Joyce divorced in 1989 after thirty-five years of marriage. Joyce was awarded $750 per month in periodic alimony. On November 22, 2004, the chancery court held a hearing on Carl's petition for modification, reimbursement, and partition of real property. On April 11, 2005, the court issued a judgment dividing the real property and ordering Carl to continue his payment of $750 per month in alimony.
¶3 Carl made the periodic alimony payments from 1989 until July 2011, when he became ill. In September 2011, Carl was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome and immediately began chemotherapy. On January 3, 2012, Joyce filed a complaint alleging that Carl had failed to pay alimony from July 2011 through December 2011, for a total arreage of $4,500. Joyce also requested that Carl be held in civil contempt and asked for attorney's fees with post-judgment interest. Carl responded with a counter-complaint, requesting that the court modify his alimony obligation by terminating his monthly alimony payments. He claimed that his disease constituted a material change in circumstances since the original divorce decree.
¶4 The court held a hearing on September 17, 2012. Both Joyce and Carl testified. Joyce testified that she did not work during the marriage, nor had she worked since. She is seventy-seven years old. At some point after the divorce, Joyce began receiving monthly payments based on Carl's past employment - $557 in Social Security and $449.31 in retirement. With Carl's alimony payment of $750, Joyce had a total monthly income of $1,756.31. Joyce's Rule 8.05 financial statement  showed that her net monthly expenses totaled $1,710.63. She lives in a ...