WILLIE B. MCLEOD, APPELLANT
JEANELL MCLEOD, APPELLEE
DATE OF JUDGMENT: 10/11/2011.
HARRISON COUNTY CHANCERY COURT, HON. SANFORD R. STECKLER,
FOR APPELLANT: DEAN HOLLEMAN.
FOR APPELLEE: JENNIFER SEKUL HARRIS.
BEFORE GRIFFIS, P.J., ISHEE AND MAXWELL, JJ. LEE, C.J., IRVING, P.J., BARNES, ISHEE, ROBERTS, CARLTON, MAXWELL, FAIR AND JAMES, JJ., CONCUR.
¶1. This appeal considers the divorce of Willie and Jeanell McLeod. Willie challenges the chancellor's decision that found the prenuptial agreement invalid and the division of assets. We find reversible error and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
¶2. Willie and Jeanell were married on March 27, 2001. They each had children from a prior relationship. There were no children born of their marriage; but Jeanell had a son with her paramour in 2011.
¶3. On the day of their marriage, before the vows were exchanged, Willie and Jeanell signed a prenuptial agreement. The agreement was prepared by Willie's attorney, Mark Knighten. The agreement provided that both parties would retain their separate property if they divorced. At the time, Willie had several valuable assets. Jeanell's assets were limited to her furniture and a vehicle.
¶4. During their marriage, Willie and Jeanell maintained separate finances and checking accounts. Jeanell testified that they split the bills and both paid for their " own stuff." They reimbursed each other for big household items and took turns buying dinner and clothing. When they traveled, Willie bought his plane ticket and Jeanell bought her ticket. They would each pay for the expenses of their respective children.
¶5. On January 7, 2008, Jeanell filed for divorce on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment. They later reconciled. Then, on April 11, 2008, Willie filed for divorce on the ground of adultery. The chancellor consolidated these cases.
¶6. Jeanell filed a motion for a declaratory judgment. She claimed that the prenuptial agreement was void and unenforceable because:
[T]he agreement presented to [Jeanell] is signed by the parties but is not notarized;
the agreement does not contain the full financial disclosures of the parties as Exhibits which are referenced in the body of the document presented in the course of this litigation;
[Jeanell] was not given the opportunity to review the Agreement with her own counsel prior to entering into the Agreement as the agreement was drafted and allegedly signed the same date as the marriage of the parties;
[Willie] has accumulated substantial assets during the marriage with the help and assistance of [Jeanell] and is attempting to use an invalid [prenuptial] agreement to preclude an appropriate and equitable division of marital assets.
¶7. On October 15, 2009, the chancellor issued an order that found that the agreement was invalid. The chancellor determined that there was clear and convincing evidence that Willie fraudulently induced Jeanell to execute the agreement. Willie then timely filed a motion to set aside, alter, or amend the judgment under Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 59. In the motion, Willie claimed that it was error to find fraud in the inducement since fraud
was never raised. On April 21, 2010, the chancellor executed an order that stated: " Willie is correct, as this court may not sua sponte raise the affirmative defense of fraud and base a portion of the finding on this basis." The order found that the original finding of the court of fraud in the inducement was erroneous as a matter of law. The chancellor found that because fraud in the inducement was never pled, it was waived. However, the chancellor still found the agreement to be invalid and unconscionable.
¶8. The trial was held in October 2010. The chancellor granted Willie a divorce on the ground of adultery and entered a judgment that divided the marital estate. Willie then filed a motion to set aside the judgment under Rule 59. By order dated September 11, 2012, the chancellor granted Willie's motion and revised parts of the judgment that divided the marital estate. The chancellor found that Willie's motion had merit insofar as the mathematical calculations were concerned, but the division of the marital estate remained undisturbed. It is from this judgment that Willie now appeals.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
¶9. This Court will not disturb the findings of a chancellor when supported by substantial evidence unless the chancellor abused his or her discretion, was manifestly wrong or clearly erroneous, or applied an erroneous legal standard. Sanders ...