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Gutierrez v. Gutierrez

Supreme Court of Mississippi

December 4, 2014

CLAYTON FRANK GUTIERREZ
v.
TRISHA GUTIERREZ

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 04/17/2013

Page 704

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 705

HARRISON COUNTY CHANCERY COURT, HON. JAMES B. PERSONS, TRIAL JUDGE

FOR APPELLANT: DAVID A. PUMFORD.

FOR APPELLEE: DEAN HOLLEMAN.

BEFORE WALLER, C.J., CHANDLER AND KING, JJ. DICKINSON AND RANDOLPH, P. JJ. LAMAR, KITCHENS, CHANDLER, KING AND COLEMAN, JJ., CONCUR. PIERCE, J., NOT PARTICIPATING.

OPINION

Page 706

WALLER, CHIEF JUSTICE

¶1. Clayton Gutierrez appeals from the divorce judgment of the Chancery Court of Harrison County, Second District, in which the chancellor granted Clayton's wife Trisha lump-sum and periodic alimony incident to the divorce and found Clayton in contempt for failing to make court-ordered support payments to Trisha. Finding a lack of record support in the allocation of marital liabilities, we reverse the chancery court's judgment and remand for further proceedings.

FACTS & PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶2. Clayton and Trisha married on December 12, 1987. At the time, Clayton worked for his family's seafood business, and Trisha was a student teacher. They had three children during their marriage. The parties separated in December 2009 but remained living together in the marital home. At the time of the separation, Trisha did not have a job outside the home. Clayton was still working for his family's business, but he also worked in real estate and construction. Following the separation, Trisha enrolled at William Carey College and became recertified to teach, eventually obtaining a job as a first-grade teacher at D'Iberville Elementary School.

¶3. Trisha filed for divorce in March of 2010, and Clayton filed a counterclaim for divorce in response. Although the parties initially asserted various fault grounds for divorce, eventually they agreed to proceed on the ground of irreconcilable differences. In their Voluntary Consent to Divorce, the parties reached an agreement for the custody and visitation of the children. The parties' remaining contested issues dealt primarily with the equitable distribution of marital assets and liabilities.

¶4. Several temporary hearings were held prior to the final trial on the merits. In a May 4, 2010, temporary order, the chancery court ordered Clayton to " continue to pay the necessities of the marriage, including but not limited to utilities, mortgages, cellular telephones, automobile notes, automobile insurance, health insurance, gas and groceries of the wife." Subsequent to the entry of this order, Trisha filed several motions for citation of contempt against Clayton, claiming that he had failed to pay for necessary family expenses. The chancery court ruled on Trisha's first motion, finding Clayton in contempt for failing to pay $7,656.27 in necessary expenses. However, the chancellor reserved ruling on all other subsequent contempt issues until the trial on the merits.

¶5. A trial on the contested issues was held in April 2012. The majority of the evidence presented at trial focused on the value of Clayton's interests in various business ventures, including his family's seafood business, Global Seafood Technologies, Inc. Evidence regarding the parties' net worth was highly conflicting. The chancellor noted that Clayton had represented his family's net worth to be as high as $13,000,000 in financial statements given to banks two years prior to the filing of the divorce, but that this figure had shrunk to $1,400,000 a few weeks after Trisha filed her divorce complaint. By the time of trial, Clayton represented his net worth to be zero. Annette Herrin, a court-appointed business valuation expert, and James C. Stokes, Clayton's accountant, each offered their respective opinions regarding the value of Clayton's various business interests. Herrin placed a value on Clayton's equity interests in his various business ventures at $618,500. Stokes claimed that Clayton's net worth was approximately -$70,000, but could drop as low as -$800,000 due to other potential liabilities.

¶6. In its divorce judgment, the chancery court granted the parties a divorce on

Page 707

the grounds of irreconcilable differences and adopted the parties' child-custody and visitation agreements.[1] Then, the chancellor reviewed the Ferguson[2] factors for the equitable distribution of marital property and divided the parties' marital estate into four categories: (1) assets available to be distributed, (2) assets already distributed or sold, (3) assets foreclosed on and sold, and (4) Clayton's business interests. The chancellor determined that the net marital estate, which consisted primarily of Clayton's business interests, was valued at $501,647, allocating $35,685 to Trisha and $465,962 to Clayton. Trisha's share of the net marital estate consisted of her vehicle, her checking and retirement account, the couple's interest in several parcels of real estate, and proceeds from other marital assets that had been sold during the divorce. The chancellor balanced the apportionment of assets by granting Trisha lump-sum alimony of $215,139.50, to be paid in five annual installments. In addition, after considering the Armstrong[3] factors, the chancellor awarded Trisha $2,000 per month in permanent alimony.

¶7. With respect to Trisha's previous contempt motions, the chancellor found Clayton in contempt for failing to pay $16,019 in family expenses as required by previous temporary orders, entered judgment in that amount in Trisha's favor, and awarded Trisha $2,500 in attorney's fees.

¶8. Clayton now appeals from the chancery court's judgment, raising ...


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