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Sanderson v. Sanderson

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

December 11, 2014

TANYA DALE WRIGHT SANDERSON
v.
HOBSON L. SANDERSON, JR

As Corrected August 13, 2015.

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: MONROE COUNTY CHANCERY COURT. DATE OF JUDGMENT: 06/15/2012. TRIAL JUDGE: HON. TALMADGE D. LITTLEJOHN.

AFFIRMED IN PART; REVERSED IN PART AND REMANDED.

FOR APPELLANT: JANELLE MARIE LOWREY, ROY O. PARKER.

FOR APPELLEE: GREGORY M. HUNSUCKER, JAK MCGEE SMITH.

WALLER, C.J., LAMAR, KITCHENS, PIERCE, AND KING, JJ., CONCUR. RANDOLPH, P.J., CONCURS IN PART AND DISSENTS IN PART WITH SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION JOINED IN PART BY CHANDLER, J. CHANDLER, J., CONCURS IN PART AND DISSENTS IN PART WITH SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION JOINED BY DICKINSON, P.J. RANDOLPH, P.J., JOINS IN PART.

OPINION

Page 431

COLEMAN, JUSTICE

[¶1] The instant matter arises from the financial portion of a bifurcated divorce trial. Tanya Dale Wright Sanderson and Hobson L. Sanderson divorced after seventeen years of marriage. When Tanya and Hobson married in 1994, Tanya signed

Page 432

a prenuptial agreement the day before their marriage, and upon divorce, the chancellor enforced the terms of the agreement. Tanya appealed. She argues that the prenuptial agreement is procedurally and substantively unconscionable. She also claims, among other things, that the chancellor erred in not finding a joint bank account contained commingled, marital property. We affirm the trial court on its finding that the prenuptial agreement is not procedurally unconscionable. We reverse and remand for further proceedings on whether the prenuptial agreement is substantively unconscionable. We also hold that certain funds, used for familial purposes, kept in a joint bank account created after the marriage began, do not fall within the parameters of the prenuptial agreement.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

[¶2] After dating for two years, Tanya Sanderson and Hobson Sanderson married on July 23, 1994, in Decatur, Alabama. Hobson was a sixty-two-year-old businessman. He owned Sanderson Construction and Sanderson Ready-Mix. The value of his assets at the time of marriage was approximately $3,580,000. Tanya was twenty-eight years old, and she had attended one year at a four year college studying music and one semester at a community college. She also had about five years of clerical experience as a deputy clerk at the Lee County Chancery Clerk's office. The value of her assets at the time of marriage was about $135,000, and she had a young daughter.

[¶3] The parties decided to marry only a few weeks before the wedding ceremony. The ceremony was a small and casual event, and no formal invitations were sent. Two weeks prior to the ceremony, Hobson approached Tanya regarding the execution of a prenuptial agreement. Hobson's attorney prepared the agreement and told Hobson to encourage Tanya to seek outside legal counsel. The agreement contained a signature line for Tanya's attorney. Hobson's brother and CPA for Hobson's construction company, Tom Sanderson, prepared Hobson's financial statement to be attached to the agreement. Tanya prepared her financial statement, and she gave it to Tom on July 18 or 19. The final agreement for the parties to sign, that was supposed to have the financial statements attached to it, arrived the morning of July 22 -- the day before the wedding.

[¶4] The agreement eliminated all rights to spousal support, and it deemed all property owned before marriage and all property acquired during the marriage to remain separate property if traceable. Specifically, it stated that:

WHEREAS, the parties desire that all property now owned by each and set forth herein on the appropriate Exhibits or any property hereafter acquired by each that shall be traceable to proceeds or appreciation from their separate property as set forth herein, shall for testamentary, intestate succession, and for their lifetimes and for any and all other purposes, be free from any claim of the other that may arise by reason of the contemplated marriage, notwithstanding any and all State laws to the contrary; any property acquired after the marriage not acquired as a result of the separate property as defined herein shall not be subject to this Agreement:

IT IS, THEREFORE, AGREED THAT:

. . .
After the solemnization of the marriage between the parties, each of them shall separately retain all rights in his or her own property, real and/or personal, whether now owned or hereafter acquired, and each of them shall have and maintain, regardless of circumstances or change of circumstances, the absolute

Page 433

and unrestricted right to dispose of and maintain use and retain the use and ownership of such separate property, free from any claim that may be made by the other by reason of or as a result of their marriage, and with the same effect as if no marriage had been consummated between them, notwithstanding any State laws to the contrary; and each party waives and releases all rights, statutory or otherwise, in and to the other's property described above at its present value, in addition to any appreciation in value, following the marriage, that may arise by law as a result of the marriage of the parties.

Further, the agreement stated that neither party was entitled to alimony or any part of the other party's " investments, earnings, gifts, or inheritance." The agreement also covered what each party would receive upon the death of the other party. Tanya would receive $100,000 from Hobson's estate, and Hobson would receive $20,000 from Tanya's estate.

[¶5] On July 22, the day before the wedding, Hobson gave the agreement to Tanya and requested she have an attorney sign it. Tanya testified that the first time she saw the agreement was on July 22, and she took the agreement to the law office of her cousin, Jimmy Doug Shelton. Tanya discussed the agreement with Shelton for about ten minutes before she convinced him to sign it. Shelton testified that Tanya's number one concern was Shelton's signature and that she did not seem to want legal advice about the agreement. Tanya appeared eager to drive to Decatur to finish planning the wedding. Shelton told Tanya that the agreement was one-sided, and he needed more time to review it. Tanya stated that she and Hobson would not divorce; Shelton signed the agreement.

[¶6] At trial, witnesses presented conflicting testimony as to when Tanya signed the agreement and as to whether the financial disclosures were attached to the agreement when she did. Tanya testified she signed the agreement after the wedding at Hobson's request. Hobson testified that Tanya signed it before the wedding. Hobson further testified that the financial disclosures were attached to the agreement at the time Shelton signed it. However, Tom also testified that the financial disclosures had not been initialed on each page like the agreement. Tom stated that he had tried to contact Tanya to have her come to his office, but she was already in Decatur, Alabama. Tanya initialed each page about a week after the wedding, and she testified that she had not seen the financial disclosures until she initialed them after the wedding.

[¶7] Tanya testified that she did not understand the extent of her rights that she was forfeiting by signing the agreement, and if she had understood, she would have postponed the wedding. She further testified that Hobson did not want her to work after their marriage and that he promised to take care of her for the rest of her life. Tanya stated that she was generally aware of Hobson's wealth, but he was secretive about it. About a year or two after they married, Tanya and Hobson opened a joint banking account, and Tanya deposited Hobson's salary checks into the account each month. They filed joint tax returns. However, the child support Tanya received from her daughter's father accumulated and remained in a separate account. The child support money has since been used for the daughter's college expenses.

[¶8] After the parties filed for divorce, a hearing was held on whether the prenuptial agreement was enforceable. The court held the agreement was enforceable. In 2010, the trial court bifurcated the trial. ...


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