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Renfro v. Renfro

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

January 31, 2017

CLAUDIA JOAN HILL RENFRO APPELLANT
v.
JOHN MALCOLM RENFRO APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 02/27/2015

         GRENADA COUNTY CHANCERY COURT, HON. PERCY L. LYNCHARD JR.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: LUTHER PUTNAM CRULL JR.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: A.E. (RUSTY) HARLOW JR. KATHI CRESTMAN WILSON SABRINA D. HOWELL

          BEFORE GRIFFIS, P.J., BARNES AND FAIR, JJ.

          FAIR, J.

         ¶1. In April 2012, the Grenada County Chancery Court awarded Claudia Renfro a divorce from her husband, John Renfro, on the ground of adultery. The chancery court divided the marital estate equally. In Renfro v. Renfro, 125 So.3d 92 (Miss. Ct. App. 2013), this Court found that the chancery court erroneously classified as marital property land Claudia had inherited about three years prior to the separation.[1] On remand, the chancery court awarded John a larger share of the marital estate, equal to approximately half the value of Claudia's land, as lump sum alimony and in the form of Claudia's half interest in the marital home. Claudia has again appealed, and she contends that the award was erroneous because it appears calculated to reach the same ultimate result as the original property division.

         ¶2. We conclude that, while the decision on remand does reach the same result, it is supported by substantial evidence and the correct legal standards were applied. Our standard of review precludes interference with the judgment, and so we affirm.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶3. "When [an appellate court] reviews a chancellor's decision in a case involving divorce and all related issues, [the court's] scope of review is limited by the substantial evidence/manifest error rule." Yelverton v. Yelverton, 961 So.2d 19, 24 (¶6) (Miss. 2007). A chancellor's factual findings will not be disturbed unless manifestly wrong or clearly erroneous, or an erroneous legal standard was applied. Carambat v. Carambat, 72 So.3d 505, 510-11 (¶24) (Miss. 2011). As long as substantial evidence supports the chancellor's findings, an appellate court is without authority to disturb them, even if it would have found otherwise as an original matter. Joel v. Joel, 43 So.3d 424, 429 (¶14) (Miss. 2010). Additionally, if the chancellor has made no specific findings, we generally proceed on the assumption that he resolved all such fact issues in favor of the appellee. Ferrara v. Walters, 919 So.2d 876, 881 (¶8) (Miss. 2005) (citing Newsom v. Newsom, 557 So.2d 511, 514 (Miss. 1990)). Questions of law, on the other hand, are reviewed de novo. Irving v. Irving, 67 So.3d 776, 778 (¶11) (Miss. 2011).

         DISCUSSION

         ¶4. At issue in Renfro I was 140 acres of land inherited by Claudia approximately three years before the separation. The Renfros had expended significant marital funds and energies planting and managing the land as an investment, which led the chancellor to conclude it had become marital property. We reversed, finding that the land had not been commingled to the extent that it lost its character as separate property. Renfro I, 125 So.3d at 97-98 (¶¶17-18).

         ¶5. On remand, the chancellor accepted Claudia's land as her separate property, but he found that her large separate estate, coupled with the smaller marital pot, had changed the calculus. Although the chancellor nominally divided the remaining marital property equally, after reviewing the Ferguson and Armstrong factors, [2] he then awarded Claudia's half of the marital home to John as lump sum alimony.

         ¶6. Claudia presents numerous challenges to this award. She points out on appeal that the home was approximately equal in value to her 140 acres, and that the result of the chancellor's decision on remand is essentially to recreate the original property division, which was reversed on appeal. But there is nothing inherently suspicious about the chancery court reaching a similar result on remand. See, e.g., Powell v. Evans, 113 So.3d 1270, 1275 (¶23) (Miss. Ct. App. 2013). Our reason for reversing the original property division was the erroneous classification of Claudia's 140 acres, and the chancellor classified the property as separate on remand. Renfro I, 125 So.3d at 97-98 ...


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