OF JUDGMENT: 03/13/2015
COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. KENNETH M. BURNS TRIAL JUDGE
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: CARRIE A. JOURDAN.
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: MARK G. WILLIAMSON.
Ralph Billingsley appeals the judgment of the Lowndes County
Chancery Court dissolving the marriage between him and Amy
Billingsley. He alleges that the chancery court committed
numerous errors in the classification and division of the
marital estate as well as in matters involving the payment of
expenses for the parties' minor children and the
establishment of the visitation schedule.
Finding error, we reverse in part, affirm in part, and remand
for further proceedings.
The parties were married on August 18, 1995, and separated on
January 12, 2013; two children were born to the marriage. At
the time of trial, Amy was forty-nine years old, and Ralph
was sixty years old. Ralph was the primary breadwinner for
the family. He had been a corporate executive, and at the
time of trial was serving as county administrator for Lowndes
County, Mississippi. Amy was a part-time massage therapist
and a part-time adjunct faculty member at the Mississippi
University for Women (MUW). Amy earned approximately $30, 000
per year, and Ralph earned approximately $132, 000 per year.
In 1995, when the parties married, Amy was working full-time
at Sanderson Plumbing Products (Sanderson) as an inside
salesperson, and Ralph was also working there as a financial
officer. Amy continued to work at Sanderson for one more year
after the parties married, leaving in 1996, after having
worked there for eight years. She took a job and a pay cut as
a research analyst at MUW. During the marriage, Amy performed
many household chores and provided for the children while at
times working in a part-time capacity. Ralph remained in his
same position at Sanderson Plumbing Products during the
duration of the marriage.
In September 2012, Amy told Ralph that she had been involved
in an extramarital affair. The couple did not separate until
approximately January 12, 2013. Amy initially filed a
complaint for divorce against Ralph on September 13, 2013,
alleging grounds of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment and
habitual drunkenness, or, in the alternative, irreconcilable
differences. As part of her complaint, Amy requested that the
chancellor grant her temporary relief, which the chancellor
granted on February 27, 2014. Ralph answered the complaint,
and, on September 4, 2014, filed a counter-complaint for
divorce, alleging adultery, desertion, and habitual cruel and
inhuman treatment, or, in the alternative, irreconcilable
The trial was conducted on December 8-9, 2014. The court
rendered its opinion on March 13, 2015, granting Ralph a
divorce on the grounds of adultery, while denying Amy's
petition for divorce. Per the parties' agreement, they
were given joint legal custody of the children, and Amy was
given physical custody, with visitation to Ralph. The rest of
the judgment primarily addressed the division of the
Billingsleys' property. Ralph then filed a motion with
the court to reconsider and to clarify its decision with
regard to the distribution of assets and certain provisions
of visitation. The court denied Ralph's motion, leading
to this appeal.
Additional facts, as necessary, will be related during our
discussion of the issues.
"[W]e will not disturb a chancellor's findings when
supported by substantial evidence unless the chancellor's
judgment was manifestly wrong, clearly erroneous or an
erroneous legal standard was applied." Carambat v.
Carambat, 72 So.3d 505, 510-11 (¶24) (Miss. 2011).
"But when reviewing a chancellor's interpretation
and application of the law, our standard of review is de
novo." Bond v. Bond, 69 So.3d 771, 772
(¶3) (Miss. Ct. App. 2011). "To equitably divide
property, the chancellor must: (1) classify the parties'
assets as marital or separate, (2) value those assets, and
(3) equitably divide the marital assets." Randolph
v. Randolph, 199 So.3d 1282, 1285 (¶11) (Miss. Ct.
App. 2016) (quoting Hemsley v. Hemsley, 639 So.2d
909, 914 (Miss.1994)).
Ralph argues that the chancellor misapplied several of the
Ferguson factors and incorrectly designated the
amount of weight given to each factor, resulting in a
disproportionate distribution of the marital estate. His main
argument focuses on the fact that Amy had an extramarital
affair; therefore, he concludes that the total distribution
should not have been in her favor. In response, Amy asserts
that the chancellor used his discretion in dividing the
couple's assets, and his decisions were supported by
substantial evidence and therefore proper. She also notes
that any errors made on the part of the chancellor were not
material and do not require reversal, as they had no bearing
on the outcome of the case.
Although Amy admitted to adultery, and the chancellor granted
a divorce to Ralph on that ground, her misconduct was only
one of several factors to be analyzed under Ferguson
to determine the appropriate distribution of the marital
assets. Ralph's assertion that Amy's adulterous
misconduct should have predominated over all other factors is
incorrect as this Court has previously stated that
"chancellors should not view equitable distribution as a
means to punish the offending spouse for marital misconduct.
Rather, marital misconduct is a viable factor entitled to be
given weight by the chancellor when the misconduct places a
burden on the stability and harmony of the marital and family
relationship." Bond, 69 So.3d at 773 (¶6).
Amy's misconduct is one of many factors the chancellor
used to determine the correct distribution of assets and,
based on the chancellor's order, it appears that he did
not take Amy's misconduct lightly, as he noted:
"Mrs. Billingsley's infidelity caused the total
collapse of the marriage." Accordingly, the chancellor
gave appropriate consideration to Amy's adultery in
ordering equitable distribution of the marital property.
With respect to the division of marital property, the
Mississippi Supreme Court in Ferguson provided a
nonexclusive list of factors for our chancery courts to
consider in determining the proper division of the marital
1. Substantial contribution to the accumulation of the
property. Factors to be considered in determining
contribution are as follows:
a. Direct or indirect economic contribution to the
acquisition of the property;
b. Contribution to the stability and harmony of the marital
and family relationships as measured by quality, quantity of
time spent on family duties and duration of the marriage; and
c. Contribution to the education, training or other
accomplishment bearing on the earning power of the spouse
accumulating the assets.
2. The degree to which each spouse has expended, withdrawn or
otherwise disposed of marital assets and any prior
distribution of such assets by agreement, decree or
3. The market value and the emotional value of the assets
subject to distribution[;]
4. The value of assets not ordinarily, absent equitable
factors to the contrary, subject to such distribution, such
as property brought to the marriage by the parties and
property acquired by inheritance or inter vivos gift by or to
an individual spouse;
5. Tax and other economic consequences, and contractual or
legal consequences to third parties, of the ...