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Harris v. Harris

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

May 16, 2017

SUSAN HARRIS APPELLANT
v.
THOMAS L. HARRIS APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 03/16/2016

         NEWTON COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. H. DAVID CLARK II JUDGE

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: THOMAS L. TULLOS

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: WILLIAM B. JACOB JOSEPH A. KIERONSKI JR. DANIEL P. SELF JR.

         En Banc.

          IRVING, P.J.

         ¶1. Thomas L. Harris ("Leon")-alleging that a material change in circumstances had occurred since the judgment of divorce from his former spouse, Susan Harris-filed a complaint against Susan, seeking a reduction or termination of his alimony obligation that he agreed to in the property-settlement agreement (Agreement) that was approved in the judgment of divorce. Rather than reducing or terminating Leon's alimony obligation, the chancellor held that Susan's Social Security benefits that were derivative of Leon's Social Security earning credits would be credited against Leon's monthly alimony obligation. Susan now appeals, and argues that the chancellor erred when he credited the Social Security payments against Leon's alimony obligation and modified the Agreement without requiring Leon to prove that a material change in circumstances had occurred. We find that the chancellor did not err as to either issue; consequently, we affirm.

         FACTS

         ¶2. Susan and Leon were married on July 14, 1979. They sought an irreconcilable- difference divorce, and entered into an Agreement, wherein Leon agreed to pay $2, 755 per month to Susan as periodic alimony. The Agreement was incorporated into the divorce, which became final on February 25, 2011. The Agreement did not address any contingency with respect to the alimony other than that it would end at Susan's remarriage or death.

         ¶3. After the divorce, Susan filed for and obtained derivative Social Security retirement benefits in the amount of $1, 035 per month based on Leon's earnings record with the Social Security Administration. On January 21, 2015, Susan filed a complaint to review the health provision of the Agreement. On March 5, 2015, Leon filed his answer, which contained a motion to dismiss and a counterclaim to reduce or terminate his alimony payments in light of the fact that Susan had begun drawing Social Security benefits off of his earnings record.

         ¶4. On March 8, 2016, the chancellor granted Leon's Rule 12(b)(6) motion and held a hearing on his counterclaim. The parties stipulated that Susan was receiving $1, 035 per month in Social Security benefits that were derivative of Leon's work history. Leon argued that he should be given credit for the $1, 035 being paid to Susan by the Social Security Administration. Leon maintained that he should be required to pay Susan only an additional $1, 720 per month, since she was already drawing $1, 035 per month from Social Security as a result of his earnings record. The chancellor agreed and entered judgment in his favor. Susan now appeals.

         DISCUSSION

         ¶5. This Court in Russell acknowledged that the standard of review in domestic-relations matters is "extremely limited":

We will not disturb a chancellor's findings unless the findings were manifestly wrong or clearly erroneous or unless the chancellor applied an erroneous legal standard. Id. Where the record contains substantial evidence to support the ...

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