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Plummer v. Plummer

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

July 18, 2017

AMY CLEMONS PLUMMER APPELLANT
v.
JAMES JEFFREY PLUMMER APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 02/03/2016

         GRENADA COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. MITCHELL M. LUNDY JR. JUDGE

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: A.E. (RUSTY) HARLOW JR. KATHI CRESTMAN WILSON

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: LUTHER PUTNAM CRULL JR.

          BEFORE LEE, C.J., ISHEE AND WESTBROOKS, JJ.

          ISHEE, J.

         ¶1. In 2005, James and Amy Plummer were divorced by decree of the Grenada County Chancery Court. Among others things, James was ordered to pay Amy $100 per month in alimony, and $850 per month in child support. In September 2014, Amy filed a petition for citation of contempt and for modification-requesting an increase in child support. James submitted an answer and a counterclaim for contempt and modification. In his counterclaim, James requested that his child-support obligation be reduced or terminated, and requested that his obligation to pay alimony be terminated.

         ¶2. A trial was held, and the chancery court rendered its written ruling on February 3, 2016. In its ruling, the chancery court terminated James's alimony obligation, and modified his child-support obligations. Amy appeals. Finding no error, we affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶3. James and Amy were divorced on October 25, 2005. At the time of the divorce, James worked as a federal park ranger, and Amy worked for the school system. The parties had three minor children: Jeffery, Jamie, and Aubrey.[1] They shared joint legal custody of Aubrey and Jeffrey, but Amy received sole physical and legal custody of Jamie. In its ruling in 2005, the chancery court found that Jamie was a child of special needs, and thus awarded child support above the statutory guidelines, as well as limited visitation with James.

         ¶4. In the divorce decree, the chancery court ordered the following of James: to pay Amy $850 per month in child support, which exceeded the statutory guidelines; to pay Amy $100 per month in alimony; to provide major medical and hospitalization insurance for the children; to pay one-half of noncovered medical expenses for the children; and to pay $6, 292.50 in attorney's fees to Amy. Additionally, the chancellor awarded Amy the right to claim all three of their children as dependents for state and federal income-tax purposes.

         ¶5. Nearly nine years later, in September 2014, Amy filed a petition for citation of contempt and for modification. In the petition, Amy requested an increase in child support, and requested that James be ordered to provide support for Jamie beyond the age of majority, as Jamie has special needs and will require constant care throughout her lifetime.[2]Additionally, Amy requested that James be held in contempt for his willful failure to pay sums as ordered by the chancery court.

         ¶6. James filed an answer and a counterclaim for contempt and modification on July 10, 2015. In the counterclaim, James requested that Jeffrey be emancipated, that physical custody of Jamie and Aubrey be transferred to him, that his child-support obligation be reduced or terminated, and that his obligation to pay alimony be terminated.

         ¶7. A trial was held on January 7, 2016, and the chancery court rendered its ruling on February 3, 2016. In its ruling, among other things, the chancery court found Jeffrey to be emancipated, terminated James's alimony obligation, and modified the amount of James's child-support obligation-from $850 per month for three children to $800 per month for two children. The chancery court also held that for every month James exercised visitation with the children, the next month he would only have to pay $700.

         ¶8. As it related to the termination of James's alimony obligation, the chancery court found that since the time of the parties' divorce, there was a substantial, material change in circumstances, which warranted termination of James's alimony payments. Specifically, Amy had received a substantial increase in her salary. At the time of the divorce, Amy worked in the school system-making approximately $33, 000 per year. Then, at some point, Amy's salary increased to approximately $44, 000 per year. And finally, after receiving her master's degree, Amy received a raise in August 2015-making roughly $51, 000 per year. In its ruling, the chancery court noted that Amy has had continuous employment and now makes $4, 290 gross monthly income; the chancery court found that this amount was sufficient for Amy to pay a $785 mortgage on a house, finance a new car for herself, buy a new jacuzzi, and buy a vehicle for Jeffrey.

         ¶9. As a federal park ranger for more than twenty-five years, James had maxed out his earnings. James's maximum base pay was $51, 437 annually. James's Uniform Chancery Court Rule 8.05 financial statement showed that his gross income was $54, 415. The difference between the pay-scale base and James's actual gross income was due to the additional income he earned while working nights and weekends. Additional income could have been earned from deployment to natural-disaster areas; this income was not guaranteed. For the 2014 tax year, James's gross income-according to his tax return-was $65, 765. In 2014, James was deployed for two-and-one-half months for work on natural disasters. And in 2015, James worked overtime, nights, and weekends to earn income exceeding his base pay.

         ¶10. The chancery court then recalculated James's child-support obligation. In determining James's monthly adjusted gross income (AGI), the chancellor did not consider only James's base pay, nor did he consider only James's highest years of earning-from disaster-relief work; instead, the chancellor averaged the high and base AGI to reach a monthly AGI of $4, 160.12. Ultimately, the chancellor arrived at $700 in child support. Additionally, in accordance with the statutory deviation factors, the chancellor increased this amount by $100 ($800 in total) because one of James's children has special needs and has no visitation with him. Yet the chancellor qualified this award by finding that for every month James exercises visitation with the children, his next month's payment would only be $700.

         ¶11. After the chancery court issued its ruling and subsequent order, Amy filed a motion to reconsider on February 25, 2016. The chancery court ...


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