WILLIAM W. WILLIAMS APPELLANT
URSEL WILLIAMS APPELLEE
OF JUDGMENT: 12/09/2015
COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. DEBORAH J. GAMBRELL
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: MICHAEL CLAYTON BAREFIELD.
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: SHAKITA LANETTE TAYLOR.
In this domestic-relations case, we must determine whether
the chancellor properly granted Ursel Williams's request
for separate maintenance from her husband, William Williams
(Wayne). We must also determine whether the chancellor erred
in denying Wayne's request for a divorce from Ursel on
the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment. Finding
no error, we affirm.
Ursel and Wayne married in October 1983. Wayne left the
marital home in December 2013, which prompted Ursel to file a
complaint in August 2014 for separate maintenance. In
December 2014, the Lamar County Chancery Court entered a
temporary support order awarding Ursel separate maintenance.
Wayne then filed a counterclaim for divorce alleging habitual
cruel and inhuman treatment. After a trial, the chancellor
denied Wayne's claim for divorce, and granted separate
maintenance to Ursel. Wayne now appeals.
Ursel and Wayne married in 1983, later settling in Jones
County, Mississippi. Wayne is a disabled veteran. Wayne
testified that he has a variety of illnesses and is in poor
health. Ursel testified that she also has health issues.
According to Ursel, her health renders her unable to work,
but she has not been deemed medically disabled and has not
actively sought employment in over six years. The parties
admittedly have a tumultuous relationship-Wayne described
their relationship as "roommates" who argued
Wayne testified that in March 2012, September 2012, August
2013, and December 2013, he had heart trouble while at the
marital home, and that in each instance, Ursel refused to
take him to the hospital. On three of those occasions, Wayne
stated that he had to rely on others for transport to receive
medical treatment, namely Deloris Williams (no relation) and
Michael Murdoch. In December 2013, however, Wayne testified
that he had to drive himself on his motorcycle to the
hospital in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, from the marital home
in Moselle, Mississippi. Instead of returning home following
his release from the hospital, Wayne instead moved into
Deloris's home. Wayne testified that at one time he had a
romantic relationship with Deloris prior to his marriage to
Ursel, but his current relationship with Deloris was
platonic. Ursel implied that Wayne was having an affair
during the marriage.
It is well settled that appellate courts are bound by a
limited standard of review in domestic-relations matters.
Ferguson v. Ferguson, 639 So.2d 921, 930 (Miss.
1994). The Mississippi Supreme Court has held that a
chancellor's findings of fact "will generally not be
overturned by this Court on appeal unless they are manifestly
wrong." Fancher v. Pell, 831 So.2d 1137, 1140
(¶15) (Miss. 2002) (citing Nichols v. Tedder,
547 So.2d 766, 781 (Miss. 1989)). The chancellor must have
been manifestly wrong or clearly erroneous, or have applied
an erroneous legal standard for the findings to be
overturned. Montgomery v. Montgomery, 759 So.2d
1238, 1240 (¶5) (Miss. 2000). "For questions of
law, our standard of review is de novo." Shoffner v.
Shoffner, 909 So.2d 1245, 1249 (¶11) (Miss. Ct.
Wayne asserts that the chancellor erred in awarding Ursel
separate maintenance. During discovery, Wayne sent requests
for admissions to Ursel, who failed to timely answer. As a
result, the chancellor deemed the requests admitted. Because
the requests were deemed admitted, Wayne argues that Ursel
was prevented from proving the essential elements of her
separate-maintenance claim. Wayne objected to this issue
during trial when Ursel began giving contradictory testimony
regarding Wayne's refusal to support her. The chancellor
allowed both parties to offer testimony regarding Wayne's
Requests for Admissions
Rule 36 of the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure governs
requests for admissions. The rule states, in pertinent part,
that a matter will be deemed admitted if the party upon whom
the request was served does not timely respond or file an
objection addressed to the matter. M.R.C.P. 36(a). A timely
response equates to one being made within thirty days.
See id. Thereafter, the matter is conclusively
established unless the court permits the admission's
withdrawal or amendment. M.R.C.P. 36(b). "A matter that
is deemed admitted does not require further proof."
Locklear v. Sellers, 126 So.3d 978, 981 (¶7)
(Miss. Ct. App. 2013). Still, while "Rule 36 is to be
applied as written, . . . 'it is not intended to be
applied in Draconian fashion.'" In re
Dissolution of Marriage of Leverock & Hamby, 23
So.3d 424, 432 (¶28) (Miss. 2009) (quoting DeBlanc
v. Stancil, 814 So.2d 796, 801-02 (¶26) (Miss.
2002)). Specifically, "[a] certain amount of discretion
is vested in the [chancellor] with respect to whether he or
she will take matters as admitted." Earwood v.
Reeves, 798 So.2d 508, 514 (¶19) (Miss. 2001)
The problem here is that the admissions produced
contradictory results. Some of the requests asked Ursel to
admit that: the separation was her fault, Wayne did not
refuse to support her, and Wayne did not abandon her.
However, another request asked Ursel to admit that
"there is no significant conduct on [y]our part that
negatively impacts the enjoyment of the marriage
contract." Ursel obviously admitted to this statement in
her untimely response. As such, we fail to see how the matter
could be conclusively established as Wayne argues; thus, it
was within the chancellor's discretion to rely on the
trial testimony to resolve any conflicts. Furthermore, the
chancellor recognized that it was within her discretion to
review the reason for Ursel's failure to timely answer
the requests for admissions. The chancellor found the delay
of thirty-three days was not "critical, " and we
can find no abuse of discretion in this instance. The dissent
states that Wayne's requests for admissions were deemed
admitted for Ursel's failure to timely reply and that the
contradictory admission does not encompass the essential
elements of Ursel's separate-maintenance claim. However,
the dissent concedes that it is within the chancellor's
discretion whether to take matters as admitted. In this
instance, we cannot find error by the chancellor.
Amount of Separate Maintenance
In the alternative, Wayne argues that the chancellor erred in
awarding $600 per month in separate maintenance to Ursel and
ordering him to pay the mortgage of $365 per month. A
chancellor may award separate maintenance when (1) the
parties have separated without fault by the wife and (2) the
husband has willfully abandoned the wife and refused to
support her. Jackson v. Jackson, 114 So.3d 768, 775
(¶17) (Miss. Ct. App. 2013). "[A] wife is not
required to be totally blameless to allow an award of
separate maintenance, 'but her (mis)conduct must not have
materially contributed to the separation.'"
Daigle v. Daigle, 626 So.2d 140, 145 (Miss. 1993)
(quoting Lynch v. Lynch, 616 So.2d 294, 296 (Miss.
1993)). There are six factors a chancellor should consider in
determining the amount of separate maintenance to be awarded:
(1) the parties' health; (2) the parties' combined
earning capacity; (3) the reasonable needs of the spouse
requesting separate maintenance and any children; (4) the
necessary living expenses of the payor; (5) the fact that the
payee spouse has use of the marital home and furnishings; and
(6) any other pertinent facts. Id.
Although the chancellor did not explicitly list each factor,
her findings indicate that she did consider them. The
chancellor reviewed the parties' financial statuses,
including their earning capacity, Wayne's living
expenses, and Ursel's financial needs. The chancellor
noted that Wayne admitted the following: he willfully
abandoned the marital home, Ursel had asked him to return to
the marital home, and he adamantly refused to return. The
chancellor concluded that Wayne's support of Ursel since
the separation had been "haphazard" at best, even
after the temporary support order was entered in December
2014. Although admitting that they fought constantly, Ursel
testified that she loved Wayne and wanted him to return to
the marital home. Ursel further testified that Wayne was not
supporting her financially, that he had "changed the