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Benton v. Benton

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

January 23, 2018

TIMOTHY M. BENTON APPELLANT
v.
ELIZABETH A. BENTON APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 04/08/2016

         HANCOCK COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. JENNIFER T. SCHLOEGEL, JUDGE

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: MATTHEW THOMPSON CHAD KENNETH KING

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: GAIL D. NICHOLSON GERALD C. PATCH

          BEFORE IRVING, P.J., CARLTON AND GREENLEE, JJ.

          IRVING, P.J.

         ¶1. The Chancery Court of Hancock County granted a divorce to Elizabeth A. Benton (Beth) and Timothy M. Benton (Tim). Tim appeals, asserting the following issues: (1) the court erred in failing to value all material marital assets; (2) the court erred in failing to value the business, which resulted in an erroneous alimony award; and (3) these errors resulted in an erroneous child-support award. Finding no error, we affirm.

         FACTS

         ¶2. Tim and Beth were married on or about February 10, 2000, in Pearl River County, Mississippi. During the marriage, Tim provided the family's primary source of income through operation of his businesses: Tim Benton Tree Service and Benton Green LLC. Beth occasionally assisted Tim with the businesses, but her primary duty was to care for their four children, all of whom were born of the marriage. Tim and Beth separated in September 2013. Beth filed her complaint for divorce on November 14, 2014, on the grounds of willful, continued, and obstinate constructive desertion for more than one year; habitual cruel and inhuman treatment; and, alternatively, irreconcilable differences. Tim was personally served with process, but he never filed any responsive pleadings to Beth's complaint.

         ¶3. On January 12, 2015, after a hearing which both Beth and Tim attended, the chancery court entered a temporary order granting joint legal custody of the children to Beth and Tim, physical custody of the children to Beth, and visitation to Tim. Additionally, the court ordered Tim to pay Beth temporary child support in the amount of $3, 500 per month and temporary alimony in the amount of $1, 500 per month. The parties were unable to produce their tax returns during the January 12, 2015 hearing, so the court reset the matter for February 18, 2015, with instructions that the parties provide their tax returns at that time. Further, the court instructed Tim to present any financial records reflecting the income and operating expenses derived from his businesses. Tim appeared at the February 18, 2015 hearing, represented by counsel, but again without the financial records of his business, so the matter was continued until April 6, 2015. Tim again failed to produce the requested financial records at the April 6, 2015 hearing, and the court allowed his attorney to withdraw.

         ¶4. The matter went to trial, during which Beth was represented by her attorney, while Tim proceeded pro se. Beth filed an 8.05 financial statement, but Tim failed to produce his. He also failed to produce the other requested financial records. In the interim, between trial and the time at which final judgment was entered, Tim hired a new attorney. On August 10, 2015, Tim's attorney filed a motion to reopen the trial, maintaining that Tim had been "substantially unable to defend himself and aid in his defense." The court conducted a hearing on November 20, 2015, finding that Tim had been "given every opportunity" to file the requested financial documents, yet he had failed to do so. The court further remarked that Tim had failed to timely respond to discovery and was "dishonest when it came to providing the [c]ourt with the amount of money he was actually receiving." Ultimately, the court found that Tim had failed to act in good faith and denied his motion to reopen the trial.

         ¶5. On April 14, 2016, the chancery court entered its findings of fact and conclusions of law, wherein it granted Beth a divorce on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment. The court noted:

Tim has not introduced any evidence as to the actual revenues of the business[es, ] and [he] did not comply with the discovery requests of Beth's attorney to provide copies of all invoices and any and all documentation wherein it could be determined Tim's overhead with regard to the business[es]. Tim also introduced no evidence to show a value of the businesses.

         The court further pointed out that Tim failed to request the appointment of a business-valuation expert.[1] As such, the court relied on Beth's 8.05 financial statement, as well as "invoices and bank statements obtained by Beth from the home, " to make its ...


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