OF JUDGMENT: 10/19/2016
COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. JOHN ANDREW HATCHER
COURT ATTORNEYS: GREGORY M. HUNSUCKER JAK McGEE SMITH JANELLE
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: ROY O. PARKER
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: JAK McGEE SMITH GREGORY M. HUNSUCKER
WALLER, C.J., COLEMAN AND MAXWELL, JJ.
This is the second time Tanya Dale Wright Sanderson and
Hobson L. "Hob" Sanderson's divorce has ended
up before this Court.
In Sanderson v. Sanderson, 170 So.3d 430 (Miss.
2014) (Sanderson I), this Court agreed with the
chancellor that Tanya and Hob's prenuptial agreement was
procedurally conscionable. But we disagreed that potential
substantive unconscionability was not a consideration. We
reversed and remanded for the chancellor to weigh Tanya's
claim that the prenuptial agreement was substantively
unconscionable. Tanya had also claimed the chancellor
erroneously classified as Hob's separate property several
assets that had been commingled with marital property. We
agreed with Tanya regarding one asset-the couple's joint
bank account. And we reversed the chancellor's finding
that the joint bank-account funds were not commingled.
On remand, a different chancellor found the prenuptial
agreement was substantively conscionable and thus
enforceable. After a detailed Ferguson analysis, the
chancellor then awarded Tanya $537.42-the balance of the
joint bank account at the time of Tanya and Hob's final
separation. Tanya appeals. She first argues the chancellor
failed to recognize the prenuptial agreement was
unconscionable because the results of enforcement
are unfair. Alternatively, she argues the chancellor erred by
not expanding the scope of commingled marital assets to
include Hob's home and investment accounts.
Upon review, we discern no reversible error. The
chancellor's holding the prenuptial agreement was
enforceable and his determination the commingled marital
assets only encompassed the balance of the joint account are
consistent with both Sanderson I and the terms of
the prenuptial agreement. Therefore, we affirm.
Facts and Procedural History
Marriage and Divorce
Tanya and Hob were cohabiting when they decided to marry in
1994. At the time, Hob was sixty-two and owned a construction
business and a home. Tanya was twenty-eight, worked as a
deputy chancery clerk, and owned a home. Both had been
married previously. Hob had children from his first marriage
who were grown and not living with him, and Tanya had a young
daughter with her ex-husband.
The day before they married, at Hob's insistence, the two
entered into a prenuptial agreement. The agreement eliminated
all rights to spousal support and entitled each party to keep
all separate property acquired not only before but also
during the marriage, if traceable. According to Tanya, after
she married, she sold her home and quit her job. Tanya raised
her daughter in Hob's home, and both she and her daughter
lived off Hob's income from his business, saving all
child-support payments for her daughter's college
After seventeen years of marriage, Tanya was granted a
divorce. The chancellor enforced the prenuptial agreement,
granting each party his or her separate property. Relevant to
this appeal, the chancellor found six investment accounts in
Hob's name remained his separate, nonmarital property and
two investment accounts were Tanya's separate property.
While the couple had a joint bank account, the chancellor
found the funds deposited in this account were completely
traceable to Hob's separate assets, so the joint account
was merely a "clearinghouse" to facilitate the
transfer of funds. The chancellor also found Hob had
exclusive title, possession, and control of the house and 320
acres in Aberdeen, Mississippi, where he and Tanya had lived
during their marriage. In total, Hob left the marriage with
more than $3.5 million in separate property, and Tanya left
with approximately $425, 000 in separate property.
Tanya appealed. She challenged both the chancellor's
determination the prenuptial agreement was enforceable and
his application of the agreement to find certain assets,
otherwise subject to equitable distribution, remained
Hob's separate property.
Tanya argued the chancellor erred in finding the prenuptial
agreement procedurally conscionable, as well as refusing to
consider whether the agreement was substantively
conscionable. This Court affirmed the chancellor's
finding the agreement was procedurally conscionable.
Sanderson I, 170 So.3d at 435. But we clarified
that, because "a prenuptial agreement is a contract like
any other contract, " it is "subject to the same
rules of construction and application"-including the
consideration whether the agreement is substantively
conscionable. Id. at 436 (citations omitted).
Substantive conscionability "looks at the terms of the
contract" and "the circumstances existing at
the time the contract was made." Id. at
437 (emphasis in original). We held "that substantive
unconscionability feasibly could be measured at the time the
prenuptial agreement is made, " thus "ensur[ing]
that the Court does not 'relieve a party to a freely
negotiated contract of the burdens of a provision which
becomes more onerous than had originally been
anticipated.'" Id. (quoting Mabus v.
Mabus, 890 So.2d 806, 819 (Miss. 2003)). And we reversed
and remanded this case for the chancellor to do so.
Tanya's other points of error focused on property-its
classification and distribution. She argued commingling had
converted Hob's separate property into marital assets
subject to distribution. Specifically, she claimed all of
Hob's investment accounts were marital property subject
to distribution. And the joint account was not a
"clearinghouse" but instead the funds deposited
into the account were for familial use. She also asserted the
chancellor erred when he did not classify the marital home,
surrounding acreage, and contents of the marital home as
marital property subject to equitable distribution.
Our opinion in Sanderson I only addressed
Tanya's commingling claim concerning the joint account.
We reversed the chancellor's finding that the account
merely served as a "clearinghouse." Id. at
437. Instead, we found "the money deposited in the joint
account became a marital asset subject to equitable division
because of its family use." Id. (citing
A&L, Inc. v. Grantham, 747 So.2d 832, 838 (Miss.
1999)). Because Tanya had contributed in "disburs[ing]
the funds for familial purposes, " under
Mississippi's law concerning marital property, "her
contributions and the familial use to which the money in the
joint account was put changed the legal nature of the money
in the account from separate property subject to tracing to
marital property." Id. at 438.
We concluded that "Tanya and Hob could have drafted
the prenuptial agreement to address funds for familial use,
but they did not." Id. (internal citations
omitted). So we "reverse[d] the chancellor's finding
that the joint bank account funds were not commingled."
"After due consideration of the other issues raised,
" we "discern[ed] no other errors."
Due to the passing of the original chancellor, another
chancellor was assigned this case on remand. He first tackled
the "main remanded issue"-whether the prenuptial
agreement was substantively conscionable. He rejected
Tanya's assertions that the true test of fairness was to
compare what she would have received had there been no
prenuptial agreement to what she would receive if the
agreement is enforced. He also rejected Tanya's request
to apply caselaw from other jurisdictions and reach the same
result. Instead, he considered the agreement's terms and
the circumstances at the time the agreement was formed.
See Sanderson I, 170 So.3d at 438. And he concluded
the terms were mutual and the circumstances were not so
unfair and one-sided to make the agreement unconscionable.
By separate order, the chancellor then addressed the more
"limited" issue of the commingled joint bank
account. On remand, Tanya had argued that Hob's
investment accounts and home fell into the scope of marital
assets to be distributed, based on commingling. But the
chancellor found Tanya's "extensive and
all-encompassing commingling and familial use claims"
were incompatible with the enforceable terms of the
prenuptial agreement. While this Court had held funds
"kept" in the joint account were marital, the funds
Tanya claims were also marital were not kept in the joint
account for family use. Instead they were separated out and
thus regained the status of separate property under the
prenuptial agreement. See Johnson v. Johnson, 650
So.2d 1281, 1286 (Miss. 1994) (holding timber-sale proceeds,
generated by wife's separate estate, though commingled in
the family account, "reacquired" their nonmarital
status when the funds were transferred back to the wife).
Moreover, in the first appeal, Tanya had challenged the
original chancellor's classification of these specific
assets, based on the exact same commingling arguments. And
this Court affirmed the chancellor's classification
except for the joint account. So based on the language of
Sanderson I and the prenuptial agreement, the
chancellor concluded his authority on remand was limited to
distributing the balance of the joint account, which was
$537.42 at the time of final separation.
The chancellor then went through a detailed Ferguson
analysis. See Ferguson v. Ferguson, 639 So.2d 921,
928 (Miss. 1994). He noted, had all the money deposited into
the joint account been "kept" there, he would have
to consider how much money went to Tanya and her
daughter-almost $95, 000. Another equitable consideration
would be the more than $200, 000 in court-ordered temporary
support Tanya received during the divorce proceedings that
she otherwise was not entitled to under the prenuptial
agreement. In total, there was ...