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Campbell v. Campbell

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

June 19, 2018

MARK EDWARD CAMPBELL APPELLANT
v.
MISTY MCDANIEL CAMPBELL APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 02/01/2017

          GRENADA COUNTY CHANCERY COURT TRIAL JUDGE: HON. PERCY L. LYNCHARD JR.

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

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: CHARLES E. WINFIELD ASHLYN BROWN MATTHEWS

          BEFORE IRVING, P.J., WILSON AND TINDELL, JJ.

          TINDELL, J.

         ¶1. Mark Campbell appeals the Grenada County Chancery Court's judgment increasing his monthly child-support payments and awarding attorney's fees to his ex-wife, Misty Campbell. Upon review, we reverse the chancellor's upward modification of Mark's child-support obligation and render a judgment restoring the amount agreed upon by the parties in their child-custody and property-settlement agreement. We likewise reverse the chancellor's award of attorney's fees to Misty, but we remand the issue for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         FACTS

         ¶2. Mark and Misty married on July 25, 1992, and they separated on November 29, 2008. The parties had four children during their marriage. At the time the parties filed for divorce, their children were ages 13, 11, 9, and 6. The parties consented to an irreconcilable-differences divorce and submitted to the chancellor a written agreement on the issues of child custody and property settlement. The agreement provided that the parties would share joint legal custody of their children and that Misty would retain physical custody while Mark received reasonable visitation rights. In addition, the agreement acknowledged that Mark's current monthly gross income amounted to $66, 666.67 and that he would pay Misty "child support [in] the sum of $1, 250 per month per child" until the children reached "the age of 21, marr[ied], join[ed] the armed forces[, ] or [were] otherwise fully emancipated according to law, whichever occur[red] first."[1] On September 20, 2010, the chancellor entered a final divorce judgment that granted the parties an irreconcilable-differences divorce. The chancellor's judgment adopted and incorporated by reference the parties' child-custody and property-settlement agreement.

         ¶3. On March 18, 2016, Mark filed a petition for contempt and for modification of the divorce decree. Mark alleged that his oldest son had become emancipated, which should relieve him of his child-support obligation to that son.[2] In addition, Mark claimed that his income had dramatically decreased, which constituted a material change of circumstances and prevented him from paying his current child-support obligations. Mark therefore asked the chancellor to reduce his child-support payments in accordance with Mississippi's child-support guidelines. Finally, after asserting that, among other things, Misty had abused or neglected the parties' three minor children and intentionally interfered with Mark's relationship and parenting time with the children, Mark requested that the chancellor hold Misty in contempt and award him physical custody of the minor children.

         ¶4. On April 11, 2016, Misty answered Mark's petition and filed a counterpetition for contempt and modification of the divorce decree. Misty alleged that Mark had failed to comply with his current child-support and alimony obligations and that a material change in circumstances had occurred that necessitated an increase in future child-support payments. The following month, on May 31, 2016, Misty filed a temporary motion for emergency relief. In the temporary motion, Misty asserted that one of the minor children needed braces and that Mark was still behind on his child-support and alimony payments. Misty therefore asked the chancellor to order Mark to pay the orthodontic fees and the arrearages on his child-support and alimony obligations.

         ¶5. The chancellor held an October 5, 2016 hearing on the parties' various petitions and motions. At the hearing, the parties introduced their financial statements and Mark's tax returns for 2010 through 2012. Although the parties had previously agreed that Mark's monthly gross income amounted to $66, 666.67, Mark submitted an affidavit stating that his average monthly income had now decreased to $22, 363.34. On October 14, 2016, the chancellor entered an order nunc pro tunc as of October 5, 2016, that addressed both Mark's petition and Misty's counterpetition for contempt and modification of the divorce decree. Based on Mark's various allegations against Misty, the chancellor appointed a guardian ad litem (GAL) for the minor children and ordered Mark to pay a $2, 500 retainer fee to the GAL within thirty days of the order's entry. The chancellor also bifurcated the matter to first hear the parties' contempt issues and to reserve all issues regarding modification until the completion of the GAL's report.

         ¶6. After finding that Mark failed to prove his contempt allegations against Misty, the chancellor denied Mark's request to hold Misty in contempt. The chancellor next found, however, that Mark had failed to timely pay child support, alimony, and other sums to Misty as directed by the court's previous order. The chancellor therefore held Mark in willful contempt and ordered him to pay Misty $80, 287.38 ($42, 485 for unpaid child support and alimony; $27, 057.38 for unpaid medical and other support; and $10, 745 for attorney's fees).

         ¶7. On November 7, 2016, Misty filed another petition for citation of contempt and alleged that Mark had failed to comply with the chancellor's October 14, 2016 order. Specifically, Misty argued that Mark had failed to pay the sums owed to her under the chancellor's previous order. The same month, on November 30, 2016, Mark filed another petition to modify child support. Mark asserted that, under the terms of the parties' child-support agreement, ...


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