OF JUDGMENT: 03/06/2017
COUNTY CHANCERY COURT, FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT HON. WILLIAM
H. SINGLETARY JUDGE
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: PAMELA L. HANCOCK JEFFREY BRYAN
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: J. PEYTON RANDOLPH II RICK D. PATT
GRIFFIS, P.J., WILSON AND TINDELL, JJ.
Brooke Nejam Hoffman sought a divorce from her husband
Michael (Mike) Hoffman, alleging as grounds habitual cruel
and inhuman treatment and constructive desertion. The
chancery court found that Brooke failed to prove that she was
entitled to a divorce on either ground and dismissed her
complaint. The court also awarded Mike attorney's fees
based on both Brooke's contempt and Mike's inability
to pay. Brooke challenges both rulings on appeal. For the
reasons discussed below, we find no error and affirm.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Brooke and Mike were married in January 2005. Their marriage
has produced three children, born in 2005, 2011, and 2013. In
October 2012, while pregnant with the couple's third
child, Brooke moved out of the marital home. Brooke filed a
complaint for divorce in January 2013, about two weeks before
the child was born. She later filed an amended complaint that
alleged both habitual cruel and inhuman treatment and
constructive desertion. Mike answered and denied that Brooke
was entitled to a divorce. The case eventually proceeded to
trial in July 2014. The parties agreed to bifurcate the case
and first try the grounds for divorce. The issues of child
custody, support, and division of the marital estate were
reserved pending the court's ruling on Brooke's
entitlement to a divorce.
Brooke testified that she and Mike were in counseling
"[p]retty much" from the start of their marriage
until they separated. Brooke's mother agreed that the
marriage was "troubled" from the start. She
testified that she and her husband (Brooke's father)
"kind of talked [Brooke and Mike] into getting married
because . . . [Brooke was] pregnant." Brooke testified
that she and Mike "both went to counseling," they
would "follow and stick through it for a few weeks"
at a time, and there was "some" intimacy in their
marriage. But then they would argue, and "things would
get back like they were."
Brooke alleged that during an argument in 2011, Mike
"stabbed [her] back with a pencil while [she was]
holding [their six-month old son] and pulled [her] hair and
threw [her] down some steps." She filed a police report,
but she testified that she later decided not to press
charges. Brooke testified that photographs, taken by her
mother, documented her alleged injuries. However, the police
officer who took Brooke's report noted in the report that
he "did not see any signs of physical abuse on
The police were also called to the Hoffmans' home during
an argument on the night that Brooke left the marital home in
October 2012. Brooke testified that the incident initially
resulted in charges against her, but the charges were later
Brooke testified that the incident with the pencil was the
only "violent episode" during the marriage.
However, Brooke and her mother claimed that Mike was verbally
abusive. Brooke also alleged that Mike falsely accused her of
using drugs during the marriage.
Brooke alleged that after she moved out of the marital home,
Mike destroyed, threw out, or gave away many of her personal
belongings. She also accused Mike of vandalizing her new home
with pink paint, although she had no direct proof that he was
Brooke admitted that she had an affair in 2010. She told Mike
about that affair, and they decided to stay together. Brooke
also admitted that in 2012 she became romantically involved
with a married man, Chad. Brooke claimed that her
relationship with Chad did not become intimate until after
she and Mike separated. However, a letter that Brooke wrote
to Chad indicated that the affair began in September 2012.
Brooke's letter also indicated that, although they both
were still married, Chad had asked Brooke to marry him. At
the time of trial, Brooke was still having an affair with
Chad, who was also still married. Chad was called as a
witness at trial and admitted to the affair.
Mike worked as a realtor and owned rental properties
throughout the marriage. At some point, Mike also began
working for an interior designer, Matt, who is related to
Brooke and a godfather to one of the Hoffmans' children.
Mike does not have any expertise in interior design but
provided manual labor for Matt's business on an as-needed
Brooke testified that Matt is gay. Brooke complained that
Mike and Matt spent a lot of time together and went on
business trips for "days at a time." She claimed
that Mike would not answer his phone while he was out of
town, and she did not believe that all of the trips were
work-related. Brooke testified, "[I]t . . . was an
ongoing problem in our marriage, and it caused [Mike] to be .
. . emotionally and physically absent from the marriage, and
it is not possible to have a marriage with three people
involved in it." As the chancellor recognized, Brooke
clearly implied that Mike was having an affair with Matt.
However, Brooke was unwilling to make that accusation
expressly, nor did she allege adultery as a ground for
Mike denied that there was any improper relationship between
him and Matt. Mike testified that Matt was Brooke's
relative, a friend, and a godfather to one of his children,
but otherwise their relationship was "strictly
business." Mike testified that he began working for Matt
only because the real estate market went down, and he
"was just doing everything [he could] to make ends meet
to pay for Brooke and [his] young family." Mike stopped
working for Matt after he and Brooke separated.
Matt's business partner also testified at trial. She
testified that she worked and traveled with Mike and Matt on
many occasions and never saw anything that suggested an
inappropriate relationship. She testified that they all
traveled together to ...