OF JUDGMENT: 03/15/2017
FORREST COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. DEBORAH J. GAMBRELL JUDGE
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: CAROL ANN ESTES BUSTIN
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: NANCY STEEN
LEE, C.J., WILSON AND WESTBROOKS, JJ.
After twenty-three years of marriage, Christina Leblanc filed
for a divorce from William (Billy) Leblanc on the grounds of
habitual cruel and inhuman treatment, habitual use of illegal
drugs, and uncondoned adultery or, in the alternative,
irreconcilable differences. Billy eventually answered and
filed a counterclaim for an irreconcilable differences
divorce. After the first day of trial, the Leblancs consented
to an irreconcilable differences divorce and agreed that the
chancery court would decide issues related to custody and
support of their children, equitable division of the marital
estate, and alimony. The court granted Christina physical
custody of the parties' three minor children, with joint
legal custody and visitation for Billy. The court also
divided the marital estate and ordered Billy to pay
rehabilitative alimony of $250 per month for eighteen months
and child support of $1, 040 per month.
On appeal, Christina argues that the chancery court (1)
miscalculated Billy's child support obligation, (2)
committed multiple errors in the equitable division of the
marital estate, (3) awarded inadequate alimony, (4) erred by
awarding Billy unsupervised visitation despite his history of
drug use, (5) erred by not holding Billy in contempt for
failing to pay the mortgage on the marital home, and (6)
erred by allowing Billy to answer the complaint for divorce
more than a year after he was served. Billy failed to file a
brief on appeal.
We find no error or abuse of discretion in the chancery
court's equitable division of the marital estate.
However, we hold that the chancery court miscalculated
Billy's child support obligation and awarded inadequate
alimony. Accordingly, on those two issues, we reverse and
remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this
opinion. In addition, on remand the chancery court should
determine whether unsupervised visitation is consistent with
the children's best interests and whether Billy should be
ordered to submit to additional drug testing. The remaining
issues raised by Christina on appeal are procedurally barred
and/or without merit.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Christina and Billy married in 1991. They subsequently had
four children, sons born in 1996 and 2002 and daughters born
in 2010 and 2011.
Billy has worked as a medical dosimetrist since approximately
2000. Billy testified that a medical dosimetrist creates
"treatment plans for radiation therapy treatments for
cancer patients." From about 2006 to 2013, Billy worked
at the Laurel Cancer Center, but in 2013 he lost his job
there because he failed a drug test.
Billy's former supervisor, Dr. Cameron Pimperl, a
radiation oncologist at the Laurel Cancer Center, testified
at trial. Dr. Pimperl was close to the Leblanc family. In
2012 or 2013, Dr. Pimperl became aware that Billy was using
drugs. A lawyer advised him to terminate Billy's
employment, but Dr. Pimperl offered Billy the option of
entering a drug rehabilitation program. Billy entered the
program, but in October 2013 he failed another drug test. At
that point, the Laurel Cancer Clinic terminated Billy's
Billy was then unemployed for over a year before he found
work in Alaska. He lived in Alaska between 2014 and 2016. At
the time of trial, Billy was working as a medical dosimetrist
at Keesler Medical Center in Biloxi.
Christina filed for divorce in July 2014 on the grounds of
habitual cruel and inhuman treatment, habitual use of illegal
drugs, and uncondoned adultery or, in the alternative,
irreconcilable differences. Billy was living in Alaska at the
time and was eventually served with a summons and copy of the
complaint on August 27, 2015.
On August 25, 2015, Christina obtained an ex parte emergency
domestic abuse protection order from the Forrest County
Justice Court. On July 6, 2016, the justice court entered a
second protection order. Christina testified that she allowed
the first protection order to expire without further action
because Billy had returned to Alaska in the interim. The
justice court extended the second order once.
Billy filed an answer on July 18, 2016. He denied
Christina's allegation of cruel and inhuman treatment,
and he claimed that he had "reformed and discontinued
[his drug] habit" and was willing to submit to
court-ordered drug tests. "On the allegation of
adultery, [Billy] demand[ed] strict proof and assert[ed] the
defense of condonation." Billy also filed a counterclaim
for an irreconcilable differences divorce.
On August 2, 2016, Christina filed a motion for temporary
relief seeking custody of the parties' children, child
support, spousal support, use and possession of the marital
home, and an order of protection from abuse. Christina also
asked the court to limit Billy to supervised visitation,
require Billy to take random drug tests, and require Billy to
account for certain marital funds. Finally, Christina asked
the court to order Billy to pay the mortgage arrearage on the
marital home, as the home was at risk of foreclosure.
In August 2016, Christina and Billy filed their Uniform
Chancery Court Rule 8.05 financial statements.
Christina's statement showed that she earned $1, 380 per
month and received $771 per month in public assistance.
Billy's statement showed that he earned $11, 330.50 per
month as a dosimetrist and received rental income of $91 per
On August 19, 2016, the chancery court entered a temporary
order granting physical custody of the children to Christina
with Billy to have supervised visitation. The court also
granted Christina possession of the marital home and ordered
Billy to bring the mortgage current and to continue to pay
the mortgage. The court ordered Billy to pay Christina $600
per month in spousal support and $1, 000 per month in child
support. The court also ordered both parties to submit to
On October 22, 2016, Christina filed a motion for contempt
based on Billy's failure to pay the mortgage arrearage.
Christina also requested modification of the temporary order
because Billy had tested positive for methamphetamine and
admitted that he was still using drugs. In response, Billy
claimed that he "struggled just to make the monthly
mortgage payments" and could not afford to pay the
arrearage. He also denied that he was abusing drugs, alleged
that Christina had denied him visitation, and requested
On December 1, 2016, the chancery court entered an order
continuing Billy's supervised visitation with conditions.
The court also ordered Billy to continue to pay the mortgage,
and the court again ordered Billy to pay the arrearage
immediately. Finally, the court ordered Billy to provide the
court with his most recent drug test results, as the court
had ordered him to be tested again by November 14, 2016.
Christina filed a second motion for contempt and modification
on January 6, 2017. Billy still had not paid the mortgage
arrearage, and Christina alleged that he was in arrears on
child support and spousal support as well. Christina alleged
that Billy was earning more than $8, 800 a month as a
dosimetrist at Keelser and could afford to pay the arrearage.
Christina also alleged that Billy had tested positive for
methamphetamine twice and had admitted to her that he was
still using drugs. The hearing on Christina's motion was
set for January 12, 2017, the first day of the trial on
Christina's complaint for divorce.
In response, Billy again claimed that he was unable to pay
the mortgage arrearage, and he denied that he earned $8, 800
per month. Billy's most recent 8.05 statement, which he
submitted in December 2016, showed that his gross monthly
income was $8, 500, but Billy claimed that his true monthly
income was only $7, 562. The day before trial, Billy filed an
updated 8.05 statement showing that he was working as
dosimetrist at Keesler, that he earned $7, 562 per month, and
that his net monthly income was $5, 201.
Christina has an associate's degree from a community
college and works as a dental hygienist. On the first day of
trial, Christina testified that she worked for a dental
clinic in Hattiesburg and that her net income was
approximately $2, 100 per month.
At trial, Christina testified that she first suspected that
Billy was using drugs in 2010. She testified that Billy began
lying about his whereabouts-e.g., falsely claiming that he
was at work or at St. Jude's with their
daughter. Christina testified that Billy also began
having mood swings and sleeping for days at a time. Christina
testified that Billy admitted that he was using drugs when
they learned that she was pregnant in 2011, but he assured
her that he would stop. Despite Billy's assurances,
Christina later found drug paraphernalia hidden in their
home, and in 2013 Billy lost his job as a result of failed
Billy was unemployed for more than a year thereafter. During
this period, he began withdrawing savings from the
couple's Northwestern Mutual IRA. Evidence presented at
trial indicated that the IRA had a balance of about $60, 000
in 2014, but by July 2016 only $0.54 remained. Christina
believed that some of the money that Billy withdrew went to
maintain their household, but she was unsure "where all
of the money went." She testified that she was unable to
work at times while Billy was in Alaska because she "had
too many obligations to take care of [their] children."
She testified that she began relying on credit cards and a
bank loan to make ends meet.
Christina also testified that in 2013 or 2014 she discovered
that Billy was having an affair. Christina testified that she
found inappropriate pictures and conversations with other
women on Billy's phone, and she found sex toys in their
camper. Christina also testified that she received several
"hang-up [phone] calls" that she traced back to
women she did not know. According to Christina, Billy
admitted that he was having an affair. He told Christina that
she had "neglected his sexual needs so he . . . found
comfort with other women."
As noted above, Billy worked in Alaska between 2014 and 2016.
He testified that he sent some money home while he was in
Alaska, and Christina admitted that she received money from
Billy during that time.
Billy returned from Alaska around April 2016, and Christina
suspected that he was still using drugs. Christina testified
that Billy received packages that he had mailed to himself
from Alaska, and soon after the packages arrived, he would
"pick fights" and take their camper and leave for
days at a time. She testified that she sought a protective
order after one of her sons warned her not to come home
because Billy was "throwing heavy things . . . in fits
of rage." Christina testified that in April or May 2016,
she allowed one of their daughters to spend the night with
Billy in the camper because her daughter "wanted to
snuggle with her daddy." Christina testified that when
she went to wake up her daughter the next morning, she found
a used drug syringe that Billy had left in the bed.
Christina introduced photographs at trial that she testified
showed bruises to her neck and jaw. Christina testified that
Billy inflicted the injuries on her in May 2016. She
testified that Billy became angry after she tried to convince
him to leave the marital home because he had been using
methamphetamine. Christina testified that she eventually
threatened Billy with a baseball bat, but Billy "ripped
[the] bat out of [her] hands" and then abused her. After
the incident, Christina obtained a second protective order
from the justice court.
Billy testified to a substantially different version of the
incident. He claimed that he had a toothache and was trying
to rest when Christina began screaming at him for no reason.
He testified that Christina told him "to get out of the
house" because he was a drug addict. He claimed that
Christina would not allow him to pack and began hitting his
truck with the baseball bat. He testified that Christina
ultimately left the house with the children.
Christina testified that Billy subsequently sent her numerous
"very ugly" text messages. She also claimed that
Billy pushed her and intimidated her physically. She
testified that his behavior ...