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Culumber v. Culumber

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

December 4, 2018

TONI MILES CULUMBER APPELLANT
v.
ROBERT L. CULUMBER APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 07/29/2016

          HARRISON COUNTY CHANCERY COURT, SECOND JUDICIAL DISTRICT HON. SANFORD R. STECKLER JUDGE

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: JOHN R. REEVES

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: ALBEN NORRIS HOPKINS JR.

         EN BANC.

          LEE, C.J.

         ¶1. In this appeal, we must determine whether the Harrison County Chancery Court, Second Judicial District, erred when it granted Robert Culumber a divorce from Toni Culumber on the grounds of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment and habitual drunkenness and declined to award Toni rehabilitative alimony. Finding the chancellor's decision was supported with substantial credible evidence, we affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. Robert Culumber and Toni Miles Culumber were married on May 22, 2013, in Las Vegas, Nevada. Robert was nineteen years older than Toni and had one child from a previous relationship, but the parties had no children together. Sometime in July 2014, the parties separated after only thirteen months of marriage. On August 29, 2014, Robert filed for divorce on the grounds of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment and habitual drunkenness or, in the alternative, irreconcilable differences. Toni filed her answer and counterclaimed for a divorce on grounds of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment, habitual drunkenness, habitual and excessive drug use, adultery, or in the alternative, irreconcilable differences. Following a trial, spanning dates from July 2015 to July 2016, the chancellor granted Robert a divorce from Toni on the grounds of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment and habitual drunkenness.

         ¶3. At trial, Robert testified that from the very beginning of the marriage, Toni had trust issues that led to "psychotic, manic, violent outbursts" throughout the marriage. He also testified that Toni was physically combative and struck him throughout the marriage, and that she would lunge at him and swing at him "constantly." According to Robert, when he would attempt to leave the home during these outbursts, Toni would threaten him. Robert testified that he feared for his safety and left the marital home fifty to sixty times during the marriage due to this fear. In addition to being afraid to stay in the home while Toni was there, Robert also stated that he would leave in an effort to avoid confrontation and avoid having the police called to the home. He also stated that he left so that he could get a restful night's sleep because he was working two jobs and that Toni did not respect his time, his job, or his clients. On these occasions when he left the home, Robert stayed with friends, neighbors, and his mother.

         ¶4. Robert testified that he lived in the marital home for twenty-one years prior to his marriage to Toni and had never received neighbor complaints or police visits. But, after just two months of marriage, the police were called to the residence due to neighbor reports of arguing between the parties. During the short marriage, the police were called at least four times to the marital home. Robert testified that during Toni's violent outbursts, she caused property damage to the home, with incidents where she cracked the granite kitchen-counter tops around the kitchen sink, destroyed custom cabinets that were installed prior to the marriage, smashed vases, knocked pictures out of frames and off the wall, knocked holes in the sheetrock of the wall, and kicked in doors. He also testified that one evening he came home from fishing and found all of their wedding gifts and picture frames "smashed out in the street" and that a neighbor helped him clean it up. Robert stated that the very next night, he came home and all of his suits had been thrown out in the front yard, and furniture from the house had been moved outside to the driveway. On a separate occasion, a neighbor had alerted him that sheets and blankets had been thrown on the house, covering windows and doors. In one particular incident, Robert came home, and as soon as he walked in the door, Toni threw hot, melted cheese in his face and on his body. She then slammed her head into the wall and called police alleging Robert had struck her. The police came and arrested Robert, though he was ultimately released, and no charges were pressed.

         ¶5. Robert also testified that Toni drank excessively throughout the marriage. He stated that she drank every night and was drunk five out of seven nights per week. He also said that she was prescribed pain pills which she took excessively and drank excessively in combination with the pills. Robert testified that many of the couple's fights and Toni's violent outbursts were precipitated by her drinking. Robert admitted at trial to occasional, recreational marijuana use.

         ¶6. Robert called Michael Newman to testify as a corroborating witness. Newman stated that he and Robert met in seventh grade and had known each other for forty-seven years. He and Robert had also been neighbors for the past twenty-one years. Newman testified that just three or four days after Robert and Toni married in Las Vegas, Robert was back in Biloxi and called Newman, saying that he and Toni were not getting along and that he did not feel safe staying in the marital home. Robert asked if he could stay with Newman, and Newman agreed. Newman testified that Robert stayed with him three nights the first time, five nights the second time, and then one to two nights on and off throughout the marriage. He also stated he was aware that Robert stayed with others, including Robert's mother, a friend named Ronnie Ellis, and even at a hotel room once or twice.

         ¶7. During his testimony about the first night Robert stayed with him, Newman described Robert as being in "extreme distress" and stated that he was "afraid to leave [Robert] alone." He stated that Robert was tremendously distraught about the situation with Toni and that he was "seriously concerned that [Robert] was going to have a heart attack or a stroke." Newman also expressed he "was actually concerned that [Toni] might kill [Robert]." When Toni cross-examined Newman about an incident where Robert had to leave the marital home due to Toni's behavior and then later, once Toni had left, Robert changed the locks, Newman answered that he ...


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