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Ratliff v. Ratliff

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

December 11, 2018

TAMMY H. RATLIFF A/K/A TAMMY HUBBARD APPELLANT
v.
DENNIS L. RATLIFF APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 06/13/2017

          YALOBUSHA COUNTY CHANCERY COURT, SECOND JUDICIAL DISTRICT HON. VICKI B. DANIELS JUDGE.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: ALEXANDER J. SIMPSON III

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: A. E. (RUSTY) HARLOW JR. KATHI CRESTMAN WILSON

          BEFORE GRIFFIS, P.J., FAIR AND TINDELL, JJ.

          TINDELL, J.

         ¶1. On December 1, 2009, the Yalobusha County Chancery Court granted Tammy Hubbard and Dennis Ratliff a divorce. In March 2016, Hubbard filed a contempt action against Ratliff. Ratliff counterclaimed for contempt; emancipation of the couple's minor child, SDR;[1] and termination of child support. After conducting a trial in May 2016, the chancery court entered a judgment on June 13, 2017, finding that neither party should be held in contempt, that SDR was emancipated as of August 1, 2016, and that Hubbard must repay the child-support sums Ratliff paid after SDR's emancipation.

         ¶2. Although the chancery court set SDR's emancipation date at August 1, 2016, there is insufficient record evidence to support her emancipation on this date. Based on Hubbard's testimony, the chancery court understood that SDR took some summer classes after graduating high school. The start and end dates of these classes do not appear in the record. Whether SDR was enrolled as a full-time or part-time student is not apparent. What is clear from the record is that SDR joined the military in November 2016.

         ¶3. Emancipation, by statute, terminates the duty of support and occurs when the child "[j]oins the military and serves on a full-time basis . . . ." Miss. Code Ann. § 93-11-65(8)(a)(iii) (Rev. 2013). Therefore, Ratliff's child-support obligation terminated upon the minor child's emancipation in November 2016. Because the chancery court erroneously set SDR's emancipation date at August 1, 2016, we reverse the chancery court's judgment on that issue and render November 2016 as the effective emancipation date. In setting the emancipation date as November 2016, we must also modify those portions of the chancery court's judgment awarding repayment of the sums Ratliff paid. We affirm the chancery court's judgment in all other respects.

         FACTS

         ¶4. In December 2009, the chancery court granted Hubbard and Ratliff a divorce on the ground of irreconcilable differences. Pursuant to the property-settlement and child-custody agreement, Hubbard was awarded sole legal and physical custody of SDR. The chancery court awarded visitation to Ratliff and ordered him to pay child support, maintain a life-insurance policy with SDR as the beneficiary, provide health insurance for SDR, and pay one-half of SDR's medical expenses not covered by insurance.

         ¶5. In March 2016, Hubbard filed a petition for contempt alleging that: Ratliff owed past- due child support; Ratliff failed to provide proof of a life-insurance policy with SDR as the beneficiary; Ratliff took SDR to unapproved places; and Ratliff refused to pay one-half of certain medical and educational expenses. SDR was eighteen and a senior in high school at the time Hubbard filed her contempt petition. Ratliff answered and filed a counter-petition alleging, among other things, that: Hubbard should be held in contempt of court for failing to comply with the visitation schedule, the court should declare SDR emancipated based upon her age and her discontinuation of school, and child support should be terminated. SDR graduated from high school in the spring of 2016. She then took some summer courses at her local community college. In November 2016, SDR was sworn into the United States Air Force.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶6. The standard of review in a domestic-relations matter is whether the chancery court's ruling was manifestly wrong or clearly erroneous, or if the chancery court applied the wrong legal standard. McKnight v. McKnight, 951 So.2d 594, 595-96 (¶5) (Miss. Ct. App. 2007). "The factual findings of the [chancery court] are reviewed to determine if the award is supported by substantial evidence or whether the decision reflects manifest error." Jackson v. Jackson, 114 So.3d 768, 773 (ΒΆ11) ...


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