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Reynolds v. Henry Reynolds

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

December 17, 2019

RAYMOND EARL REYNOLDS APPELLANT
v.
ELIZABETH KAY HENRY REYNOLDS APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT 01/29/2018

          LAWRENCE COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. GERALD MARION MARTIN TRIAL JUDGE.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: MATTHEW ALLEN BALDRIDGE.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: JOSEPH A. FERNALD JR. JAMIE NICOLE HARDISON-EDWARDS.

          BEFORE J. WILSON, P.J., TINDELL, McDONALD AND McCARTY, JJ.

          TINDELL, J.

         ¶1. On January 29, 2018, the Lawrence County Chancery Court granted an irreconcilable- differences divorce to Raymond Reynolds and Elizabeth "Kay" Reynolds. In his findings of fact, conclusions of law, and final judgment of divorce, the chancellor made the following determinations: (1) Raymond was required to pay any outstanding debt on the couple's 2012 Ford Focus; (2) Kay was awarded $4, 200, or half, of the marital equity in the couple's former marital home; and (3) Kay was awarded lump-sum alimony in the amount of $19, 500. Raymond now appeals, arguing that the chancellor's foregoing determinations were erroneous. Finding no error, we affirm the chancellor's findings of fact, conclusions of law, and final judgment.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. Raymond and Kay were married on November 16, 2000, until their separation on or about May 24, 2013. On September 17, 2013, Kay filed her complaint for divorce and motion for temporary relief, and Raymond filed his answer and counterclaim for divorce on October 3, 2013. Both parties requested a fault-based divorce or, alternatively, an irreconcilable-differences divorce.

         ¶3. Raymond and Kay had two children during their marriage, one of whom died prior to the divorce proceedings. On May 20, 2014, the chancellor entered an order for temporary relief that granted temporary joint custody of the couple's surviving child, granted Raymond temporary use and possession of the marital home, and enjoined both parties from liquidating or transferring any assets during this time.

         ¶4. On January 4, 2015, upon a joint motion by the parties, the chancellor entered an order withdrawing the parties' fault-based divorce pleadings and allowing Raymond and Kay to proceed with an irreconcilable-differences divorce. That same day, Raymond and Kay filed a consent to divorce, wherein they agreed to allow the chancellor to decide the following issues: (1) child custody, (2) visitation, (3) child support, (4) equitable distribution of marital assets, (5) obligation to pay the remaining debt of the couple's 2012 Ford Focus, and (6) assessment of attorney's fees, if any.

         ¶5. Divorce proceedings took place over nine days in 2015 and 2016. On the final day of trial, Raymond and Kay came to an agreement as to custody and visitation of their surviving child, leaving all remaining issues for the chancellor's determination. On January 29, 2018, the chancellor entered his findings of fact, conclusions of law, and final judgment of divorce. In the final judgment, the chancellor granted Raymond and Kay an irreconcilable-differences divorce and made the following determinations pertinent to this appeal: (1) Kay was awarded use, ownership, and possession of the couple's 2012 Ford Focus; (2) Raymond was obligated to pay all outstanding debt on the 2012 Ford Focus; (3) Kay was awarded $19, 500 in lump-sum alimony; and (4) Kay was awarded $4, 200 as her equitable distribution of the couple's marital property. Aggrieved by the chancellor's determinations and final judgment, Raymond now appeals.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶6. We apply a limited standard of review when examining a chancellor's decision in domestic-relations matters. Williams v. Williams, 224 So.3d 1282, 1284 (¶5) (Miss. Ct. App. 2017). "Chancellors are afforded wide latitude in fashioning equitable remedies in domestic[-]relations matters, and their decisions will not be reversed if the findings of fact are supported by substantial credible evidence in the record." Henderson v. Henderson, 757 So.2d 285, 289 (¶19) (Miss. 2000). We review "the facts of a divorce decree in a light most favorable to the appellee," and unless the chancellor's judgment was manifestly wrong or clearly erroneous, or the chancellor applied an erroneous legal standard, the judgment should stand. Fisher v. Fisher, 771 So.2d 364, 367 (¶8) (Miss. 2000).

         ¶7. Specifically, we review a chancellor's judgment of property division "to ensure that the chancellor followed the appropriate standards and did not abuse his discretion." Wells v. Wells, 800 So.2d 1239, 1243 (¶8) (Miss. Ct. App. 2001). "Alimony awards are [also] within the sound discretion of the chancellor." Speed v. Speed, 757 So.2d 221, 224 (¶6) (Miss. 2000) (citing McEachern v. McEachern, 605 So.2d 809, 814 (Miss. 1992)).

         ANALYSIS

         ¶8. On appeal, Raymond takes issue with the chancellor's distribution of the couple's marital assets and marital debt and his decision to award alimony. "Mississippi law requires equitable distribution of the marital estate during divorce proceedings." Griner v. Griner, 235 So.3d 177, 184 (¶9) (Miss. Ct. App. 2017) (citing Owen v. Owen, 798 So.2d 394, 399 (¶14) (Miss. 2001)). "When the parties request that the chancellor resolve the issue of property division, the chancellor must do three things: (1) classify the parties' assets as marital or separate, (2) value those assets, and (3) divide the marital assets equitably." Burnham v. Burnham, 185 So.3d 358, 361 (¶12) (Miss. Ct. App. 2015) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Before dividing the marital property, the chancellor must employ the factors set forth in Ferguson v. Ferguson, 639 So.2d 921 (Miss. 1994), keeping in mind the amount of nonmarital property belonging to the parties. See Burnham, 185 So.3d at 361 (¶¶12-13).

         ¶9. The Ferguson factors are:

(1) contribution to the accumulation of ...

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