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Burrell v. Burrell

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

January 7, 2020


          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 03/16/2018





          WESTBROOKS, J.

         ¶1. On or about January 26, 2017, Cheryl Burrell filed a "Complaint for Divorce and Temporary Relief" in the Chancery Court of Lamar County; the chancellor entered a temporary order on May 16, 2017. Geoffrey Burrell filed his initial answer to Cheryl's complaint on February 28, 2018, and a subsequent amended answer on March 1, 2018. The matter proceeded to trial on March 7, 2018, and the court entered an opinion and final judgment granting an unequal distribution of the marital assets favoring Cheryl on March 16, 2018; Cheryl was granted use and possession of the marital home pending sale, half of Geoffrey's retirement account, reimbursement for dissipated marital funds, and the majority of the couple's marital assets. Geoffrey was ordered to assume sole liability for the marital debts, including the ongoing mortgage note, but, the court found that Cheryl was not entitled to spousal or child support. Four days later, Cheryl moved for reconsideration of the court's final judgment and argued that court's failure to award her the marital home and support payments for the benefit of their disabled son was inequitable. Geoffrey filed a corresponding response on April 30, 2018. The court held a hearing on May 1, 2018, and entered an order denying Cheryl's motion on May 23, 2018. Aggrieved, Cheryl now appeals.


         ¶2. Cheryl filed her complaint for divorce and temporary relief against Geoffrey on January 26, 2017, after twenty-six years of marriage. Cheryl sought a divorce on the grounds of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment, adultery, and, alternatively, irreconcilable differences. The parties have one child, John, who is an adult. Cheryl alleged in her complaint that John was disabled.[1] Cheryl requested the court to award her child support for John and ownership of all household furnishings. She asked the court to require Geoffrey to replace all destroyed, damaged, or worn furniture and to be responsible for the repayment of all marital debt. Cheryl also sought sole and exclusive use of the marital home; an injunction against Geoffrey from interfering with the peaceful enjoyment of her life; and "general relief." Notably, Cheryl did not request alimony or spousal support.

         ¶3. On May 16, 2017, the court entered a temporary order, granting Cheryl temporary possession and use of the marital residence. Geoffrey was directed to continue to pay the mortgage note and utility costs for the marital residence and temporary spousal support to Cheryl.[2] The order also prohibited the parties from disposing of any assets without a court order.

         ¶4. Geoffrey filed his answer and a counter-complaint for divorce and other relief on February 2, 2018, requesting an equitable distribution of the marital estate. He amended the filing on March 1, 2018, but requested the same relief.

         ¶5. Geoffrey stipulated to his adulterous conduct as the ground for divorce and admitted on the record that he wired his mistress "a few hundred dollars" after the death of her husband. The issues at trial were limited to custody and support of John; replacement, use, and ownership of household furnishings and the marital residence; payment of marital debt; and equitable distribution of the marital estate.

         ¶6. At trial, Geoffrey testified that several years earlier he and Cheryl filed bankruptcy because despite his working two jobs, they could not overcome their debt. After completing the bankruptcy, the Burrells only remaining debt was the mortgage on the marital residence. Geoffrey testified that since his and Cheryl's separation, he had moved in with his parents in Slidell, Louisiana, and was commuting eighty-five miles (one-way) to work at Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Geoffrey denied causing damage to any furniture in the marital house; John testified to the same, and Cheryl did not produce any evidence of the alleged damage.

         ¶7. Cheryl disclosed that she received approximately $100, 000 as an inheritance from her father but testified that she had spent a large portion of the funds on alternative medicines and other miscellaneous home expenses.[3] She also admitted that she sold $20, 000 worth of jewelry, in violation of the court's temporary order, to supplement her income after expending all of the money from her inheritance.[4] Cheryl testified that during the marriage, she stayed home due to her fibromyalgia and to take care of John, who is permanently disabled and requires her perpetual care. However, she also testified that she had held a variety of jobs over the years. Geoffrey testified that John would sleep all day and stay up all night. He explained that Cheryl would sometimes work day jobs or run errands and was able to leave John at home alone without issue.

         ¶8. As income, John receives monthly benefits from the Social Security Administration. At the time of trial, John was not under the administration of a guardianship or conservatorship, and Cheryl testified that he had his own checking account and that "no one else could have their name on it except for him." Prior to his parent's separation, John paid a monthly amount of $450 to his parents for rent, food, and utilities; following the separation, he continued to make the payments to Cheryl.

         ¶9. After considering the evidence, the court divided the marital estate as follows: Geoffrey was ordered to pay the mortgage note on the marital residence until the property sold while Cheryl maintained exclusive use. Any remaining equity after the home sold was to be divided equally between the parties. The court noted that Cheryl failed to request permanent alimony or spousal support in any of her pleadings. The court further explained that ...

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