Case v. Case

Decision Date10 May 2022
Docket Number2020-CA-01047-COA
Parties Shannon January CASE, Appellant v. Daniel Justin CASE, Appellee
CourtMississippi Court of Appeals

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: LISA JORDAN DALE, EDWIN L. BEAN JR., McComb

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: DAVID M. SESSUMS, CLIFFORD C. WHITNEY III, Vicksburg

BEFORE BARNES, C.J., GREENLEE AND SMITH, JJ.

GREENLEE, J., FOR THE COURT:

¶1. Shannon Case appeals from the Adams County Chancery Court's judgment of divorce awarding her ex-husband, Daniel Case, sole legal and physical custody of their children B.C. and E.C.1 She also takes issue with the court's failure to divide the marital estate equitably, award permanent alimony, and order adequate rehabilitative alimony. After review, we find that the chancellor's decisions on child custody and alimony were supported by substantial evidence and not an abuse of discretion. However, we also find that the chancellor made calculation errors in the equitable distribution of property. Accordingly, we affirm in part and reverse and render in part.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶2. Daniel and Shannon were married on March 5, 2006. At the time, Daniel was self-employed, and Shannon worked as his secretary. Two daughters were born of the marriage. B.C. was born in 2015, and E.C. was born in 2016.2 Subsequently, Shannon became a stay-at-home mom. At the time of the hearings, Daniel invested in and marketed real estate as a business.

¶3. The Cases separated in September 2018 after Daniel obtained an ex parte domestic abuse protection order against Shannon. Shannon filed a complaint for divorce, which was later dismissed after the parties reconciled. In January 2019, the parties separated again. Shannon filed for divorce on January 14, 2019, on the grounds of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment or, in the alternative, irreconcilable differences. Shortly after, Daniel filed his answer to the complaint for divorce.

¶4. A temporary order was entered on February 5, 2019, for the parties to maintain joint custody of B.C. and E.C. In August 2019, Chancellors E. Vincent Davis and George M. Ward filed a joint order recusing themselves from the case and requested the Supreme Court to appoint a special chancellor for the case. Shortly thereafter, Shannon amended her complaint to allege that Daniel had committed adultery. The Supreme Court entered an order appointing Chancellor Edward E. Patten Jr. as a special chancellor to preside over the case. In September 2019, Daniel filed an answer to the amended complaint and a counter-complaint alleging that Shannon had committed adultery and was addicted to drugs and alcohol. The matter was heard on January 29 through 31, 2020, and on July 13 and 14, 2020.

¶5. According to Shannon, the parties' marriage began to disintegrate around late 2017. Daniel admitted that he had committed adultery while he was still married to Shannon. During her testimony, Shannon also admitted to engaging in extramarital affairs after she and Daniel separated but before their divorce was finalized. The chancellor heard evidence regarding the division of the marital estate, alimony, and child custody and support.

¶6. After a full trial on the merits, the chancellor rendered his judgment, granting Shannon a divorce from Daniel on the ground of adultery. In his "Final Judgment of Divorce," entered on July 31, 2020, the chancellor addressed the parties' personal property, which amounted to $95,475, dividing that value by awarding each party approximately one-half, $47,736.

¶7. The chancellor also addressed investments in real property. Daniel owned an interest in three primary entities: (1) Case Land Company LLC, (2) JAWS Investment LLC (JAWS), and (3) Delta Paradise LLC. At trial, the parties presented appraisals and expert testimony for the valuation of the marital assets. Shannon hired Elbert Bivins, CPA, and Daniel hired James Koerber, CPA. The chancellor set the date of valuation of the marital property as near the date of the parties' temporary order, February 5, 2019, adopting Koerber's date of valuation, January 31, 2019.

¶8. The chancellor determined that all the parties' property was classified as marital property and that the parties were entitled to a fifty-fifty equitable distribution of the marital assets. The chancellor then proceeded to divide the marital assets using Ferguson3 for guidance.

¶9. The chancellor found that Daniel owned a twenty-five percent interest in Delta Paradise. The chancellor determined that Daniel owned a one hundred percent interest in Case Land Company and in JAWS Investment. He further found that although Daniel's interest in Delta Paradise amounted to $295,000, after applying a twenty-percent control discount and a fifteen-percent marketability discount, Daniel's interest was valued at $200,621. Based on the testimony, the chancellor determined that Case Land Company had a negative value of $10,220. The chancellor also determined that the marital assets also consisted of the lake house (valued at $188,000), mobile home equity ($6,873), certificates of deposit ($58,222), life insurance cash value ($14,445), Sara Hill loan ($1,500), house equity ($203,711.80), and the balance remaining paid by Daniel into the court's registry for Shannon's expert witness fees and attorney's fees ($4,863.20). The value of the marital estate, therefore, was $668,016.05. However, the chancellor then adjusted that total after factoring in that the lien on the lake house exceeded its $188,000 value. This left the total value of assets being $480,016. The chancellor thus awarded each party $240,008. The chancellor ruled that Shannon should receive $203,711.80 in house equity and the remaining balance of $4,863.20 (of the $40,000 deposited) in the court's registry. Daniel was given sixty days to pay the remaining balance of $31,433 owed to Shannon.

¶10. After a valuation and division of the marital assets, the chancellor found that the Armstrong4 factors did not warrant permanent periodic alimony. However, Daniel was ordered to pay Shannon $2,500 per month in rehabilitative alimony for four years. The chancellor then turned his attention to the remaining issues of child custody and support. Following an on-the-record Albright5 analysis, the chancellor granted Daniel custody of B.C. and E.C. and visitation to Shannon.

¶11. On August 10, 2020, following the entry of the chancellor's final judgment, Shannon filed a motion to reconsider. Daniel filed a response in opposition on August 19, 2020. The chancellor entered an "Order Granting Motion for Reconsideration in Part and Denying Motion for Reconsideration in Part" on August 31, 2020. In this order, the chancellor amended the final judgment to reflect the value of JAWS Investment—$351,997—which he had inadvertently omitted in determining the total marital estate for equitable distribution. Due to the chancellor's amendment, the marital estate's value increased by $351,997, with each party being allocated an additional $175,998.50. The chancellor denied all the other relief Shannon sought. The chancellor ordered Daniel to pay Shannon in two payments of $87,999.25 on or before June 30, 2021, and $87,999.25 on or before December 31, 2021.

¶12. From that order, Shannon appeals. After review, we affirm in part and reverse and render in part.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶13. "This [c]ourt has a limited standard of review in examining and considering the decisions of a chancellor." Ravenstein v. Ravenstein , 167 So. 3d 210, 215 (¶8) (Miss. 2014). If supported by substantial evidence, a chancellor's factual findings will not be disturbed unless "the chancellor abused his discretion, was manifestly wrong, clearly erroneous, or applied an erroneous legal standard." Varnell v. Rogers , 198 So. 3d 1278, 1280 (¶7) (Miss. Ct. App. 2016). "On appeal [this] Court is required to respect the findings of fact made by a chancellor supported by credible evidence and not manifestly wrong." Newsom v. Newsom , 557 So. 2d 511, 514 (Miss. 1990). As long as a chancellor's findings of fact are supported by substantial credible evidence, they will remain undisturbed on appeal. Pevey v. Pevey , 270 So. 3d 250, 257 (¶18) (Miss. Ct. App. 2018).

DISCUSSION

I. Whether the chancellor properly determined child custody.

¶14. Shannon claims the chancellor erred by granting custody of B.C. and E.C. to Daniel. She contends that the court's determination should be reversed because the chancellor erred in his analysis of the Albright factors.

¶15. It is well established that the child's best interest and welfare are the guideposts in child custody cases. Albright , 437 So. 2d at 1005 ("[T]he polestar consideration ... is the best interest and welfare of the child."). To help ensure a proper custody determination, the supreme court in Albright enumerated the following factors for a court to consider: (1) the age, health, and sex of the child; (2) "the continuity of care prior to the separation"; (3) parenting skills of each parent; (4) "the willingness and capacity to provide primary child care"; (5) "the employment of the parents and the responsibilities of that employment"; (6) the "physical and mental health and age of the parents"; (7) "emotional ties of the parent and the child"; (8) the moral fitness of each parent; (9) "the home, school, and community record of the child"; (10) the preference of the child; (11) the stability of the home environment; and (12) "other factors relevant to the parent-child relationship." Id .

¶16. The Albright factors are intended to ensure that the chancellor follows a process that considers all facts relevant to the child's best interest." Vassar v. Vassar , 228 So. 3d 367, 375 (¶27) (Miss. Ct. App. 2017). An Albright analysis is not a "mathematical formula." Lee v. Lee , 798 So. 2d 1284, 1288 (¶15) (Miss. 2001). Although "the Albright factors are important, ... the chancellor has the ultimate discretion to weigh the evidence the way he sees fit." Hall v. Hall , 134 So. 3d 822, 827 (¶19) (Miss. Ct. App. 201...

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