Chesney v. Chesney, No. 2004-CA-01685-SCT.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
Writing for the CourtGraves, Justice
Citation910 So.2d 1057
PartiesMitchell Lamar CHESNEY v. Cynthia Ann CHESNEY.
Docket NumberNo. 2004-CA-01685-SCT.
Decision Date08 September 2005
910 So.2d 1057
Mitchell Lamar CHESNEY
v.
Cynthia Ann CHESNEY.
No. 2004-CA-01685-SCT.
Supreme Court of Mississippi.
September 8, 2005.

Page 1058

COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

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Craig Andrew Conway, Earl P. Jordan, attorneys for appellant.

Lawrence Primeaux, Meridian, attorney for appellee.

Before COBB, P.J., CARLSON and GRAVES, JJ.

GRAVES, Justice, for the Court.


¶ 1. This case involves the appeal of a child support award rendered in a divorce proceeding in the Chancery Court of Lauderdale County. Mitchell Lamar Chesney (Mitch) appealed the trial court judgment, which the Court of Appeals affirmed in part. This Court, on writ of certiorari, affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals in part, and reversed and remanded in part. On remand, the chancellor made specific findings of fact and conclusions of law to support her original child support award. Mitch now appeals from that decision.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶ 2. Mitchell Lamar Chesney (Mitch) and Cynthia Howington Chesney (Cindy) were granted a divorce on the ground of irreconcilable differences in the Chancery Court of Lauderdale County. The Chesneys' marriage produced three daughters, Kimberly, Jennifer, and Aimee.1 The Chesneys were unable to reach a settlement concerning certain financial matters, so the chancellor adjudicated the award of child support, division of marital assets, and alimony. Unhappy with the chancellor's decision, Mitch appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed the equitable distribution of marital assets, reversed and remanded for further proceedings on the establishment of a proper level of child support and reversed and rendered on the award of periodic alimony and attorney's fees.2 This Court affirmed the Court of Appeals' decision to reverse and remand the case for a determination of an appropriate child support award, supported by an evidentiary record, and its decision to deny periodic alimony; however, this Court reversed the Court of Appeals on the issue of attorney's fees and reinstated the chancellor's award.3

¶ 3. On remand, the chancellor, in lieu of a hearing, had both parties submit proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law to aid in rendering her decision. The chancellor ultimately found that Mitch had sufficient income to maintain his own standard of living after paying child support and additional court-ordered expenses and found that Cindy did not have the capacity to support herself and Aimee and maintain the same standard of living for Aimee as the older daughters had enjoyed. She found that it would be unjust and unfair not to require Mitch to provide financial assistance to Aimee at the same level as his other daughters since he had the financial capability to do so.

¶ 4. The chancellor found that a departure from the statutory guidelines was

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warranted in the instant case and rendered a judgment which required Mitch to: (1) pay monthly child support of $530; (2) pay one-half of Jennifer's college expenses until age 21;4 (3) pay one-half of Aimee's tuition, books, fees, and extracurricular activities at the Lamar School; (4) pay one-half of the costs associated with any of Aimee's athletic activities, including lodging, gas, food, etc.; and (5) provide Aimee, upon obtaining her driver's license, with an automobile comparable to those given to the other daughters and pay for all major repairs and insurance on that vehicle. The chancellor did, however, require Cindy to pay for the gas, routine maintenance, and tag on Aimee's vehicle once it was purchased. Mitch now appeals from the chancellor's Opinion and Judgment, dated July 15, 2004, alleging that the chancellor erred on two specific grounds. He claims that (1) the chancellor failed in detailing specific findings which warrant a departure from the statutory child support guidelines; and (2) even if the chancellor's findings were sufficient to overcome the rebuttable presumption that the statutory award was sufficient, the award of child support on remand was excessive, constituting an abuse of discretion. As Mitch's allegations of error are without merit, we affirm the chancellor's award of child support.

DISCUSSION

¶ 5. A chancellor has discretion in awarding child support, and this Court will not reverse the award "unless the chancellor was manifestly wrong in his finding of fact or manifestly abused his discretion." Clausel v. Clausel, 714 So.2d 265, 266 (Miss.1998). Since the chancellor's process in weighing evidence and awarding child support "is essentially an exercise in fact-finding," this Court is "significantly restrained" in its review. Id. at 266-67. Essentially, a chancellor's findings of fact will only be reversed when the record possesses no credible evidence to support them. Hensarling v. Hensarling, 824 So.2d 583, 586 (Miss.2002). A chancery court's conclusions of law, however, are reviewed de novo. Southerland v. Southerland, 875 So.2d 204, 206 (Miss.2004) (Southerland II).

I. Whether the chancellor's factual findings were sufficiently supported by an evidentiary record to warrant a departure from the statutory child support guidelines.

¶ 6. This State's general statutory guidelines for determining an appropriate award of child support state in relevant part:

(1) The following child support award guidelines shall be a rebuttable presumption in all judicial or administrative proceedings regarding the awarding or modifying of child support awards in this state:

 Percentage Of Adjusted
                 Number Of Children Gross Income That Should
                 Due Support Be Awarded For Support
                 1 14%
                 2 20%
                 3 22%
                 4 24%
                 5 or more 26%
                

(2) The guidelines provided for in subsection (1) of this section apply unless the judicial or administrative body awarding or modifying the child support award makes a written finding or specific finding on the record that the application of the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate in a particular case as determined under the criteria specified in Section 43-19-103.

. . . .

(4) In cases in which the adjusted gross income as defined in this section is

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more than Fifty Thousand Dollars ($50,000.00) or less than Five Thousand Dollars ($5,000.00), the court shall make a written finding in the record as to whether or not the application of the guidelines established in this section is reasonable.

Miss.Code Ann. § 43-19-101 (Rev.2004).

¶ 7. This Court has noted that this statutory guideline does "not control per se the amount" of a child support award. Clausel, 714 So.2d at 267. Rather, the specific award amount must be set by the chancellor, "who has special knowledge of the actual circumstances" in each case. McEachern v. McEachern, 605 So.2d 809, 814 (Miss.1992). However, for this Court to affirm an award which deviates from the guideline of Section 43-19-101(1), the chancellor must overcome the rebuttable presumption that the statutory award is the appropriate measure of child support by making an on-the-record finding that it would be unjust or inappropriate to apply the guidelines in the instant case. Id.

¶ 8. The criteria for determining if deviation from the statutory guideline in Section 43-19-101 is appropriate are found in Miss.Code Ann. § 43-19-103 (Rev.2004), and require a chancellor to consider:

(a) Extraordinary medical, psychological, educational or dental expenses.

(b) Independent income of the child.

(c) The payment of both child support and spousal support to the obligee.

(d) Seasonal variations in one or both parents' incomes or expenses.

(e) The age of the child, taking into account the greater needs of older children.

(f) Special needs that have traditionally been met within the family budget even though the fulfilling of those needs will cause the support to exceed the proposed guidelines.

(g) The particular shared parental arrangement, such as where the noncustodial parent spends a great deal of time with the children thereby reducing the financial expenditures incurred by the custodial parent, or the refusal of the noncustodial parent to become involved in the activities of the child, or giving due consideration to the custodial parent's homemaking services.

(h) Total available assets of the obligee, obligor and the child.

(i) Any other adjustment which is needed to achieve an equitable result which may include, but not be limited to, a reasonable and necessary existing expense or debt.

Additionally, this Court has stated that in determining the appropriateness of an award of...

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34 practice notes
  • Lowrey v. Lowrey, No. 2007-CA-01988-SCT.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • November 5, 2009
    ...standard." Owen v. Owen, 928 So.2d 156, 160 (Miss. 2006). A chancellor's conclusions of law are reviewed de novo. Chesney v. Chesney, 910 So.2d 1057, 1060 (Miss.2005) (citing Southerland v. Southerland, 875 So.2d 204, 206 (Miss.2004)). The distribution of marital assets in a divorce will be......
  • Evans v. Evans, No. 2007-CP-00920-SCT.
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • November 20, 2008
    ...but not be limited to, a reasonable and necessary existing expense or debt. Miss.Code Ann. § 43-19-103 (Rev.2004); Chesney v. Chesney, 910 So.2d 1057, (Miss. 2005). The guidelines are a rebuttable presumption in the award or modification of child support; thus they do "not control per se th......
  • McBroom v. Jackson Cnty., No. 2012–CA–01695–SCT.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • October 2, 2014
    ...156, 160 (Miss.2006) ). “A chancellor's conclusions of law are reviewed de novo.” Lowrey, 25 So.3d at 285 (citing Chesney v. Chesney, 910 So.2d 1057, 1060 (Miss.2005) ). ¶ 12. This Court has defined “dedication” as “the setting aside of land for public use.” Nettleton Church of Christ v. Co......
  • McBroom v. Jackson Cnty., NO. 2012-CA-01695-SCT
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • September 18, 2012
    ...156, 160 (Miss. 2006)). "A chancellor's conclusions of law are reviewed de novo." Lowrey, 25 So. 3d at 625 (citing Chesney v. Chesney, 910 So. 2d 1057, 1060 (Miss. 2005)).¶12. This Court has defined "dedication" as "the setting aside of land for public use." Nettleton Church of Christ v. Co......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
34 cases
  • Lowrey v. Lowrey, No. 2007-CA-01988-SCT.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • November 5, 2009
    ...standard." Owen v. Owen, 928 So.2d 156, 160 (Miss. 2006). A chancellor's conclusions of law are reviewed de novo. Chesney v. Chesney, 910 So.2d 1057, 1060 (Miss.2005) (citing Southerland v. Southerland, 875 So.2d 204, 206 (Miss.2004)). The distribution of marital assets in a divorce will be......
  • Evans v. Evans, No. 2007-CP-00920-SCT.
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • November 20, 2008
    ...but not be limited to, a reasonable and necessary existing expense or debt. Miss.Code Ann. § 43-19-103 (Rev.2004); Chesney v. Chesney, 910 So.2d 1057, (Miss. 2005). The guidelines are a rebuttable presumption in the award or modification of child support; thus they do "not control per se th......
  • McBroom v. Jackson Cnty., No. 2012–CA–01695–SCT.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • October 2, 2014
    ...156, 160 (Miss.2006) ). “A chancellor's conclusions of law are reviewed de novo.” Lowrey, 25 So.3d at 285 (citing Chesney v. Chesney, 910 So.2d 1057, 1060 (Miss.2005) ). ¶ 12. This Court has defined “dedication” as “the setting aside of land for public use.” Nettleton Church of Christ v. Co......
  • McBroom v. Jackson Cnty., NO. 2012-CA-01695-SCT
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • September 18, 2012
    ...156, 160 (Miss. 2006)). "A chancellor's conclusions of law are reviewed de novo." Lowrey, 25 So. 3d at 625 (citing Chesney v. Chesney, 910 So. 2d 1057, 1060 (Miss. 2005)).¶12. This Court has defined "dedication" as "the setting aside of land for public use." Nettleton Church of Christ v. Co......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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