Cuccia v. Cuccia, No. 2010–CT–00083–SCT.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
Citation90 So.3d 1228
Docket NumberNo. 2010–CT–00083–SCT.
Decision Date28 June 2012
PartiesAnthony Joseph CUCCIA v. Julie Anne (Reavy) CUCCIA.

90 So.3d 1228

Anthony Joseph CUCCIA
v.
Julie Anne (Reavy) CUCCIA.

No. 2010–CT–00083–SCT.

Supreme Court of Mississippi.

June 28, 2012.


[90 So.3d 1230]


Rachael Emily Putnam, Jerry Wesley Hisaw, Southaven, Kay Farese Turner, attorneys for appellant.

Joy W. Graves, Malenda Harris Meacham, Hernando, attorneys for appellee.


EN BANC.

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI

PIERCE, Justice, for the Court:

¶ 1. Anthony Cuccia (“Tony”) separated from his wife, Julie Anne Cuccia (“Julie Anne”), after eleven years of marriage, on December 26, 2007. At some point near the end of the marriage, Julie Anne began allowing rottweiler and pitbull dogs to live in the home. Tony disagreed with Julie Anne's decision, resulting in a dispute that led to Tony filing for divorce on January 31, 2008, in Desoto County Chancery Court, based on irreconcilable differences. On March 12, 2008, Tony filed an amended complaint for divorce, adding that he was entitled to a divorce on the grounds of habitual cruel and inhumane treatment. On March 17, 2008, Julie Anne filed an answer and counterclaim in which she denied being guilty of habitual cruel and inhumane treatment but admitted that irreconcilable differences existed, arguing in the alternative that she was entitled to a divorce on the grounds of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment. On April 15, 2009, Tony and Julie Anne consented to an irreconcilable-differences divorce, but left equitable distribution of property, child custody, and alimony for the chancery court to decide. After a trial on September 21, 2009, the chancery court issued its final divorce decree and order, granting custody to Julie Anne, dividing the marital estate, and awarding alimony. Tony appealed the divorce decree due to the nature of the award given to Julie Anne regarding child custody, alimony, and equitable distribution of marital property. On appeal, the Court of Appeals overturned several of the chancery court's findings and remanded the issues for reexamination. As a result, Julie Anne petitioned this Court for certiorari, which is granted. Now this Court must review the findings of the Court of Appeals and the chancery court. Relevant facts will be discussed within each issue presented to this Court in Julie Anne's petition for certiorari.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶ 2. The Court of Appeals issued a ruling on June 14, 2011, affirming in part, reversing in part, rendering in part, and remanding in part. On the first issue and second issue, child custody and visitation, the Court of Appeals found that the chancery court properly had considered the

[90 So.3d 1231]

Albright1 factors, but the chancery court's determinations were manifestly wrong.2 Thus, the Court of Appeals reversed and rendered, granting joint legal and physical custody to Tony and Julie Anne.3 However, the Court of Appeals remanded the issue to the chancery court, because the chancery court would be in a better position to assess each party's division of time. 4 And, in regard to the children and the dogs that remained in Julie Anne's home, the Court of Appeals ruled that the chancery court had erred by not issuing an injunction against Julie Anne, restricting the number and size of dogs she could have in her residence with the children.5

¶ 3. Next, the Court of Appeals considered equitable distribution of property. The Court of Appeals determined the chancery court was manifestly wrong in awarding Julie Anne half of Tony's bonus check without considering the marital debt that had been satisfied from the bonus.6 Additionally, the Court of Appeals considered whether the home Julie Anne had purchased post-separation should have been classified as marital property, and remanded the issue to the chancery court for reconsideration.7 Moreover, although the Court of Appeals questioned whether a piece of unimproved property located in Tennessee could triple in value over the past eight years, it could not find manifest error with the chancery court's decision.8 But the Court of Appeals did find that the chancery court's failure to consider the marital debt in its analysis was manifest error.9

¶ 4. Finally, the Court of Appeals ruled that the award of alimony to Julie Anne was manifest error.10 The Court of Appeals stated that the chancery court did not expound upon the legal considerations for an award of alimony.11 After weighing the amount awarded to Julie Anne and her income and expenses from her personal business against Tony's decrease in salary and monthly obligations, the Court of Appeals reversed the chancery court's judgment of alimony to Julie Anne and remanded for reconsideration by the chancery court.

¶ 5. In her petition for certiorari, Julie Anne contests the Court of Appeals' findings with regard to the equitable distribution of property, child custody, and alimony. First, Julie Anne asserts that Tony's bonus, at least the part earned while the two were together, was marital property and that Tony failed to show otherwise. Next, Julie Anne argues that her post-separation-purchased home is not marital property because it was purchased after entry of a temporary support order, which she asserts is the line of demarcation in determining whether assets are marital or separate. Also, Julie Anne claims that the

[90 So.3d 1232]

chancery court did not err by disregarding marital debt in dividing the marital estate, stating that the evidence of marital debt was insignificant. In addition, Julie Anne contends that the Court of Appeals' decision with regard to child custody was based on inaccurate facts and unsupported allegations about her home and the role of the parties in caring for the children, maintaining that the chancery court's determination with regard to the Albright factors was correct. Finally, Julie Anne argues that the chancery court properly supported its findings with regard to alimony as outlined by Cheatham v. Cheatham, 537 So.2d 435 (Miss.1988), and that the Court of Appeals erred in reversing and remanding the chancery court's award of alimony.

DISCUSSION
I. Whether the Court of Appeals erred in its determination regarding equitable distribution of property.

¶ 6. Julie Anne suggests that the Court of Appeals erred in three ways: 1) she argues that at least part of Tony's bonus money was marital property and Tony failed to show otherwise; 2) she asserts that the chancery court properly classified her post-separation-purchased home as separate property; and 3) she contends that the chancery court was not obligated to consider marital debt in dividing the marital estate, and that, if it was, the marital debt was insignificant.

¶ 7. The hallmark case for equitable distribution of property in Mississippi is Ferguson v. Ferguson, 639 So.2d 921, 925 (Miss.1994). Accordingly, “this Court has abandoned the title theory method of distribution of marital assets and evolved into an equitable distribution system.” 12 But in reviewing property distribution and division in divorce cases, this Court applies a limited standard of review.13 Therefore, this Court will not substitute its own judgment for that of the chancery court, and the findings of the chancery court will be overturned only when those findings are manifestly wrong or clearly erroneous, or an erroneous legal standard was applied.14

¶ 8. As far as equitable distribution of property is concerned, “equitable division of property does not mean an equal division of property.” 15 Marital property has been classified by this Court “as being any and all property acquired or accumulated during the marriage. Assets so acquired or accumulated during the course of the marriage are marital assets and are subject to an equitable distribution by the chancellor.” 16 Generally, for the purposes of accumulating marital property, the time period runs from the date of marriage until the final judgment of divorce.17 But this Court has carved out an exception when an order for separate

[90 So.3d 1233]

maintenance has been entered.18 This Court also recognized in Wheat that a temporary support order may serve as a line of demarcation in determining whether property is marital or separate. 19

¶ 9. In the case before us, a separate maintenance order was not entered, but a temporary support order was issued on May 6, 2008, and filed on May 9, 2008. In reviewing the chancery court's order, we do not find that he set out the specific date as the line of demarcation in classifying marital versus nonmarital property. He must do so.20 After determining the line of demarcation, the chancery court must then determine which assets and liabilities are marital and nonmarital in accordance with Ferguson and Hemsley. Then, he must divide the marital estate equitably.

A. Tony's FedEx Bonus

¶ 10. At the time of the divorce, Tony was the managing director of information security for Federal Express (“FedEx”). Tony received a bonus check from FedEx in July 2008 in the amount of $43,460 for the period of June 1, 2007, through May 31, 2008. Tony provided evidence that the bonus he received was actually a combination of two bonuses—an annual long-term bonus and an annual incentive bonus. The testimony at trial explained that the annual long-term bonus was computed from FedEx's performance over a three-year period, whereas the annual incentive bonus was based on both Tony's individual performance and FedEx's performance. Accordingly, the vast majority of this bonus appears to have been “accumulated during the marriage” and seems to have been based in part on Tony's individual job performance during the marriage. Therefore, the bonus Tony received could be classified as marital property, subject to equitable distribution.21

¶ 11. Reversal is warranted in this instance because we are unable to determine from the chancery court's order how much of Tony's bonus is subject to equitable distribution. Not only did the chancery court fail to set forth the line of demarcation in classifying marital versus nonmarital property, it failed to take into...

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20 practice notes
  • Warner v. Warner, 2020-CA-01098-COA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Mississippi
    • 7 Junio 2022
    ...factor which in equity should be considered.’ " Griner v. Griner , 235 So. 3d 177 (¶11) (Miss. Ct. App. 2017) (quoting Cuccia v. Cuccia , 90 So. 3d 1228, 1233 (¶12) (Miss. 2012) ). Accordingly, we find that the chancellor erred in the division of property and reverse the chancellor's judgme......
  • Warner v. Warner, 2020-CA-01098-COA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Mississippi
    • 7 Junio 2022
    ...factor which in equity should be considered.'" Griner v. Griner, 235 So.3d 177 (¶11) (Miss. Ct. App. 2017) (quoting Cuccia v. Cuccia, 90 So.3d 1228, 1233 (¶12) (Miss. 2012)). Accordingly, we find that the chancellor erred in the division of property and reverse the chancellor's judgment. On......
  • Lockhart v. Lockhart, 2020-CA-00343-SCT
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • 9 Septiembre 2021
    ...divorce-as the "line of demarcation regarding the marital estate" was arbitrary without further findings. ¶51. Citing Cuccia v. Cuccia, 90 So.3d 1228 (Miss. 2012), Lockhart asserts that regardless of the line of demarcation, the court must specifically make that determination. In Cuccia, th......
  • Lockhart v. Lockhart, 2020-CA-00343-SCT
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • 9 Septiembre 2021
    ...divorce—as the "line of demarcation regarding the marital estate" was arbitrary without further findings. ¶51. Citing Cuccia v. Cuccia , 90 So. 3d 1228 (Miss. 2012), Lockhart asserts that regardless of the line of demarcation, the court must specifically make that determination. In Cuccia ,......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
20 cases
  • Warner v. Warner, 2020-CA-01098-COA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Mississippi
    • 7 Junio 2022
    ...factor which in equity should be considered.’ " Griner v. Griner , 235 So. 3d 177 (¶11) (Miss. Ct. App. 2017) (quoting Cuccia v. Cuccia , 90 So. 3d 1228, 1233 (¶12) (Miss. 2012) ). Accordingly, we find that the chancellor erred in the division of property and reverse the chancellor's judgme......
  • Warner v. Warner, 2020-CA-01098-COA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Mississippi
    • 7 Junio 2022
    ...factor which in equity should be considered.'" Griner v. Griner, 235 So.3d 177 (¶11) (Miss. Ct. App. 2017) (quoting Cuccia v. Cuccia, 90 So.3d 1228, 1233 (¶12) (Miss. 2012)). Accordingly, we find that the chancellor erred in the division of property and reverse the chancellor's judgment. On......
  • Lockhart v. Lockhart, 2020-CA-00343-SCT
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • 9 Septiembre 2021
    ...divorce-as the "line of demarcation regarding the marital estate" was arbitrary without further findings. ¶51. Citing Cuccia v. Cuccia, 90 So.3d 1228 (Miss. 2012), Lockhart asserts that regardless of the line of demarcation, the court must specifically make that determination. In Cuccia, th......
  • Lockhart v. Lockhart, 2020-CA-00343-SCT
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • 9 Septiembre 2021
    ...divorce—as the "line of demarcation regarding the marital estate" was arbitrary without further findings. ¶51. Citing Cuccia v. Cuccia , 90 So. 3d 1228 (Miss. 2012), Lockhart asserts that regardless of the line of demarcation, the court must specifically make that determination. In Cuccia ,......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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