Farris v. Farris, NO. 2015-CA-00835-COA

CourtCourt of Appeals of Mississippi
Writing for the CourtWILSON, J., FOR THE COURT
Citation202 So.3d 223
Parties Elmer Gene Farris, Appellant v. Rebecca Lee Jones Robertson Farris, Appellee
Docket NumberNO. 2015-CA-00835-COA
Decision Date04 October 2016

202 So.3d 223

Elmer Gene Farris, Appellant
v.
Rebecca Lee Jones Robertson Farris, Appellee

NO. 2015-CA-00835-COA

Court of Appeals of Mississippi.

October 4, 2016


SABRINA D. HOWELL : ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT

202 So.3d 227

LUTHER PUTNAM CRULL JR. : ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE

BEFORE LEE, C.J., WILSON AND GREENLEE, JJ.

WILSON, J., FOR THE COURT:

¶ 1. The Chancery Court of Tallahatchie County granted Rebecca Lee Jones Robertson Farris (Becky) a divorce from Elmer Eugene Farris (Gene) on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment because the court found that Gene knew that he might have herpes but failed to tell Becky and transmitted the disease to her. The chancellor also ruled that the parties' prenuptial agreement was invalid, divided the marital estate, awarded Becky alimony and attorneys' fees, and ordered Gene to maintain a life insurance policy for Becky's benefit. Gene filed a timely notice of appeal and challenges the chancellor's finding of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment, the invalidation of the prenuptial agreement, and most of the financial aspects of the divorce judgment.

¶ 2. We affirm the chancellor's grant of a divorce, but we conclude that the prenuptial agreement is valid and enforceable. Because the prenuptial agreement is valid, we reverse and render in part the division of the marital estate. We affirm the chancellor's award of alimony, but we reverse and render the award of attorneys' fees because the record reflects that Becky is able to pay her own fees. We also reverse the requirement that Gene maintain life insurance, as the amount ordered by the chancellor is excessive on its face. We address each of these issues below.

FACTS

¶ 3. Before she moved in with Gene, Becky lived in a home on five acres of land in Black Hawk in Carroll County. In 2003, she moved into Gene's mobile home in Cascilla in Tallahatchie County. The mobile home was situated on 249 acres, where Gene raised cattle. Both Becky and Gene had been married once before, and each had one or more grown children. In 2004, Becky sold her home and property in Carroll County to her daughter and used the proceeds to pay off credit card debt and to pay for her son's college tuition.

¶ 4. On December 28, 2006—after they had been cohabiting for over three years—Gene and Becky entered into a “Prenuptial Contract and Agreement” at the office of George Cossar, an attorney in Charleston in Tallahatchie County. Gene read the agreement aloud in front of Cossar and Becky, and Cossar told Becky that he represented only Gene. Becky testified that she did not read the agreement herself.

¶ 5. Becky and Gene signed the agreement in front of Cossar's secretary. Becky testified that she believed that she had to sign the agreement “or [she] wouldn't be getting married.” According to Becky, she and Gene “had lived together for three years [without being married], and [she] didn't want to continue living that way.” She also testified that Gene first mentioned the agreement earlier the same day, while they were eating lunch, and that they had never discussed the terms of the agreement before the meeting with Cossar. Gene, however, testified that he had told Becky much earlier that he would not get re-married without a prenuptial agreement and that he and Becky met with Cossar on a prior occasion to discuss it.

¶ 6. The agreement stated that Gene and Becky had both received legal advice and that they were entering into the agreement “freely and with a full understanding of its provisions and with the full knowledge and understanding of the extent of the value of each other's separate properties.” Pursuant to the agreement, Gene and Becky

202 So.3d 228
agree[d] that, should a divorce occur ..., then ... neither [would] make a claim against the other for their separate properties including any additional separate properties acquired, whether by means of purchase, gift, inheritance or other means. [Gene and Becky further] agree[d] that their separate property [would] remain separate ... and [would] not be construed to be marital or community property in the event of [a] divorce and such property, including the income earned from said separate property, [would] be free and clear of any claim or interest by the other party.

¶ 7. While at Cossar's office, Becky prepared a list of her assets to attach to the prenuptial agreement. Becky testified that she understood that she was supposed to list all assets that she either owned at that time or had owned in the past. As a result, she listed seventy-seven acres in Carroll County as an asset, although she no longer owned the land, which was owned by her ex-husband. Becky testified that she completed her list in less than ten minutes and that she did not intend to mislead Gene by listing assets that she no longer owned. Gene compiled his list of assets two days prior to signing the agreement. Gene testified that he understood that he was only to list assets that he owned at that time.

¶ 8. The next day, December 29, 2006, Becky and Gene were married by a justice of the peace in Lake Village, Arkansas. While they were married, Gene sold insurance and raised cattle. Becky previously worked for AT & T for nineteen years. During her marriage to Gene, she worked for Grenada Lake Medical Center, but she ceased working there when she became ill shortly before she and Gene separated. Becky also provided substantial assistance to Gene in the operation of his cattle business, including hard physical labor on a daily basis. At the time of trial, Becky received $533.94 per month in retirement benefits from AT & T and $1,059.92 per month in social security benefits.

¶ 9. In 2010, Becky and Gene paid $21,000 to purchase a rental property. Becky testified that she contributed about $5,000 toward the purchase price. During the marriage, Becky and Gene collected $275 per month in rental income from the property. They also purchased a gun safe, farming equipment, and a cattle trailer during their marriage.

¶ 10. Becky was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2012. In early March of 2012, shortly before she and Gene separated, Becky had surgery to remove a tumor on her left kidney at St. Dominic's Hospital in Jackson. Soon after surgery, Gene left the hospital and Becky did not see him for the remainder of the three days she was in the hospital. Becky went to stay with her daughter Sherry after she was discharged from the hospital.

¶ 11. Gene testified that he waited for Becky to wake up from surgery before he left the hospital. According to Gene, Becky told him that he could go home because one of her children planned to stay at the hospital with her. Gene testified that they talked on the phone throughout her stay and that Becky assured him that he did not need to return to the hospital.

¶ 12. Becky and Gene separated on April 5, 2012. Just prior to their separation, Becky withdrew $1,681 from the joint bank account in which she and Gene deposited their rental income. This was half of the remaining balance in the account.

¶ 13. On April 20, 2012, Becky filed for divorce on the grounds of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment and, in the alternative, irreconcilable differences. Gene answered and filed a counterclaim for divorce on the same grounds. However, Gene eventually withdrew his counterclaim for

202 So.3d 229

divorce. The case eventually proceeded to trial in February 2015.

¶ 14. Becky testified that Gene yelled at her several times a week. Becky recalled that she and Gene spent their first Thanksgiving as husband and wife at a cabin with her children. During the day, Gene became upset because he thought she was spending too much time in the kitchen helping her daughters and was not paying enough attention to him. Becky testified that Gene left the cabin and returned hours later drunk. One of Becky's daughters, Lois, testified that she overheard Becky and Gene have “words at the door.” Lois also testified that Gene “reeked of alcohol” when he returned to the cabin.

¶ 15. According to Becky, Gene also kept her away from her children. Lois agreed that she had very little contact with her mother when she was living with Gene. Lois testified that she “felt isolated” from her mother during that period. Becky also claimed that Gene accused her of taking things such as safety pins and silver.

¶ 16. Becky also testified that she contracted herpes at some point during the marriage. Becky was unsure of the exact date that she learned that she had herpes, but she said that it was several months before she and Gene separated. Becky testified that Gene admitted that he had herpes once she told him that she had contracted the disease.

¶ 17. Gene was married previously for about three years in the mid-1990s. Gene testified that, during their marriage, his first wife told him that she thought that she had herpes. Gene insisted that if he had herpes, he had contracted it from his first wife; however, he was never tested and claimed to be unsure whether he had the disease.

¶ 18. Becky testified that Gene had 104 cows, including five bulls, on the morning they separated. Becky estimated that the cattle were worth $109,000. Gene testified that in the months prior to trial, several of his cows...

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13 practice notes
  • John Doe v. Jane Doe, 2020-CA-00853-COA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Mississippi
    • November 9, 2021
    ...judgment to ensure that the chancellor followed the appropriate standards and did not abuse his discretion.’ " Farris v. Farris , 202 So. 3d 223, 230 (¶27) (Miss. Ct. App. 2016) (quoting McKnight v. McKnight , 951 So. 2d 594, 596 (¶6) (Miss. Ct. App. 2007) ).DiscussionI. Whether the ch......
  • Vassar v. Vassar, NO. 2016–CA–01340–COA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Mississippi
    • October 17, 2017
    ...749, 755 (Miss. 1997), overruled on other grounds by Pearson v. Pearson, 761 So.2d 157 (Miss. 2000) ); see also, e.g., Farris v. Farris, 202 So.3d 223, 236 (¶ 50) (Miss. Ct. App. 2016) ("[I]f neither party has the ability to pay more than his or her own fees, no fees should be awarded.......
  • Doe v. Doe, 2020-CA-00853-COA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Mississippi
    • November 9, 2021
    ...the judgment to ensure that the chancellor followed the appropriate standards and did not abuse his discretion.'" Farris v. Farris, 202 So.3d 223, 230 (¶27) (Miss. Ct. App. 2016) (quoting McKnight v. McKnight, 951 So.2d 594, 596 (¶6) (Miss. Ct. App. 2007)). Discussion I. Whether the ch......
  • Littlefield v. Littlefield, NO. 2018-CP-00200-COA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Mississippi
    • August 27, 2019
    ..., 493 So. 2d 342, 345 (Miss. 1986) ; see also Faries v. Faries , 607 So. 2d 1204, 1209 (Miss. 1992) ; 282 So.3d 825 Farris v. Farris , 202 So. 3d 223, 232 (¶33) (Miss. Ct. App. 2016). To establish such a causal connection, there must be some corroboration to the moving party's testimony of ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
13 cases
  • John Doe v. Jane Doe, 2020-CA-00853-COA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Mississippi
    • November 9, 2021
    ...the judgment to ensure that the chancellor followed the appropriate standards and did not abuse his discretion.’ " Farris v. Farris , 202 So. 3d 223, 230 (¶27) (Miss. Ct. App. 2016) (quoting McKnight v. McKnight , 951 So. 2d 594, 596 (¶6) (Miss. Ct. App. 2007) ).DiscussionI. Whether the cha......
  • Vassar v. Vassar, NO. 2016–CA–01340–COA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Mississippi
    • October 17, 2017
    ...749, 755 (Miss. 1997), overruled on other grounds by Pearson v. Pearson, 761 So.2d 157 (Miss. 2000) ); see also, e.g., Farris v. Farris, 202 So.3d 223, 236 (¶ 50) (Miss. Ct. App. 2016) ("[I]f neither party has the ability to pay more than his or her own fees, no fees should be awarded."). F......
  • Doe v. Doe, 2020-CA-00853-COA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Mississippi
    • November 9, 2021
    ...the judgment to ensure that the chancellor followed the appropriate standards and did not abuse his discretion.'" Farris v. Farris, 202 So.3d 223, 230 (¶27) (Miss. Ct. App. 2016) (quoting McKnight v. McKnight, 951 So.2d 594, 596 (¶6) (Miss. Ct. App. 2007)). Discussion I. Whether the chancer......
  • Littlefield v. Littlefield, NO. 2018-CP-00200-COA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Mississippi
    • August 27, 2019
    ..., 493 So. 2d 342, 345 (Miss. 1986) ; see also Faries v. Faries , 607 So. 2d 1204, 1209 (Miss. 1992) ; 282 So.3d 825 Farris v. Farris , 202 So. 3d 223, 232 (¶33) (Miss. Ct. App. 2016). To establish such a causal connection, there must be some corroboration to the moving party's testimony of ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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