Holloman v. Holloman, No. 94-CA-00025-SCT

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
Writing for the CourtSMITH; DAN LEE; DAN LEE
Citation691 So.2d 897
Decision Date19 September 1996
Docket NumberNo. 94-CA-00025-SCT
PartiesJoan Williams HOLLOMAN v. Ronald B. HOLLOMAN.

Page 897

691 So.2d 897
Joan Williams HOLLOMAN
v.
Ronald B. HOLLOMAN.
No. 94-CA-00025-SCT.
Supreme Court of Mississippi.
Sept. 19, 1996.

Charles T. Yoste, Starkville, for Appellant.

Rex F. Sanderson, Houston, for Appellee.

En Banc.

SMITH, Justice, for the Court:

Joan Williams Holloman appeals to this Court from an adverse decision of the Oktibbeha County Chancery Court where she had sought a one-half interest in Ronald B. Holloman's Savings and Investment Plan maintained through his employer. The chancellor was asked to interpret two clauses of the property settlement agreement, the modification of the final decree of divorce and the entry of a Qualified Domestic Relations Order, and additionally to determine whether Ronald was in contempt for failure to provide income and retirement fund information.

The chancellor held that the issue was the "interpretation of a contract, not determination of marital assets or equities between the parties." He found that the "parties had full knowledge at the time of the preparation and entry of their separation agreement and are bound by the clear reading thereof," thus Joan's request was denied. Aggrieved, Joan appeals and assigns as error the following:

THE TRIAL COURT ERRED BY NOT HOLDING RONALD HOLLOMAN IN CONTEMPT FOR REFUSING TO EXECUTE A FURTHER QUALIFIED DOMESTIC RELATIONS ORDER TO COVER ALL OF HIS RETIREMENT BENEFITS, INCLUDING THE SAVINGS

Page 898

AND INVESTMENT PLAN, AS CONTEMPLATED BY THE SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT.

(1) THE HUSBAND'S EMPLOYER'S SAVINGS AND INVESTMENT PLAN WAS A RETIREMENT BENEFIT CONTEMPLATED BY PARAGRAPH VI.D. OF THE PROPERTY SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT.

(2) ALTERNATIVELY, THE HUSBAND'S EMPLOYER'S SAVINGS AND INVESTMENT PLAN WAS A RETIREMENT FUND "OF ANY DESCRIPTION" AS CONTEMPLATED BY PARAGRAPH VI.1E. OF THE PROPERTY SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT.

(3) THE PARTIES' INTENT IN THE EXECUTION OF THE SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT WAS TO INSURE THE WIFE'S CONTINUED ALIMONY SUPPORT UPON THE HUSBAND'S RETIREMENT.

THE FACTS

Ronald B. Holloman and Joan Williams Holloman were granted a divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences, ending a second marriage to each other on May 8, 1989. Both parties were represented by separate counsel throughout the proceedings. The Holloman's settlement agreement was approved and accepted by the chancellor and incorporated into the divorce decree.

Pursuant to the terms of the agreement, Ronald agreed to pay Joan one half of his monthly retirement benefits that he would accrue prior to retirement. Ronald had two separate retirement plans with his employer, Union Camp Corporation. One known as the Union Camp Corporation Retirement Plan for Salaried Employees and the other as a Savings and Investment Plan.

After the divorce decree was entered, Joan inquired of Ronald what accounts were involved concerning his retirement funds. Ronald only advised her of his employer's Retirement Income Plan. The Hollomans had a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) entered naming Joan as the payee under that Retirement Income Plan.

Subsequent to the entry of that order, Joan discovered that the Retirement Income Plan did not contain the total assets that Ronald had accumulated toward retirement. Ronald had another account, a 401-K account called a Savings and Investment Plan. Joan contended that this account was governed by the settlement agreement. Ronald refused to comply with Joan's request. Joan filed a motion to cite Ronald for contempt, and thereafter amended, to have the 401-K incorporated into a revised QDRO in conformity with the settlement agreement.

The chancellor determined that the parties contracted themselves to an acceptable termination of their marriage and fair distribution of their marital assets. He treated the agreement as a contract, noted that contracts are construed against the preparer, and since Joan's attorney had prepared the document, any knowledge of marital assets attributed to her was imputed to her attorney. He found that the separation agreement "failed to show the specificity required to modify the Final Decree of Divorce and the Qualified Domestic Relations Order." He also determined that Ronald was current in his payment of support and had supplied adequate financial information to Joan. He therefore, denied her relief on her request that Ronald be held in contempt. Following denial of all relief and Joan's timely Motion For New Trial, which was overruled, this appeal followed.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

This Court will not disturb the chancellor's opinion when supported by substantial evidence unless the chancellor abused his discretion, was manifestly wrong, clearly erroneous or an erroneous legal standard was applied. Mount v. Mount, 624 So.2d 1001, 1004 (Miss.1993); Bowers Window and Door Co., Inc. v. Dearman, 549 So.2d 1309 (Miss.1989)(citing Bullard v. Morris, 547 So.2d 789, 791 (Miss.1989)); Gibson v. Manuel, 534 So.2d 199, 204 (Miss.1988); Johnson v. Hinds County, 524 So.2d 947, 956 (Miss.1988); Bell v. City of Bay St. Louis, 467 So.2d 657, 661 (Miss.1985); Culbreath v. Johnson, 427 So.2d 705, 707-708 (Miss.1983).

Page 899

DISCUSSION OF LAW

The crux of this case is the interpretation of two paragraphs found in the separation agreement. The text of paragraph VI(1)(d) of the agreement provides that:

The husband will pay unto his Wife, or will provide, that his employer or retirement benefits program administrator will pay unto said Wife, one-half (1/2) of his monthly retirement benefits that have accrued as of the date of this agreement and will hereafter accrue until retirement, upon the retirement of the Husband from Union Camp Corporation, his employer, or any successor employer, said one-half (1/2) of retirement payment to be made monthly and to continue until his wife remarries, or dies, whichever occurs first. The Husband further agrees to continue to contribute to his retirement fund with his employer at the same level he has contributed for the past twelve (12) months prior to the execution of this agreement. The Husband also agrees to furnish documentation to the Wife of his annual statement of earnings with said retirement account of Union Camp Corporation, or successor employer, and hereby further authorizes his employer and/or his employer's retirement fund to give access to the Wife of any and all information concerning said retirement fund account and to execute any documents necessary to properly vest the Wife's interest in said retirement fund....

The text of paragraph VI(1)(e) of the agreement provides:

The Husband will also pay to the Wife one-half (1/2) of any and all retirement funds of any description, as they become available at retirement, to include individual retirement accounts (I.R.A.). Husband agrees to furnish Wife documentation concerning any of these accounts....

Joan argues that Ronald failed to provide information concerning the Savings and Investment Plan, a 401-K account, and that the paragraphs above cover such an account. She maintains Ronald is required to convey to her one-half interest in this account at retirement.

The Holloman's intent in the execution of the property settlement agreement was to insure Joan's continuous alimony upon Ronald's retirement. From a complete reading of the settlement agreement, it would be difficult not to say that the intentions of the parties was to provide for permanent support and maintenance for Joan, whether Ronald was employed or retired. This Court, in Cherry v. Anthony, Gibbs, Sage, 501 So.2d 416, 419 (Miss.1987), stated, "It has long been the law in Mississippi that in construing particular provisions in a contract, a court will look to the document as a whole." Id. Here, the Hollomans have expressed their clear intent from a fair reading of the settlement agreement as a whole. Examination of the two paragraphs in question and the specific words utilized therein, clearly show the intent to be that Joan receive one-half of Ronald's retirement benefits, whether in one account or more, and regardless of the name attached to the account. This Court, in Newell v. Hinton, 556 So.2d 1037 (Miss.1990), citing Roberts v. Roberts, 381 So.2d 1333, 1335 (Miss.1980), stated:

Intent of the parties is crucial in contract interpretation. Of course, it must be understood that the words employed in a contract are "by far the best resource for ascertaining intent and assigning meaning with fairness and accuracy."

Newell, 556 So.2d at 1042.

According to paragraph VI. 1. d. of the property settlement agreement, Ronald's employer's savings and investment plan constituted a retirement benefit. By any stretch of the imagination, the plan was a retirement fund of which Ronald had promised to pay "one half of any and all retirement funds of any description, as they become available at retirement ...." as contemplated by paragraph VI. 1. e. This Court finds that this one phrase, "of any description" alone is broad enough and sufficient to include the retirement 401-K savings plan. The chancellor erred in not finding that the Savings and Investment Plan was a retirement fund under this phrase from paragraph VI.1.e. of the property settlement agreement.

Joan attempted within two months of the divorce to establish her rights to Ronald's

Page 900

retirements accounts. She was advised that a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) was necessary. Ronald only advised her of Union Camp Corporation, his employer's, retirement income plan. The QDRO was accordingly prepared, submitted to the lower court and executed on May 3, 1992.

Subsequent to the entry of the...

To continue reading

Request your trial
66 practice notes
  • Hamilton v. Hopkins, No. 2001-CA-01607-SCT.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • 9 Enero 2003
    ...was manifestly wrong, or was clearly erroneous. Cox v. F-S Prestress, Inc., 797 So.2d 839, 843 (Miss.2001); Holloman v. Holloman, 691 So.2d 897, 898 DISCUSSION I. WHETHER THE CHANCELLOR ERRED IN AWARDING ATTORNEY'S FEES TO THE HOPKINSES. ¶ 13. Hamilton asserts that the chancellor erred in a......
  • Holland v. Mayfield, No. 96-CA-01169-SCT.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • 3 Junio 1999
    ...hearing. ¶ 23. In interpreting any agreement the cardinal rule is to give effect to the intentions of the parties. Holloman v. Holloman, 691 So.2d 897, 899 (Miss.1996); Century 21 Deep S. Properties, Ltd. v. Keys, 652 So.2d 707, 717 (Miss.1995); Newell v. Hinton, 556 So.2d 1037, 1042 (Miss.......
  • Mabus v. Mabus, No. 2003-CA-01728-SCT.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • 3 Febrero 2005
    ...we should not disturb the learned chancellor's decision substituting our judgment for that of the chancellor. Holloman v. Holloman, 691 So.2d 897, 898 (Miss.1996) (collecting ¶ 7. The trial court is the appropriate entity to award attorney's fees and costs. Miss. Power & Light Co. v. Co......
  • Ferrara v. Walters, No. 2002-CA-02052-SCT.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • 22 Septiembre 2005
    ...Williams v. Williams, 843 So.2d 720, 722 (Miss.2003); Cox v. F-S Prestress, Inc., 797 So.2d 839, 843 (Miss.2003); Holloman v. Holloman, 691 So.2d 897, 898 (Miss.1996). However, the chancery court's interpretation and application of the law is reviewed de novo. Weissinger v. Simpson, 861 So.......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
66 cases
  • Hamilton v. Hopkins, No. 2001-CA-01607-SCT.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • 9 Enero 2003
    ...was manifestly wrong, or was clearly erroneous. Cox v. F-S Prestress, Inc., 797 So.2d 839, 843 (Miss.2001); Holloman v. Holloman, 691 So.2d 897, 898 DISCUSSION I. WHETHER THE CHANCELLOR ERRED IN AWARDING ATTORNEY'S FEES TO THE HOPKINSES. ¶ 13. Hamilton asserts that the chancellor erred in a......
  • Holland v. Mayfield, No. 96-CA-01169-SCT.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • 3 Junio 1999
    ...hearing. ¶ 23. In interpreting any agreement the cardinal rule is to give effect to the intentions of the parties. Holloman v. Holloman, 691 So.2d 897, 899 (Miss.1996); Century 21 Deep S. Properties, Ltd. v. Keys, 652 So.2d 707, 717 (Miss.1995); Newell v. Hinton, 556 So.2d 1037, 1042 (Miss.......
  • Mabus v. Mabus, No. 2003-CA-01728-SCT.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • 3 Febrero 2005
    ...we should not disturb the learned chancellor's decision substituting our judgment for that of the chancellor. Holloman v. Holloman, 691 So.2d 897, 898 (Miss.1996) (collecting ¶ 7. The trial court is the appropriate entity to award attorney's fees and costs. Miss. Power & Light Co. v. Cook, ......
  • Ferrara v. Walters, No. 2002-CA-02052-SCT.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
    • 22 Septiembre 2005
    ...Williams v. Williams, 843 So.2d 720, 722 (Miss.2003); Cox v. F-S Prestress, Inc., 797 So.2d 839, 843 (Miss.2003); Holloman v. Holloman, 691 So.2d 897, 898 (Miss.1996). However, the chancery court's interpretation and application of the law is reviewed de novo. Weissinger v. Simpson, 861 So.......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT