Rakestraw v. Rakestraw, No. 96-CA-01118

CourtCourt of Appeals of Mississippi
Writing for the CourtHINKEBEIN; BRIDGES; PAYNE; PAYNE
Citation717 So.2d 1284
PartiesWilliam David RAKESTRAW, Appellant, v. Rebecca Kay RAKESTRAW, Appellee. COA.
Docket NumberNo. 96-CA-01118
Decision Date21 April 1998

Page 1284

717 So.2d 1284
William David RAKESTRAW, Appellant,
v.
Rebecca Kay RAKESTRAW, Appellee.
No. 96-CA-01118 COA.
Court of Appeals of Mississippi.
April 21, 1998.
Rehearing Denied July 28, 1998.

Page 1285

T.K. Moffett, Tupelo, for Appellant.

Charles R. Wilbanks, Corinth, for Appellee.

Before THOMAS, P.J., and COLEMAN and HINKEBEIN, JJ.

HINKEBEIN, Judge, for the Court:

¶1 William Rakestraw brings this appeal from the Alcorn County Chancery Court's judgment of divorce entered against him and in favor of his wife of 25 years, Rebecca Rakestraw. The sole basis for his appeal is that the chancellor erred in awarding the divorce in favor of Mrs. Rakestraw on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment. Mrs. Rakestraw cross-appeals, characterizing the chancellor's failure to require that her husband pay support for the benefit of the couple's three minor children as an unacceptable deviation from statutory guidelines.

FACTS

¶2 William and Rebecca were married on June 25, 1972. Taking only the verifiable portions of Rebecca's trial testimony into consideration, difficulties apparently arose shortly thereafter. By his own admission, William held upwards of thirty-five separate jobs over the course of the relationship. Few of these money-making ventures allowed William to contribute in any significant way to his growing family's financial needs. Worse yet, due to an apparent lack of initiative on William's part, this frequent "job-hopping" was punctuated with lengthy periods of unemployment. Adding to the adversity, William, against Rebecca's wishes, brought his mentally ill brother to live with the family upon his release from the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield. Since her modest teacher's salary failed to provide sufficient funds to support the entire group, Rebecca and her children were often left to survive without what would seem to be necessities in this day and age. For example, when the older appliances in her home ceased working, she managed to sustain the family for nearly a year without the aid of either a refrigerator or stove. After Rebecca's sympathetic relatives finally purchased these units, William became upset with what he considered their interference and left the premises while the items were unloaded.

¶3 William's neglect touched other aspects of the marriage as well. Beyond the lack of monetary aid and resulting hardships, William refused entirely to assist with household chores. As Rebecca's sister recalled at trial, even during the earliest days of the marriage, "if Becky and Bill came in to visit ... she brought in the luggage, she brought

Page 1286

in the babies, she took care of everything." Without belaboring the details of each occasion on which he exhibited such neglect, suffice it to say that this pattern apparently continued for the next two and a half decades. Moreover, the exterior of the family home, which Rebecca left to William's care, remained in a constant state of clutter and disrepair according to all accounts. During these years William also withheld emotional support from Rebecca as well as their daughters. His indifference can be most clearly identified in an unwavering refusal to attend functions such as holiday gatherings and childhood recitals/programs. The most glaring examples of this non-attentiveness are William's unexplained failure to appear at either his wife's college graduation or his oldest daughter Lydia's high school graduation ceremonies.

¶4 William's familial role was not entirely passive, though. He frequently belittled Rebecca before family and friends by referring to her as "stupid" or "ignorant." While Rebecca admitted to occasionally returning these insults, his unkind behavior extended beyond mere bickering. Although there is no confirmation that he ever struck his wife, William was prone to throwing household items about during what might best be described as temper tantrums. And his hostility was directed at the entire family, not merely his wife. During one of these episodes he questioned the paternity of the youngest daughter. In the midst of another, he accused the oldest child of causing his marriage to deteriorate.

¶5 In July of 1995, the deaths of their parents left Rebecca and her sister as joint owners of the home in which they had grown up. Rebecca saw a previously unimaginable opportunity to become a homeowner, thereby ending the constant threat of eviction which had long plagued her family. After the two siblings arrived at a workable and mutually agreeable method by which her sister's one-half interest in the home might be purchased, Rebecca and her children moved in. But, for unknown reasons, William remained behind. Apparently the choice was his own, as Rebecca repeatedly asked that he join the family. In fact, during the next several months she invited him into the home on numerous occasions for the purpose, among other things, of engaging in sexual relations. But with the altered perspective gained from the additional distance between them, her affection for him apparently waned. As a result, in early March 1996, Rebecca revoked the permission she had previously given William to come onto the premises and informed him of her intention to end the marriage.

¶6 At trial, Rebecca and various witnesses appearing on her behalf described William's subsequent behavior as "stalking." In turn, William characterized his actions as attempts to reconcile the relationship. Regardless of the term used, he continued to appear at the home with great frequency. Although William had long frustrated attempts by Rebecca's sister to retrieve certain furnishings from his residence, he suddenly began arriving with the pieces loaded onto his truck. On two separate occasions, he damaged the items by shoving them from the vehicle onto the drive. Even more disturbing to Rebecca, he spent many hours either sitting nearby in his parked vehicle or driving past the house, waiting for her and the girls to step outside. At one point his late night knocks at her door and peeping through open windows caused Rebecca to fear for the safety of her family. Fortunately though, whether in response to law enforcement warnings or his acquiescence in the impending end of his marriage, this behavior dwindled as the summer drew to a close. Then on August 28, 1996, the final judgment of divorce was granted.

ANALYSIS

I. DID THE CHANCERY COURT DECREE DIVORCE WITHOUT EVIDENCE OF HABITUAL CRUEL AND INHUMAN TREATMENT?

¶7 Without substantial challenge to these facts, William argues that they fall short of the habitual cruel and inhuman treatment found by the chancellor below. In doing so he meets each of the individual complaints made by Rebecca with case law that suggests reversal. However, Rebecca responds by urging this Court to consider the actions described not in isolation but as a whole, wherein an unrelenting pattern may be seen. Since we too believe this to be the proper

Page 1287

viewpoint from which to examine William's behavior, we leave the decree undisturbed.

¶8 Habitual cruel and inhuman treatment may be established by a showing of conduct that either (1) endangers life, limb, or health, or creates a reasonable apprehension of such danger, rendering the relationship unsafe for the party seeking relief, or (2) is so unnatural and infamous as to make the marriage revolting to the non-offending spouse and render it impossible for that spouse to discharge the duties of marriage, thus destroying the basis for its continuance. Daigle v. Daigle, 626 So.2d 140, 144 (Miss.1993); Gardner v. Gardner, 618 So.2d 108, 113-14 (Miss.1993). Although the cruel and inhuman treatment usually must be shown to have been 'systematic and continuous,' see Robinson v. Robinson, 554 So.2d 300, 303 (Miss.1989), a single incident may provide grounds for divorce. Ellzey v. Ellzey, 253 So.2d 249, 250 (Miss.1971). The requisite behavior may be established by a preponderance of the evidence, and the charge "means something more than unkindness or rudeness or mere incompatibility or want of affection." Daigle, 626 So.2d at 144 (quoting Smith v. Smith, 614 So.2d 394, 396 (Miss.1993)).

¶9 Before examining the chancellor's decision, we must establish the standard of review to which we are bound. Established precedent permits the chancellor, as the trier of fact, to evaluate the sufficiency of the proof based upon his assessment of the credibility of the witnesses and the weight he thinks properly ascribed to their testimony. Rainey v. Rainey, 205 So.2d 514, 515 (Miss.1967). This Court's scope of review is thereafter limited. Ferguson v. Ferguson, 639 So.2d 921, 930 (Miss.1994). We may well overturn a chancellor's determination only when the findings are manifestly wrong and there is no substantial supporting evidence. Daigle, 626 So.2d at 144; Lenoir v. Lenoir, 611 So.2d 200, 203 (Miss.1992). "This is particularly true 'in the areas of divorce and child support.' " Ferguson, 639 So.2d at 930 (quoting Nichols v. Tedder, 547 So.2d 766, 781 (Miss.1989)). Therefore we must be ever mindful that the chancellor, in this case, on largely uncontroverted proof, found as a matter of fact that William's conduct, over the necessarily protracted period, rose to the level necessary of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment within the meaning of the statute. See Miss.Code Ann. § 93-5-1 (Rev.1994).

¶10 In...

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28 practice notes
  • JONES v. JONES, No. 2008-CA-00675-COA.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Mississippi
    • September 9, 2010
    ...cruelty, while similar conduct for a shorter time, or with fewer factors 43 So.3d 478 might not be cruelty. See Rakestraw v. Rakestraw, 717 So.2d 1284, 1287-88(¶ 10) (Miss.Ct.App.1998) (combined effect of husband's neglectful and abusive practices over the twenty-five-year marriage sufficie......
  • Snoddy v. Snoddy, No. 1999-CA-01102-COA.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Mississippi
    • July 31, 2001
    ...see Robinson v. Robinson, 554 So.2d 300, 303 (Miss.1989), a single incident may provide grounds for divorce." Rakestraw v. Rakestraw, 717 So.2d 1284 (¶ 8) (Miss.Ct. App.1998) (citing Ellzey v. Ellzey, 253 So.2d 249, 250 (Miss.1971)). The evidence offered in this trial may have been enough t......
  • Baughman v. Baughman, 2021-CA-00074-COA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Mississippi
    • November 1, 2022
    ...v. Boutwell, 829 So.2d 1216, 1220 (¶14) (Miss. 2002); Rawson, 609 So.2d at 431; Lindsay, 303 So.3d at 781 (¶28); Rakestraw v. Rakestraw, 717 So.2d 1284, 1287 (¶8) (Miss. Ct. App. 1998). ¶32. The statute requires the treatment and cruelty be "not such as merely to render the continuance of c......
  • Williams v. Williams, No. 2016-CA-00413-COA.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Mississippi
    • August 22, 2017
    ...impossible for that spouse to discharge the duties of marriage, thus destroying the basis for its continuance. Rakestraw v. Rakestraw , 717 So.2d 1284, 1287 (¶ 8) (Miss. Ct. App. 1998) (citation omitted). Here, Wayne was required to prove habitual cruel and inhuman treatment by a prepondera......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
28 cases
  • JONES v. JONES, No. 2008-CA-00675-COA.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Mississippi
    • September 9, 2010
    ...cruelty, while similar conduct for a shorter time, or with fewer factors 43 So.3d 478 might not be cruelty. See Rakestraw v. Rakestraw, 717 So.2d 1284, 1287-88(¶ 10) (Miss.Ct.App.1998) (combined effect of husband's neglectful and abusive practices over the twenty-five-year marriage sufficie......
  • Snoddy v. Snoddy, No. 1999-CA-01102-COA.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Mississippi
    • July 31, 2001
    ...see Robinson v. Robinson, 554 So.2d 300, 303 (Miss.1989), a single incident may provide grounds for divorce." Rakestraw v. Rakestraw, 717 So.2d 1284 (¶ 8) (Miss.Ct. App.1998) (citing Ellzey v. Ellzey, 253 So.2d 249, 250 (Miss.1971)). The evidence offered in this trial may have been enough t......
  • Baughman v. Baughman, 2021-CA-00074-COA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Mississippi
    • November 1, 2022
    ...v. Boutwell, 829 So.2d 1216, 1220 (¶14) (Miss. 2002); Rawson, 609 So.2d at 431; Lindsay, 303 So.3d at 781 (¶28); Rakestraw v. Rakestraw, 717 So.2d 1284, 1287 (¶8) (Miss. Ct. App. 1998). ¶32. The statute requires the treatment and cruelty be "not such as merely to render the continuance of c......
  • Williams v. Williams, No. 2016-CA-00413-COA.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Mississippi
    • August 22, 2017
    ...impossible for that spouse to discharge the duties of marriage, thus destroying the basis for its continuance. Rakestraw v. Rakestraw , 717 So.2d 1284, 1287 (¶ 8) (Miss. Ct. App. 1998) (citation omitted). Here, Wayne was required to prove habitual cruel and inhuman treatment by a prepondera......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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