Sandlin v. Sandlin

Decision Date27 March 1997
Docket NumberNo. 94-CA-01293-SCT,94-CA-01293-SCT
Citation699 So.2d 1198
PartiesDwight Carroll SANDLIN v. Nancy R. SANDLIN.
CourtMississippi Supreme Court

Robin L. Roberts, Hattiesburg, for appellant.

Eugene L. Fair, Jr., Hattiesburg, for appellee.

Before PRATHER, P.J., and PITTMAN and SMITH, JJ.

SMITH, Justice, for the Court:

Nancy and Dwight Sandlin, parties herein, agreed to a divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. In lieu of personally appearing before the chancellor, both parties testified by affidavit. The affidavits comprised the only testimony given by either side. The parties both agreed that they would abide by the decision of the chancellor in the division of marital assets, because they could not agree between themselves. The chancellor took both affidavits, along with supporting documents and rendered his decision, awarding practically all of the marital assets to Nancy, along with a substantial portion of her attorney's fees, and an order that Dwight pay all debts remaining from the marriage. In addition, the chancellor awarded the Nancy forty percent of Dwight's Gannett Stock bonuses and thirty percent of his retirement plan. Aggrieved, Dwight Sandlin appeals.


As in almost any divorce case, there are two stories. The truth is probably somewhere in between.


Dwight and Nancy Sandlin met in Coco, Florida in 1981 while he was working at a Gannett-owned newspaper and she worked part-time at the paper to earn money for Christmas. Dwight had a son from a previous marriage who, from all indications, did not live with him. Nancy had two adolescent daughters, Michelle and Sherri. Nancy worked for the Brevard County Board of Commissioners and was enrolled in the Florida State Retirement System. Both Nancy and Dwight owned separate homes.

In August, 1982, Dwight was transferred to Gainesville, Georgia. Soon afterwards, the two of them decided to get married, so Nancy quit her job and moved to Gainesville to be with Dwight. Nancy sold her Florida home for a net profit of $4,100. Dwight rented his Florida home out and continues to do so.

In December, 1982, Nancy began working for Leon Farmer & Company in Gainesville and enrolled in the company's private retirement system. Dwight and Nancy married in May, 1983, in Lawrenceville, Georgia. According to Nancy, in September, 1983, they bought a home in Gainesville with the proceeds of the sale of Nancy's Florida home.

In November, 1984, Dwight was fired from his job with the Gainesville Times and was transferred by Gannett to Arlington, Virginia to work on special projects. This was a temporary assignment, and the company flew him home to Georgia every weekend to be with his family. Nancy remained in Georgia due to the uncertainty of his job status and the fact that Sherri was doing well in school and Nancy did not want to remove her. Michelle did not adjust to life in Georgia and went to live with her grandmother in California.

Dwight offered Nancy no support during the time that he lived in Virginia except $35 per month to pay her Shell gasoline bill. Nancy supported herself and her daughter from her income of about $17,000. Meanwhile, Dwight's income was about $50,000.

In 1986, Gannett offered Dwight a permanent position in Virginia. The marriage was very tense at that point in time, and Nancy felt that Dwight was not being communicative. In 1986, the couple sold their marital home in Georgia. Nancy mailed the proceeds of $9,000 to Dwight in Arlington. He bought a small house for Nancy and Sherri to live in with $3,000 as down payment. He used the remainder to buy a cabin in Virginia for $75,000. Nancy has always paid the note of $449 on the Georgia home.

Nancy filed for a divorce in 1987, feeling that the marriage was a lost cause. When Dwight was served with the divorce papers he did not wish to be divorced, so they reunited. Nancy moved to Virginia in March of 1988, leaving Sherri to live with a friend in Gainesville so that she could graduate with her high school class. Nancy began to work with an electrical contracting company.

In October, 1988, Dwight was transferred to Hattiesburg, Mississippi to work for the Hattiesburg American. The couple sold the Virginia cabin for $125,000. They used the proceeds from the sale of the cabin to make the down payment on the marital home in Hattiesburg. Nancy began working for a private duty nursing company and in December, 1989, for Forrest General Hospital.

In January, 1991, Dwight resigned under pressure from his position at the Hattiesburg American due to personality differences with the new publisher. He collected six months severance pay. Dwight did not try to find another job for one year, and the household income decreased by $4,000 per month. The renters on both the Florida home and the Georgia home each got three to four months behind on rental payments. Since Nancy's net pay was only $1,300 per month and the mortgages on all three homes was $1,200, the savings were quickly depleted. In February, 1992, Nancy and Dwight bought a commercial print shop in Laurel. Dwight sold $12,000 worth of Gannett stocks issued during the marriage to make the down payment. Nancy signed a note using her income to qualify to assume the SBA loan.

On August 12, 1993, Nancy and Dwight separated in Lamar County. Nancy filed for divorce. The temporary hearing allowed both of them to retain possession of the marital home. Nancy claimed that life was unbearable and that Dwight's behavior forced her to move out of the home. He said that he was not moving, but if she wanted this divorce, then she could move. She bought a HUD home for herself and Sherri for $100 down payment, and $307 per month. She and Dwight divided the furniture, then she, Sherri, and Sherri's three year-old son moved out of the marital home. The HUD home is titled in Nancy's name only, whereas the other homes were titled in both her name and Dwight's name.


Dwight's side of the story mirrors Nancy's up to the point of his promotion and transfer to Gainesville. At that point, their tales diverge.

After they agreed that the two daughters would come to Gainesville with Nancy, Nancy told Dwight that sixteen year old Michelle was pregnant. Dwight agreed that it would be okay for Michelle and the baby to live with them. Michelle had her baby in January of 1983. Dwight had put Nancy and the girls on his health insurance through his employer, but the pregnancy was not covered. According to Dwight, the money from the sale of Nancy's home was used on hospital bills, doctor bills, and other items needed for the baby, not as a down payment for the home which they eventually purchased in Gainesville. Dwight sold both his bass boat and his air boat to be able to furnish and make payments on the Gainesville home.

Nancy decided to move her mother and sister from Miami to Gainesville so that they could be closer and the Sandlins could help look after them. The Sandlins helped Nancy's family buy a new house trailer and set it up in a mobile home park not far away from where the Sandlins lived. The Sandlins helped with the financing and set-up of the trailer, co-signing the mortgage. A few months later, when the Sandlins went by for a visit, they found the lot empty. Nancy's family had taken the trailer and moved back to Miami. Throughout the marriage, the Sandlins had contributed to Nancy's mother and sister's upkeep, sending money every month, maintaining insurance policies and helping out in emergencies. They did likewise for Michelle in California, and helped her move to Hattiesburg. They even contributed $1,700 for drug rehabilitation for Nancy's mother. The contributions were enough that the Sandlins claimed Nancy's mother and sister on their income taxes yearly.

In November, 1984, Dwight transferred to Gannett headquarters in Virginia. Due to the fact that Sherri was doing well in school, and the temporary nature of the Virginia assignment, the family decided that Nancy and Sherri would remain in Georgia. In April, 1985, Dwight was offered a permanent position on the corporate staff of Gannett, which he accepted. He asked Nancy if she wanted to move to Virginia, but she did not want to do so. This was during the period in which he was flying back and forth to Georgia on weekends. Contrary to Nancy's claim that Dwight only gave her $35 per month, Dwight claims that his paycheck was being directly deposited into his and Nancy's joint savings account in Georgia. Meanwhile, he was living off of his expense account, because it covered all of his expenses.

In June, 1985, Nancy served Dwight with divorce papers while the two of them were together at a company convention in New Orleans. Shortly thereafter, the couple moved out of the marital home in Gainesville, and were separated from each other for the next three years. Since Dwight was still living in Virginia during the week, he asked Nancy to split the belongings. She gave him only the furniture which he had before they were married. He bought the cabin and refurbished it so that when he sold it, he got $50,000 more than he had paid for it.

Nancy contacted Dwight about giving her some money to build a house. He sent her the money for a down payment and closing costs. They had little contact after that until he went to Gainesville in the fall of 1987. While he was in town, a sheriff's deputy served him with divorce papers at his hotel room. There was no court date on the papers and he and Nancy had no further conversations about it.

In January, 1988, Nancy called Dwight in Virginia to discuss the prospect of reuniting because she was tired of being alone. They did reunite, in March of that year, leaving Sherri in Gainesville to live with a friend so that she could graduate high school with her class, while Nancy moved to Virginia and began working for an electrical contracting company.

After Nancy moved to Virginia, Dwight found that she was behind on the house payments,...

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