Lump-Sum Alimony Without a Lump

March 7, 2017 § Leave a comment

In the divorce judgment between Herman and Lillie Scott, the chancellor equitably divided the marital estate, awarding Herman most of the unencumbered real property and one small debt, and awarding Lillie the encumbered real property and the bulk of the marital debt. There was a large disparity in income in favor of Lillie.

In his judgment the chancellor said:

“All of the Armstrong factors mentioned above which suggest the appropriateness of an award of alimony to Herman have been considered by the Court to entitle him to a modest award of lump sum alimony. The Court considers that the division of the marital estate outlined below incorporates an equitable division of the estate and an award of such lump sum alimony.”

The chancellor’s ruling, however, did not state an amount or otherwise describe of what the lump-sum award consisted.

Herman appealed, complaining that the chancellor erred in not awarding him periodic alimony. In Scott v. Scott, handed down December 13, 2016, the COA affirmed with an opinion by Judge Greenlee. It’s a routine opinion that you will not likely find very useful.

The special concurring opinion by Judge Lee, however, makes some good points about how a trial judge should address alimony:

¶17. I concur in result with the majority’s decision to affirm; however, I find that the chancellor’s decision to categorize a portion of the equitable division of the marital assets as lump-sum alimony was incorrect.

¶18. First, the chancellor did not provide for a specific amount of lump-sum alimony. Whether lump-sum alimony is “used either as alimony or as part of property division,” it must be a “fixed and irrevocable sum.” Beezley v. Beezley, 917 So. 2d 803, 806 (¶10) (Miss. Ct. App. 2005) (citing Wray v. Wray, 394 So. 2d 1341, 1345 (Miss. 1981)). The chancellor did not designate a specific amount of lump-sum alimony; rather, he divided the marital assets, giving Herman the majority of the unencumbered assets. The chancellor simply stated that “the division of the marital estate . . . incorporates an equitable division of the estate and an award of such lump sum alimony.”

¶19. Second, the nature of the award is, in reality, equitable distribution. This Court in East v. East, 775 So. 2d 741, 745 (¶9) (Miss. Ct. App. 2000), determined that the chancellor incorrectly labeled an equity transfer from the husband to the wife as lump-sum alimony, when, “in effect, it is a portion of the . . . equitable distribution of the estate.” We affirmed the transfer but corrected the labeling error. Id. Here, I would affirm the equitable distribution award but decline to accept the chancellor’s decision to label any amount thereof as lump-sum alimony.

Judge Lee’s opinion was joined by Judge Wilson and by Judge Fair, who is the sole former chancellor on the court.

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