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COMMINGLING OF SEPARATE HOME DOES NOT EQUATE TO 50/50 SPLIT OF VALUE

Decisions on the division of equity in homes run the full gamut. It seems the Appellate Courts typically affirm a trial judge’s ruling, thus allowing judges to make decisions based upon the facts of each case. This is thought to lead to greater fairness to the particular litigants, but a byproduct is the uncertainty of result in other cases. The “precedent effect” of decisions is diminished. In Palmer v Palmer, No. 2011–CA–01199–COA (5/7/13) the lower court found that a home acquired and paid for before the marriage was commingled as marital property by the parties’ use of the home in the marriage. The Court found that the wife had contributed a new floor and daily upkeep on the home. The trial court divided the equity in the home equally. The Court of Appeals reversed, stating:
“We agree with the chancellor’s finding that the home is marital property. Although the home was clearly Roland’s separate property prior to his marriage to Ceicle, the parties lived in the home as a married couple. As such, the home was converted into a marital asset. ¶10. We have held that “[e]quitable distribution does not mean equal distribution,” and there is no requirement that each spouse must receive half of an interest in the property. Jenkins v. Jenkins, 67 So. 3d 5, 11 (¶13) (Miss. Ct. App. 2011) (quoting Seymour v. Seymour, 960 So. 2d 513, 519 (¶15) (Miss. Ct. App. 2006)). “[E]quitable distribution [is] a fair division of marital property based on the facts of each case.” Seymour, 960 So. 2d at 519 (¶15).... In reaching his decision, the chancellor noted that there was no evidence that the home had appreciated in value during the course of the marriage and that Ceicle’s only financial contribution to the home was $2,000 for putting in some carpet and tiling the kitchen floor. At one point, the chancellor stated that there was no evidence that the carpet and tile had resulted in an appreciation in the value of the home. However, the chancellor later said that Ceicle had made $2,000 worth of improvements. ¶11. We acknowledge the clarity in our law—that equitable distribution is committed to the sound discretion of the chancellor. However, we, as an appellate court, have oversight responsibility, and if we could never reverse a chancellor’s decision regarding equitable distribution, our oversight responsibility would be reduced to the ministerial act of simply rubber-stamping a chancellor’s decision.”