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Lightell v. Lightell

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit

December 13, 2017





          Panel composed of Judges Susan M. Chehardy, Robert A. Chaisson, and Hans J. Liljeberg


         The defendant, Tammy Lightell, seeks review of the trial court's judgment finding she was not free from fault in the dissolution of her marriage to plaintiff, Daniel Lightell, and thus precluded from receiving final spousal support. The trial court made a factual finding based on its resolution of the parties' conflicting testimony. Because the trial court's factual finding was not manifestly erroneous, we affirm.


         The parties married on April 30, 1982, and have four children who are all of the age of majority. On August 31, 2015, Mr. Lightell filed a petition seeking a divorce pursuant to La. C.C. art. 102 after the parties lived separate and apart for a period in excess of 180 days without reconciliation. In response, Ms. Lightell filed an answer and reconventional demand alleging she was free from fault in the termination of the marriage and entitled to interim and final spousal support. The parties appeared before a hearing officer on October 13, 2015, and he recommended that Mr. Lightell pay Ms. Lightell $4, 623.00 per month in interim spousal support effective on October 15, 2015. Mr. Lightell filed an objection to the hearing officer's recommendation and on January 26, 2016, the parties entered into a consent judgment awarding Ms. Lightell $5, 000.00 per month for interim spousal support. On February 26, 2016, Mr. Lightell filed a motion to determine fault and a rule to terminate spousal support. The trial court entered a final judgment of divorce on September 8, 2016.

         On February 21, 2017, the parties appeared for a hearing on the rule to determine fault. At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court took the matter under advisement. On March 7, 2017, the trial court rendered a judgment finding Ms. Lightell was not free from fault. On March 15, 2017, Ms. Lightell requested written reasons for judgment. However, the record does not contain a response from the trial court. On March 17, 2017, Ms. Lightell filed a timely motion and order for appeal, which the trial court granted on March 21, 2017.

         At the hearing on the issue of fault, Ms. Lightell testified that she learned of Mr. Lightell's decision to file for divorce when she went to the bank on August 31, 2015, and discovered their checking account was empty. Ms. Lightell called Mr. Lightell from the bank, and he told her he was leaving her because he was unhappy. At that time, Mr. Lightell was living with friends, but still had some of his possessions at their home.

         During the marriage, Ms. Lightell worked various jobs and obtained a college degree. After graduating, she worked as a teacher from 1996 until 2007, when she quit working due to health problems. Ms. Lightell testified that Mr. Lightell was not happy that she worked as a teacher because he believed she could earn much more with a college degree. On December 26, 2007, the Louisiana State Medical Disability Board approved Ms. Lightell's application for disability retirement. She explained that at that time, she was experiencing partial renal failure and her doctors told her she had to stop working. According to Ms. Lightell, at the time she stopped working, she was earning $2, 000.00 every two weeks after deductions and Mr. Lightell was earning $160, 000.00 per year. She also provided medical insurance for the family. Ms. Lightell testified that at the time of the hearing she received $800.00 per month in disability retirement pay, less deductions for health insurance.

         Ms. Lightell did not introduce any medical records into evidence, but explained that she has a heart problem, a VP shunt for brain swelling and was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in June 2015. Ms. Lightell explained that she was diagnosed with the brain swelling in 1996, following a car accident. She stated that she suffers from "Arnold Chiari Syndrome" and had three brain surgeries in 1996, 1999 and 2003. She has a "VP shunt" which drains cerebral spinal fluid on a daily basis. She testified that she went back to work as a teacher within six weeks after each brain surgery. She claimed her doctors told her she should not go back to work, but she felt that she had to because they had four children to support. She also claimed that she was able to be intimate with her husband on a regular basis despite her health problems.

         Ms. Lightell also experiences problems with her thyroid as a result of suffering from pituitary macroadenoma. Due to this condition, her pituitary gland was removed and she sees an endocrinologist on a monthly basis because her "adrenals" are affected due to the removal of the gland. She explained that this affects her hormones and as a result, her everyday life. Ms. Lightell was also born with a medullary sponge kidney which causes her to develop kidney stones. She also sees an oncologist because she had basal cell carcinoma in her inner right ear, which affected her jaw and required her to have a metal piece placed in her jaw in order to open and close her mouth. Ms. Lightell testified that she also had surgeries on her shoulders and has herniated discs. She explained that her doctors treat her back issues with epidural steroid injections.

         In 2015, Ms. Lightell was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. She testified that the medication she takes for this condition, methotrexate, makes her feel ill. Also, just ten days prior to the fault hearing, Ms. Lightell had a pacemaker installed due to heart problems. In the year after the parties' separation, her heart problems caused her to suffer from syncope, which is the loss of consciousness due to a drop in blood pressure. Ms. Lightell sees seven doctors on a regular basis and explained that she usually sees two to three doctors per month. She testified that despite her health problems, she worked until 2007, cooked, cleaned and took care of ...

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