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The Hancock County Chancery Court granted Stacy Ruth Carambat a divorce from James Edward Carambat on the ground of habitual and excessive drug use. James appealed, arguing that the chancellor erred by granting the divorce, because his marijuana use did not affect the marriage, was not excessive, and was not akin to using opium, morphine, or other, like drugs. The couple married in 1993, and had twin boys in 1999. The couple separated in 2008 and Stacy filed for divorce later that year. Before the couple married, Stacy knew that James regularly smoked marijuana, and James admitted that he had been smoking marijuana since he was fourteen years old. James continued smoking marijuana throughout the marriage. Although the couple had conversations about James’s need to cease his marijuana use, James stated Stacy never asked him to quit. Stacy thought James would stop his drug use once the twins were born. Stacy alleged three grounds for divorce: irreconcilable differences, habitual cruel and inhuman treatment, and habitual and excessive drug use. She requested custody of the twins, child support, equitable distribution of the assets, alimony, and attorney’s fees. James answered Stacy’s complaint for divorce denying Stacy’s grounds for divorce, her claim that they had not cohabited since the separation, and her claim that she should have custody of the twins. Upon review of the chancery court's record, the Supreme Court found no error in its grant of the Carambats' divorce.Receive FREE Daily Opinion Summaries by Email
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF MISSISSIPPI
JAMES EDWARD CARAMBAT
STACY RUTH CARAMBAT
DATE OF JUDGMENT:
COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED:
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT:
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE:
NATURE OF THE CASE:
MOTION FOR REHEARING FILED:
HON. SANFORD R. STECKLER
HANCOCK COUNTY CHANCERY COURT
STEPHEN J. MAGGIO
OTIS B. CROCKER, III
CIVIL - DOMESTIC RELATIONS
AFFIRMED - 10/20/2011
KING, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:
The Hancock County Chancery Court granted Stacy Ruth Carambat a divorce from
James Edward Carambat on the ground of habitual and excessive drug use. Aggrieved,
James appeals, arguing that the chancellor erred by granting the divorce, because his
marijuana use did not affect the marriage, was not excessive, and was not akin to using
opium, morphine, or other, like drugs. We find no error and affirm the chancery court’s
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
James and Stacy married on March 20, 1993, in Metairie, Louisiana. They eventually
moved to Mississippi, where they resided throughout the marriage, finally settling in
Diamondhead, Mississippi, in 2004. The couple had twin boys – James Eugene Carambat
and Tyler William Carambat – who were born on January 9, 1999. James and Stacy
separated in August 2008, and Stacy filed for divorce on September 17, 2008.
Stacy alleged three grounds for divorce: irreconcilable differences, habitual cruel and
inhuman treatment, and habitual and excessive drug use. She requested custody of the twins,
child support, equitable distribution of the assets, alimony, and attorney’s fees. James
answered Stacy’s complaint for divorce on July 20, 2009. In his answer, James denied
Stacy’s grounds for divorce, her claim that they had not cohabited since the separation, and
her claim that she should have custody of the twins.
A. James’s Drug Use
During the trial, Stacy, James, and Barbara Ruth (Stacy’s mother) testified about the
couple’s marriage. Before the couple married, Stacy knew that James regularly smoked
marijuana, and James admitted that he had been smoking marijuana since he was fourteen
years old. James continued smoking marijuana throughout the marriage.
Although the couple had conversations about James’s need to cease his marijuana use,
James stated Stacy never asked him to quit. Stacy thought James would stop his drug use
once the twins were born. According to Barbara, James called her after the twins were born,
acknowledged his drug use as a problem, and told her he intended to quit. Because of
James’s marijuana use, Stacy was afraid that he would get into legal trouble, especially since
he often picked her up from work with marijuana in the car. Several times during the
marriage, James managed to go weeks without using marijuana. He said the longest period
of time was one month. But he would always start using again.
Stacy testified that James had used other drugs. He once smoked cocaine at the
beginning of their marriage, and he used Xanax, which was not prescribed to him, to cope
with sleep deprivation. James stated that the cocaine incident had happened one time in 1995
or 1996. He said he took Xanax for two years, but that was several years ago. James
testified that he had not used marijuana since January 2009, and he was willing to take a drug
James was questioned about the frequency of his marijuana use. James testified that
he would purchase one quarter-ounce bag of marijuana per month, which cost between thirtyfive and fifty dollars. James could make six to seven cigarettes with this amount. Stacy said
James smoked marijuana multiple times a day, starting in the morning before work. Both
parties stated that the children were never exposed to James’s drug use because James
smoked the marijuana in the garage.
B. James’s Interaction with the Family
According to Stacy, James’s drug use affected his interactions with the family,
causing him to develop a routine:
[H]e would leave for work and smoke, and then go to work [sic] and then
come home, and he would get undressed, go out to the garage and smoke
again, and then he would come home, sit on the couch and wait for dinner to
be fixed. And then eat dinner and then return back to the couch or to the
computer room. He almost isolated himself from us totally.
Stacy often went to bed alone, and James would stay awake to use the computer or to watch
television. Stacy stated that this took a toll on their marriage. Stacy also testified that, after
the twins were born, she withdrew from James on an intimate level. James agreed and stated
that Stacy’s disinterest caused him to withdraw as well.
Stacy also testified that it was a chore to get James to participate in family activities.
Most times, James would stay home instead of coming to family functions. Barbara echoed
Stacy’s sentiments, stating that James had become disinterested in attending family functions
three years ago.
James said that his marijuana use was casual, and that he was not dependent on it.
According to James, marijuana had a calming effect on him. He explained that marijuana
did not keep him from family functions; he just did not care to be around Stacy’s family.
James also stated that he was actively involved with the twins and their extracurricular
activities – fishing, “bb” guns, and sports. James said he also helped the twins with their
homework. Stacy agreed, but she said that James had come to only a few of the twins’
school activities – such as parent-teacher conferences.
C. Financial Trouble
Stacy testified that James’s marijuana use affected his work productivity. While
employed with a printing company in Biloxi, Mississippi, James botched a printing job that
cost several thousand dollars to reprint.1 He was demoted as a result.2 The demotion caused
James to lose his bonus pay. According to Stacy, James told her that his drug use probably
played a part in the incident. Stacy said that, afterwards, James tried to stop smoking
The record does not state specifically what year the printing blunder occurred.
However, the record reveals that the incident occurred some time after the family moved to
Diamondhead in 2004.
A year later, James was reinstated to his position.
marijuana. On cross examination, James’s trial counsel impeached Stacy with her deposition
testimony. In her deposition, Stacy was asked whether James’s work incident was a mistake
or a result of his drug use. Stacy responded that it was a mistake. She also agreed with trial
counsel’s statement that no one at James’s job had linked the error to his marijuana use.
James denied telling Stacy that marijuana had caused his work error. He said he did
not smoke marijuana before work, and his marijuana use never affected his job performance.
James said the printing industry was stressful, and he smoked marijuana after work to relax.
James also stated that he had never been fired from a job, but he had been laid off by at least
two previous employers.
Stacy testified that James’s drug use and mistake on the job affected the family’s
financial stability. James blamed their financial issues on Stacy’s credit-card use. Stacy said
they had borrowed $3,000 to $5,000 from her parents because they could not pay their bills,
and James had continued to purchase marijuana during their financial troubles. Barbara
testified that she and her husband had loaned Stacy and James up to $7,000. In addition,
James said that he had borrowed at least $25,000 from his brother after he was laid off.
James said he had used the money to pay for a dental surgery, credit-card debt, and the
family’s living expenses after Hurricane Katrina.
D. James’s Behavior
Barbara said Stacy always appeared nervous around James and cautioned others to
censor themselves around him. Stacy stated James would make derogatory comments –
sometimes in her family’s presence – about her clothing, income potential, and propensity
to flirt with other men. Barbara had witnessed one such argument four to five years
previously at a wedding. According to Barbara, James had yelled at Stacy about her clothing
in front of other guests and eventually had stormed out of the wedding. James denied that
the argument was about Stacy’s clothing. Barbara also said James had argued with Stacy
about other men at a family gathering three years before.
Stacy said James cursed at her after she had filed for divorce, and their arguments had
increased from weekly to daily. She stated James called her derogatory names in front of the
children. They also had a big argument in front of the children, after which she and the twins
retreated to the bedroom to avoid confrontation. James stated that he and Stacy did not have
any more problems than any other married couple. He stated that they often argued about
finances, mainly outside the children’s presence. He denied ever physically abusing Stacy,
and Stacy testified that James never physically abused her.
E. Stacy’s Affair
After moving to Diamondhead, James said Stacy met new friends at the country club
and had begun to socialize with them often. Stacy expressed that she needed time away from
the children. At first, James did not think her request was strange. But the frequency of
Stacy’s excursions increased in 2008. Stacy also had lost weight, began dressing differently,
and purchased lingerie. James found Stacy’s lingerie and questioned her about it. She told
him that she had bought it for herself. These events caused James to suspect Stacy of
According to James, in 2008, he and Stacy attended a party at the home of Royce
Wilkinson, one of Stacy’s male friends.3 James felt uncomfortable at the party because other
James and Stacy disagree as to the month the events occurred in 2008.
men were flirting with Stacy. James stated that, later that year, he had called Stacy and
questioned her about her whereabouts.
Stacy had informed James that she was at
Wilkinson’s home taking care of his dog, and she and the twins had taken a ride in
Wilkinson’s golf cart. James said he was upset because, if anyone had seen his wife and
children in Wilkinson’s golf cart, they might have gotten the wrong idea. An argument
ensued, during which Stacy told James that she was no longer happy and wanted a divorce.
When Stacy filed for divorce, James thought that they could work it out. According
to James, Stacy complained only that they were no longer a family and that he was not
helping out at home. James said Stacy never mentioned his marijuana use, and Stacy
testified that she did not give James an ultimatum concerning his marijuana use. James had
suggested that they seek counseling, but he stated that Stacy was not interested. They did
seek counseling individually but not as a couple. James did not believe that his marijuana
use contributed to the demise of the marriage. Instead, he believed that their arguments
caused the separation.
At the time of trial, Stacy was dating a man named Tom Henry. Stacy met Henry in
October 2007, but she claimed that their relationship did not develop until April 2008. Stacy
testified that she had been disenchanted with James well before her relationship with Henry,
and that she had contemplated divorcing James at least one to two years earlier. Since filing
for divorce in September 2008, Stacy said that she and Henry had developed a sexual
relationship and were in love. During her relationship with Henry, Stacy and James
remained in the same household until April 2009.
F. The Chancellor’s Ruling
Although this was a chancery court matter, James moved for a directed verdict.4 First,
he argued that Stacy had failed to provide evidence of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment.
Stacy agreed. Thus, this ground for divorce was dismissed. Next, James argued that Stacy
had failed to provide evidence of habitual and excessive use of opium, morphine, or other
like drugs. The chancellor found that the evidence regarding James’s habitual and excessive
drug use was more favorable to Stacy. James raised condonation as a defense, and Stacy
objected, arguing that James had failed to plead condonation as an affirmative defense.
James also argued that Stacy’s adultery had caused the divorce. The chancellor stated that
he could not grant a divorce to both parties and reminded James that he had failed to request
a divorce on the ground of adultery. Accordingly, the chancellor denied James’s motion.5
The chancellor entered the “Judgment of Divorce” on September 24, 2009. The
chancellor found James’s own admission that he had regularly smoked marijuana from
fourteen years of age to fifty-five years of age was evidence that his use was habitual and
frequent. The chancellor found that James’s drug use was excessive and uncontrollable
because James smoked daily, he could not quit, and his drug use affected his work
James styled his motion as one for a directed verdict. But pursuant to Mississippi
Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b), a motion to dismiss is the proper procedural mechanism. Rule
41(b) provides that:
[a]fter the plaintiff, in an action tried by the court without a jury, has
completed the presentation of his evidence, the defendant, without waiving his
right to offer evidence in the event the motion is not granted, may move for a
dismissal on the ground that upon the facts and the law the plaintiff has shown
no right to relief.
At this time, James made an oral request for an interlocutory appeal, and the
chancellor orally granted his request. The chancellor did not enter a formal order granting
James’s request, and James did not file a petition for interlocutory appeal with this Court.
productivity and finances. Last, the chancellor found James’s marijuana use met the
definition of “other like drug” and caused his marriage to be repugnant to his spouse.
Although not the same chemical make-up as opium and morphine, the chancellor determined
that marijuana had the same effect, impairing James’s ability to perform his job and to
support his family.
For those reasons, the chancellor granted Stacy’s divorce on the ground of habitual
and excessive use of drugs. The chancellor awarded Stacy custody of the twins, the marital
home, and attorney’s fees.6 The chancellor granted James visitation and ordered him to pay
child support and obtain medical insurance for the twins.
James filed several post-trial motions regarding his visitation and child-support
obligation. The chancellor denied James’s requested relief. On April 7, 2010, James filed
a motion to reopen the time for appeal. The chancellor granted James’s request on July 20,
2010. On July 26, 2010, James timely filed his notice of appeal.
In a divorce proceeding, the chancellor is the finder of fact, and the assessment of
witness credibility lies within his sole province. Sproles v. Sproles, 782 So. 2d 742, 746
(¶12) (Miss. 2001). Thus, we will not disturb a chancellor’s findings when supported by
substantial evidence unless the chancellor’s judgment was manifestly wrong, clearly
erroneous or an erroneous legal standard was applied. Id. at 746 (¶¶12-13).
Whether the chancellor erred by granting Stacy a divorce on the ground
of habitual and excessive use of opium, morphine, or other like drug.
The chancellor did not award Stacy alimony.
James argues that the chancellor erred by granting Stacy a divorce because she did not
prove that his drug use was excessive and an “other like drug” as required by the statute.
James also maintains that Stacy condoned his marijuana use and that his marijuana use did
not cause any family, marital, or work issues. Instead, James blames the marriage’s demise
on Stacy’s extramarital affairs.
Conversely, Stacy asks the Court to affirm the chancellor’s judgment. She argues that
there is substantial evidence to support the chancellor’s finding that James’s drug use was
habitual, excessive, and harmful to the family. Stacy also contends that the effect of
marijuana is much like the effect of opium and morphine; thus, it is an “other like drug” for
purposes of the statute. Because James did not specifically plead condonation as a defense,
Stacy argues that it is waived. Stacy also maintains that James waived his recrimination
argument because he failed specifically to plead it. Alternatively, Stacy argues that the
chancellor may still grant a divorce even when both parties are at fault.
First, we address James’s claim that Stacy was not entitled to a divorce because she
had condoned his drug use. According to Stacy, she dated James two years before marrying
him, and she knew about his drug use all along.
But affirmative defenses, such as
condonation, must be specifically pleaded or else they are waived. M.R.C.P. 8(c); Ashburn
v. Ashburn, 970 So. 2d 204, 212 (¶23) (Miss. Ct. App. 2007) (citing Goode v. Village of
Woodgreen Homeowners, 662 So. 2d 1064, 1077 (Miss. 1995)). Based upon our review of
the record, James failed to plead condonation, and Stacy objected to his raising the defense
at trial. Thus, we find that this argument has been waived.
Next, James argues, under the doctrine of recrimination, that Stacy’s adultery actually
led to the demise of the marriage. But James did not file a cross-claim for divorce, and he
did not plead recrimination. Even if James had pleaded the doctrine of recrimination, it
would not have precluded Stacy from being granted a divorce.7 See Miss. Code Ann. § 93-53 (Rev. 2004). Thus, we find that this argument is barred from review.
III. Habitual and Excessive Use of Opium, Morphine, or Other Like Drug
Mississippi Code Section 93-5-1 (Rev. 2004) lists “habitual and excessive use of
opium, morphine, or other like drug” as a ground for divorce. A grant of divorce on this
ground requires the plaintiff to establish that the spouse’s drug use was (1) habitual and
frequent, (2) excessive and uncontrollable, and (3) that involved opium, morphine, or drugs
with a similar effect as opium or morphine. Ladner v. Ladner, 436 So. 2d 1366, 1375 (Miss.
A. Habitual & Frequent Use
Habitual use is established by showing that the spouse customarily and frequently
used drugs. Ladner, 436 So. 2d at 1373. Stacy presented evidence that James began
smoking marijuana at the age of fourteen, and his use continued until the age of fifty-five.
James concedes that his drug use was habitual and frequent, testifying that he had used
Section 93-5-3 provides that “[i]f a complainant or cross-complainant in a divorce
action shall prove grounds entitling him to a divorce, it shall not be mandatory on any
chancellor to deny such party a divorce, even though the evidence might establish
recrimination on the part of such complainant or cross-complainant.”
marijuana almost daily. As a result, we find substantial evidence in the record to support the
chancellor’s finding that James’s drug use was habitual and frequent.
B. Excessive & Uncontrollable Use
Excessive drug use requires a showing that the offending spouse abused drugs.
Ladner, 436 So. 2d at 1373-1374. The offending spouse “must be so addicted to the use of
drugs that he cannot control his appetite for drugs whenever the opportunity to obtain drugs
is present.” Id.
¶32. James argues that his drug use was casual, it relaxed him, and he was not dependent
on it. The evidence shows the contrary. Stacy and James testified that James had attempted
to stop smoking marijuana several times, quitting for weeks at a time. But, as James stated
himself, he always went back to it.
James argues that his drug use was not as serious as that of the spouses in Ladner and
Ashburn. In Ladner, the spouse deceitfully obtained numerous prescription drugs from
Ladner, 436 So. 2d at 1369.
He abused the prescription drugs
continuously for four years and exceeded the prescribed dosages. Id. The spouse’s drug use
negatively affected his attitude, actions, work habits, and family and social relationships. Id.
The wife testified that her husband was hyperactive in the morning – having taken Ritalin
– and practically immobile in the evening – after taking tranquilizers. Id. He worked only
two days per week and spent the rest of the time in idleness and agitation. Id. He also
ceased communicating with friends.
Because of his drug habit, the spouse had
squandered his son’s savings account, and had taken many valuable items from the home.
Likewise, in Ashburn, the spouse’s drug use was excessive and uncontrollable. In
this case, the wife abused prescription drugs throughout the marriage, also deceitfully
obtaining prescriptions and exceeding the prescribed dosages. Ashburn, 970 So. 2d at 207
(¶7). She once left home and did not return for weeks. Id. The husband testified that his
wife would be yelling one day and drooling in a drug-induced state the next. Id. at 208 (¶8).
She forged his name on checks and also stole someone else’s written prescription. Id. at 208
(¶¶8-9). The wife’s drug use increased to the point where she used a three-month supply of
pills in one month and overdosed. Id. at 208 (¶7).
The extent of James’s addiction may not be as drastic as that of the spouses in Ladner
and Ashburn, but it is obvious that James had a problem. Quitting for weeks at a time but
then always going back to achieve a high is the nature of addiction. Like the spouse in
Ladner, James abused the drug almost daily for years – approximately forty years in James’s
case. This is evidence that, at the time, James could not control his appetite for marijuana.
Also, the chancellor found that James’s marijuana use negatively impacted his interaction
with his family, work productivity, and the family’s financial stability. There is substantial
evidence in the record to support the chancellor’s findings. Thus, we hold that the chancellor
did not err by finding that James’s drug use was excessive and uncontrollable.
C. Opium, Morphine, or Other Like Drug
Next, James argues that Stacy failed to prove that marijuana is an “other like drug”
similar to opium or morphine. In Section 93-5-1, the language “other like drug” does not
mean a drug similar in chemical makeup to opium or morphine. Ladner, 436 So. 2d at 1374.
Instead, it refers to drugs with similar adverse effects.8 Id. at 1374-1375 (finding that
spouse’s abuse of prescription drugs produced similar effects as abuse of opium or
morphine). In Ladner, the Court set forth factors to consider, along with other relevant
circumstances, to determine whether a drug is an “other like drug” for purposes of Section
[S]uch factors as the guilty spouse’s inability to support his wife and family
or to properly attend to business should be considered. Additionally, the guilty
spouse’s incapacity to perform other marital duties or his causing the marital
relationship to be repugnant to the innocent spouse are equally important.
Id. at 1375.
In this case, the chancellor determined that James’s marijuana use had isolated him
from the family and had caused him to botch a costly printing job. Consequently, James was
demoted, and the chancellor determined that this had negatively impacted the family’s
James points out that neither party cited a decision in which a divorce was granted
based on marijuana use alone. We are not convinced that the absence of such a decision has
any bearing on this case.
James argues that no credible evidence supported the chancellor’s finding that his
marijuana use interfered with his ability to support and interact with his family and that his
marijuana use caused the marital relationship to be repugnant to Stacy. Instead, James
maintains that the evidence shows that Stacy sexually withdrew from him, pursued her own
In Ladner, the spouse abused barbiturates, amphetamines, Dalmane, Libriam,
Ativan, Nolundar, Mellaril, Sinequan, Vivactil, Talwin, and Tylenol No. 3 with Codeine.
activities, and engaged in extramarital affairs. But the chancellor is the finder of fact, and
the assessment of witness credibility lies within his sole province. Sproles, 782 So. 2d at 746
(¶12). The chancellor resolved any conflicts in the evidence in favor of Stacy, and the
evidence supports his decision.
The evidence shows that the family’s financial problems were due mainly to James’s
layoffs. But by smoking marijuana, James, at least once, affected his work productivity and
lost his bonus pay. In addition, he continued to purchase marijuana during the family’s
economic troubles. James maintains that his marijuana expenditures were minimal and did
not affect the family’s income. But he cannot escape the fact that spending money on illegal
drugs is wasteful, especially when the family is suffering financially.9 According to Stacy,
James’s drug use created a routine in their marriage by which he would work, come home,
use drugs and then sit on the couch or stay on the computer all night. Perhaps he did not
isolate himself from his children, but he definitely isolated himself from Stacy. Stacy was
worried that James would get arrested for possession of marijuana. And although Stacy did
not give James an ultimatum, she was exasperated over his failed attempts to remain clean,
causing her to file for divorce.
The evidence supports the chancellor’s finding that James’s marijuana use had a like
effect to the use of opium or morphine. James evidenced an inability to support his family
and to properly attend to business. This made the marriage repugnant to Stacy. Accordingly,
we hold that the chancellor did not err by finding that James’s drug use involved opium,
morphine, or a drug with a similar effect.
During the trial, James admitted that buying illegal drugs is wasteful.
Stacy was entitled to a divorce based on James’s habitual and excessive use of
marijuana. James conceded that his drug use was habitual and frequent. Evidence that James
continuously used marijuana for approximately forty years and continuously failed at
sobriety supports the chancellor’s finding that James’s drug use was excessive and
uncontrollable. Furthermore, evidence that James’s marijuana use caused him to isolate
himself from the family and affected his work productivity, which impacted the family’s
finances, supports the chancellor’s finding that James’s marijuana use was similar in effect
to opium or morphine. As a result, we affirm the chancellor’s judgment of divorce.
WALLER, C.J., RANDOLPH, LAMAR, CHANDLER AND PIERCE, JJ.,
CONCUR. CARLSON, P.J., DISSENTS WITH SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION
JOINED BY DICKINSON, P.J., AND KITCHENS, J.
CARLSON, PRESIDING JUSTICE, DISSENTING:
The Hancock Country Chancery Court granted Stacy Carambat’s divorce from her
husband, James Carambat, on the ground that he was a habitual and excessive user of opium,
morphine, or other like drug,10 where the drug in question was marihuana. This Court has
never found this ground for divorce to be satisfied by marihuana use alone; nor, indeed, has
any appellate court in the United States. It is my opinion that granting the divorce on this
basis will dramatically expand this ground for divorce far beyond the language of the statute,
effectively legitimizing divorce based on the use of any illegal drug. Because I believe that
Miss. Code Ann. § 93-5-1 (Rev. 2004).
the majority’s opinion goes far beyond the intent of the Legislature and creates new law, I
must respectfully, but fervently, dissent.
I. Nature of the Appeal
James argues that marihuana is not a like drug to opium or morphine. There is no
relevant caselaw from Mississippi granting a divorce on this ground for the abuse of
Indeed, both parties, as well as the judge, conducted searches for
persuasive precedent from all U.S. jurisdictions. Their research, and my own, indicate that
no appellate court in the United States has ever granted a divorce based on marihuana use
alone, or indeed has ever faced this question.11 This is a novel issue, and one that the
chancery court specifically intended for us to consider. Accordingly, I respectfully believe
we must thoroughly address this issue.
The chancery court in the initial case adjudicated that marihuana was a like drug to
opium and morphine, but granted James leave to petition us for an interlocutory appeal. The
chancellor explained that the relevant substances were alike in that they were habit-forming,
mood-altering or hallucinogenic, and illegal. However, the chancellor did not enter a formal
order granting James’s request for appeal, and James did not file a petition for interlocutory
appeal with this Court, due to what he later claimed was a misunderstanding. The chancellor
rendered final judgment. On motion for rehearing or to amend judgment, the chancellor
However, marihuana use has played a part in analysis of an alternate divorce ground,
“habitual cruel and inhuman treatment.”See, e.g., Boutwell v. Boutwell, 829 So. 2d 1216,
1220 (Miss. 2002).
offered James another opportunity for an interlocutory appeal, and Stacy’s counsel indicated
that they were amenable to this procedure.
James’s counsel considered taking the proffered interlocutory appeal option in
discussions in open court, but decided that “an interlocutory appeal may result in multiple
trips to the Supreme Court when one only may really be necessary on the issue that we want
to get before them . . . we would withdraw our request for an interlocutory appeal.” Final
judgment and this direct appeal followed, but the urgency of fully addressing the issue
remains. As the chancellor stated, “the fact is, it’s one of those things that needs to be
clarified in the Mississippi Supreme Court.”
II. Standard of Review
“We review a chancellor's legal conclusions de novo; that is, we reach our own
conclusions as to the applicable law.” Bluewater Logistics, LLC v. Williford, 55 So. 3d 148,
155 (Miss. 2011). “But we ordinarily accept a chancellor's factual findings unless – given
the evidence in the record – we conclude that the chancellor abused his or her discretion, and
no reasonable chancellor could have come to the same factual conclusions.” Bluewater
Logistics, LLC, 55 So. 3d at 155. Thus, we will not disturb a chancellor’s findings of fact
when supported by substantial evidence, unless the chancellor abused his or her discretion,
was manifestly wrong, was clearly erroneous, or applied an erroneous legal standard.
Limbert v. Miss. Univ. For Women Alumnae Ass’n, Inc., 998 So. 2d 993, 998 (Miss. 2008)
(quoting Hamilton v. Hopkins, 834 So. 2d 685, 699 (Miss. 2003)). In a divorce proceeding,
the chancellor is the finder of fact, and the assessment of witness credibility lies within the
chancellor’s sole province. Sproles v. Sproles, 782 So. 742, 746 (Miss. 2001).
Before addressing our standard as to what drugs are like opium and morphine, I must
address an alternate standard, illegality, that, in my opinion, the chancellor mistakenly
invoked. On motion for rehearing to amend the judgment, Stacy’s counsel argued that “the
question about whether or not marijuana falls within the statute . . . can best be explained by
looking at the fact that the mere possession of marijuana is illegal in this state.” The
chancellor stated that “the fact that the children are exposed to the dad getting away with this
illegal act, in my judgment, contributes to the delinquency of minors . . . . Mr. Carambat is
setting an example for his children, and this Court has to find some way of overcoming that.”
Respectfully, I believe the chancellor homed in on the wrong grounds for considering
whether marihuana is a like drug to opium and morphine. The “opium, morphine, or other
like drug” ground for divorce entered the Mississippi Code in 1892. Deborah H. Bell,
Mississippi Family Law § 4.02 (2005), Miss. Code Ann. § 1562 (1892). At that time,
neither possession, distribution, nor use of opium and morphine was illegal in the State of
Mississippi. Indeed, in perusing the 1892 code, only two crimes related to that drug can be
found. It was a misdemeanor to sell morphine in a container without a scarlet label with
white letters, and it was similarly a misdemeanor to sell morphine to any customer who did
not have a physician’s certificate. Miss. Code Ann. §§ 1213, 1214 (1892). Violation of
either statute by the druggist was punishable by a fine of between ten dollars and fifty
Even if this Court analyzes the status of opiates and marihuana today, the two
substances are not legally alike. Marihuana possession is still regulated in Mississippi, but
in a special section involving lighter penalties than those prescribed for all other scheduled
substances. Possession of thirty grams or less of marihuana is penalized, for a first offender,
with a fine of between $100 and $250. Miss. Code Ann. § 41-29-139(c)(2)(A) (Rev. 2004).
James bought approximately one quarter ounce of marihuana a month -- just over seven
grams. The offense is not considered a misdemeanor and entails no jail time. In comparison,
possession of even less than one tenth of a gram of any controlled substance classified in
Schedule I or II, except marihuana, may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, and
may entail a fine of up to $10,000 and prison time of up to four years. Miss. Code Ann. §
41-29-139(c)(1)(A) (Rev. 2004).
Regardless of the legal status of marihuana, granting a divorce based on illegal
conduct is not in the spirit of the common law. An instructive analogy can be made to the
legal problem that was resolved by modern slayer’s statutes, like that Mississippi has
enacted. Miss. Code Ann. § 91-1-25 (Rev. 2004). At common law, many courts held that
one who murdered a decedent was still eligible to inherit property from him.12 See e.g., In
re Duncan's Estates, 40 Wash. 2d 850, 854, 246 P.2d 445, 447-48 (1952). The law held that
the remedy for murder was criminal prosecution, not disinheritance.
possession and use of marihuana is certainly criminalized in Mississippi. Whether such use
may be grounds for a divorce is another question entirely.
Other courts disagreed, holding that one should not profit from an injustice.
This Court must consider whether marihuana is a like drug to opium and morphine.
In construing the statute, it must be given its ordinary meaning. Mississippi Code Section
1-3-65 (Rev. 2005) provides that “all words and phrases contained in the statutes are used
according to their common and ordinary acceptation and meaning. . . .”
In Lawson v. Lawson, 821 So. 2d 142, 145 (Miss. Ct. App. 2002) the Court of
Appeals held that, in determining whether a drug is an “other like drug” under Section 93-51, “[so] far as the kind of drug is concerned, chemical content is not important, but effect
caused by use is the test.” Id. at 145 (quoting Ladner v. Ladner, 436 So. 2d 1366, 1375
(Miss. 1983)) (emphasis in original). In Ladner, this Court set forth factors to consider:
“[S]uch factors as the guilty spouse’s inability to support his wife and family or to properly
attend to business should be considered. Additionally, the guilty spouse’s incapacity to
perform other marital duties or his causing the marital relationship to be repugnant to the
innocent spouse are equally important.” Id. at 1375.
Two prior cases are relevant to this analysis. In Ladner, the spouse deceitfully
obtained numerous prescription drugs and abused them for four years, exceeding the
prescribed dosage. The spouse’s drug use negatively affected his attitude, actions, work
habits, and family and social relationships.
The wife testified that her husband was
hyperactive in the morning (after taking Ritalin) and practically immobile in the evening
(after taking tranquilizers). He worked only two days per week, ceased communicating with
friends, squandered his son’s savings account, and took many valuable items from the home.
Ladner, 436 So. 2d at 1369.
In another Court of Appeals case, the wife abused prescription drugs throughout the
marriage. Ashburn v. Ashburn, 970 So. 2d 204, 207 (Miss. Ct. App. 2004). She once left
home and did not return for six weeks. Id. at 207. She forged her husband’s name on checks
and stole someone else’s prescription. Id. at 208. The wife’s drug use increased to the point
that she started obtaining three month’s worth of pills in one month through her husband’s
insurance coverage, and in one instance, two witnesses observed her overdosing on pills. Id.
V. Effect of the Drug
A. Physical Effect
I first wish to address the effect of marihuana usage, which, this Court has held to be
the key determinant in finding that a drug is sufficient for this ground for divorce. See
Lawson, 821 So. 2d 145, Ladner, 436 So. 2d 1375. While the chemical content of the like
drug is irrelevant, I would hold that the physical or physiological effect of the drug was
meant to be considered in the Ladner effect test.
In Ladner, this Court found “a physical effect [on the husband] similar to morphine
or opium.” Ladner, 436 So. 2d at 1375. Furthermore, if “effect” and thus “like drug” mean
no more than work productivity, marital duties, and repugnancy of the marriage, the term
would become synonymous with the “excessive” standard already incorporated into the test.
As a result, I have analyzed the physical effects of marihuana and find it to be unlike opium
and morphine as a matter of law.
For information on the effects of marihuana, and of the most commonly utilized
opiates, I consulted the Research Report Series of the National Institutes of Health’s National
Institute on Drug Abuse.13
Marihuana, per this resource, is ingested to cause the user to feel a euphoria or “high”
by stimulating brain cells to release the chemical dopamine -- a phenomenon also associated
with most drugs of abuse, as well as alcohol, tobacco, chocolate, and sexual activity. Acute
dangers associated with marihuana intoxication include short-term memory loss, impaired
attention and judgment, increased heart rate and blood pressure, decreased coordination and
balance, and occasionally feelings of anxiety, distrust, or panic. Cumulative use may lead
to addiction, though it is considered less addictive than “hard” drugs.
The following information is also gleaned from the Research Report Series of the
National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Drug Abuse. The most commonly used
opiate in the United States today is heroin. Heroin is severely addictive, and withdrawal can
cause painful physical symptoms, including vomiting and bone pain. Since users are
typically unaware of the amount and purity of the drug they are using, the drug can lead to
nearly instantaneous death upon use. In the brain, the heroin converts to morphine and binds
rapidly to opioid receptors, triggering a surge of pleasurable sensation called a “rush.”
Several drug analogs to opium have been produced, some by pharmaceutical companies for
medical reasons, but others, known as “designer drugs,” by illegal laboratories. This latter
category may be more dangerous than the original compound. Several of the most abused
N ational Institute on D rug Abuse, Research Report Index
http://www.nida.nih.gov/researchreports/researchindex.html, (last accessed Oct. 18, 2011).
prescription drugs are also opioids, commonly prescribed because of their pain-relieving
properties. These opioids, such as OxyContin, also produce euphoria as a side effect.
Withdrawal leads to the same physical symptoms caused by heroin withdrawal, and a large
enough dose of these drugs may lead to death. Id.
The effect of marihuana is unlike the effect of opiates. The only real similarities
between the drugs appear to be the euphoric rush or high associated with their use, and the
addiction. Neither of these features is alike in degree. Marihuana, according to the Research
Report Series of the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Drug Abuse, never
leads to immediate death, lacks physical withdrawal symptoms, and is much less addictive
than opium. While this resource indicates that marihuana clearly leads to decreased activity
in the abuser, holding that marihuana is like an opiate on these grounds is analogous to
holding that caffeine is like cocaine.
Our state’s caselaw on this issue, scant though it is, has been dominated by the abuse
of prescription drugs including opiates, and without exception, a divorce has been granted
only when individuals were much more severely incapacitated than James was in this case.
See Ladner, 436 So. 2d at 1375 (spouse abused prescription drugs including barbiturates,
amphetamines, Dalmane, Librium, Ativan, Nolundar, Mellaril, Sinequan, Vivactil, Talwin,
and Tylenol No. 3 with Codeine, which constituted opium, morphine, or other like drug);
Smithson v. Smithson, 113 Miss. 146, 74 So. 149, 150 (1917), modified on suggestion of
error, 113 Miss. 644, 74 So. 609 (1917) (unspecified “drugs to palliate her physical pains to
such an extent and period of time that she became an habitual and excessive user of these
insidious drugs. . . .” constituted opium, morphine, or other like drug); Ashburn v. Ashburn,
970 So. 2d at 209-10 (Miss. Ct. App. 2007) (morphine prescribed by a physician, abuse of
prescription drugs including Lortab, Effexor, Lithium, Neurontin, Klonopin, and OxyContin,
as well as abuse of hydrocodone and marihuana, together constituted opium, morphine, or
other like drug); and Lawson, 821 So. 2d at 145 (abuse of the prescription drugs Darvocet-N,
Lortab, hydrocodone, and Tylenol No. 3 with Codeine constituted opium, morphine, or other
With this caselaw in mind, in today’s case, James was able to function on a relatively
normal level while abusing marihuana, hardly a behavior associated with abusers of drugs
as depicted in the cases cited in the preceding paragraph.
In addition, given the unfortunate prevalence of marihuana in American society, it is
a dangerous precedent to allow divorce for marihuana use alone. As already revealed,
marihuana is considered to be a relatively mild drug, and remains the least regulated of all
illegal drugs in the State of Mississippi. Marihuana is less addictive, less immediately
dangerous, and less incapacitating than the major opiates, and indeed than most other illegal
drugs. Allowing a divorce based on marihuana abuse will effectively hold that divorce is
available for the abuse of any drug -- which is not a natural reading of “opium, morphine or
other like drug.”
To be sure, marihuana abuse, like alcohol abuse, has the propensity to destroy a
marriage. However, the Legislature has not seen fit to provide for divorce on such grounds,
and it is not this Court’s responsibility to create new grounds for divorce ex nihilo. In my
opinion, the natural meaning of “opium, morphine or other like drug” is not so broad as to
cover marihuana. Accordingly, I would find that the chancery court erred in granting a
divorce on the ground of using “opium, marihuana or other like drug,” where the sole drug
habitually and excessively used was marihuana.
B. The Ladner Factors
Although I would hold that marihuana, as a matter of law, is too unlike opium or
morphine to satisfy the definition of a “like drug” to opium and morphine, I have considered
its effects in the present case. Under Ladner, factors this Court is to consider include “the
guilty spouse’s inability to support his wife and family or to properly attend to business . .
. [as well as] incapacity to perform other marital duties or his causing the marital relationship
to be repugnant to the innocent spouse.” Ladner, 436 So. 2d at 1375. The chancellor’s order
referenced this language and analyzed these factors, but does not specify which grounds the
chancellor found to have been satisfied in finding that marihuana met the effect test as a like
drug to opium and morphine. Thus, I have reviewed the evidence as to all of these factors.
An analogy may be drawn to habitual drunkenness, the most similar ground for fault-
based divorce in Mississippi law.14 In Culver v. Culver, 383 So. 2d 817, 817-18 (Miss.
1980), this Court did not find habitual drunkenness where the husband consumed four or five
beers a night, without significant impact on his family or work. It must be recognized that
divorce is not to be granted under these two fault-based grounds due to the mere fact that the
husband abused alcohol or opiates and like drugs, but only due to the effect that these
substances might have on the marriage.
Professor Bell draws this analogy in considering these two grounds for divorce.
Deborah H. Bell, Mississippi Family Law § 4.02 (2005)
Here, even assuming arguendo that marihuana is not an unlike drug to opium and
morphine as a matter of law, the effect of the marihuana abuse was minimal. In my opinion,
the chancellor abused his discretion in finding that James was a habitual and excessive user
of opium, morphine, or other like drug, thus justifying granting a divorce to Stacy on this
ground. The evidence indicates that marihuana usage at worst marginally affected James’s
business life and did not substantially harm James’s relationship with his children. While
James’s relationship with his wife Stacy sharply declined, the evidence does not indicate that
James’s marihuana usage was responsible for this deterioration.
1. Marital Duties and Repugnance
As the majority recognizes, James’s marihuana abuse was in no way comparable to
the facts of Ashburn or Ladner. James did use the drug almost daily for more than forty
years. Stacy testified that James’s routine was to come home from work, smoke marihuana,
and wait for her to prepare dinner. He would then isolate himself on the couch or in the
computer room and sometimes come to bed late after staying awake to use the computer or
watch television. James testified that he withdrew from his wife because she had withdrawn
from him sexually after their children were born, in 1999, ten years before this divorce action
was filed. Stacy admitted that she had withdrawn from James on an intimate level at that
Stacy testified that James had remained involved in their children’s lives, taking them
to church, helping them with their homework, and participating in their social activities,
particularly fishing, sporting events, and shooting “bb” guns. Stacy complained that he came
to only a few school activities, such as parent-teacher conferences. James did attend events
with his wife’s family less frequently and with Stacy’s mother, Barbara Ruth in particular,
stating that he became disinterested in these family events about three years before these
proceedings began. James testified that this was because he did not like his wife’s family.
On the whole, James’s relationship with his inlaws is far less significant in divorce
proceedings than his relationship with his children and with his spouse. The evidence is clear
that James’s relationship with his children remained strong and healthy. In contrast, his
relationship with Stacy clearly declined. However, this decline was due to reasons other than
the marihuana abuse. James testified, and Stacy admitted, that she had withdrawn from him
sexually ten years prior, when their children were born.
Stacy testified that she began dating a man named Tom Henry before filing this
divorce. James suspected or became aware of Stacy’s adultery, and this affected the
relationship between them. James also testified, and Stacy agreed, that Stacy never
specifically asked James to stop smoking marihuana, though she claimed that his continued
use exasperated her. The evidence is uncontroverted that Stacy was aware of James’s
marihuana habit two years before they married. While James failed to timely plead the
affirmative defense of condonation, this testimony can hardly be irrelevant to our analysis.
Since Stacy married James with the knowledge that he was a heavy abuser of marihuana, and
never asked him to quit, in my opinion, it was unreasonable to conclude that James’s
marihuana abuse made the marriage repugnant to her.
James did stop performing certain marital duties, though there is no evidence that this
was due to incapacity to perform them. The marriage obviously did become repugnant to
Stacy. However, since Stacy had withdrawn from James sexually, engaged in an adulterous
affair, and was aware of James’s marihuana use even before marriage but never asked James
to quit using it, the chancellor, in my opinion, abused his discretion by holding that
marihuana abuse was responsible for this state of affairs.
2. Support of Family and Attending to Business
There was minimal evidence that James’s marihuana use substantially affected his
earning capability. Trial testimony showed that James worked every day of the marriage
except for brief periods of time when he lost employment due to his job being discontinued
or, in one case, his company going bankrupt after Hurricane Katrina. As the majority notes,
the Carambats’ financial difficulties were primarily caused by these layoffs. Stacy was able
to argue only one instance in which marihuana use affected James’s job performance: an
instance where James was demoted for botching a printing job. Stacy testified that James
had told her that his drug use played a part in this incident.
On cross-examination, Stacy was impeached with her deposition, in which she was
questioned about the demotion. Stacy admitted that, to her knowledge, James’s demotion
was not caused by, and was never connected to, James’s drug use. When specifically asked
whether this work incident was due to a mistake or a result of James’s drug use, Stacy
answered that it was a mistake. The evidence does not show that, by smoking marihuana,
James’s work productivity was affected. The majority finds that James’s marihuana use did
affect his work productivity, but solely based on James’s demotion, which the evidence does
not show was based on James’s marihuana usage. A statement by Stacy, later contradicted
on cross-examination, that James had stated to her that his demotion was based on his drug
use, is insufficient to show that James’s drug use caused him to fail to attend to his business
or support his family.
Stacy admitted that James’s expenditures on marihuana were a minimal portion of the
family income – approximately $300 annually out of a combined annual income of
approximately $70,000. James’s expenditures on marihuana may have been wasteful, but
a $300-a-year habit for a family with an annual income of $70,000 is hardly grounds for a
James’s abuse of marihuana was heavy, but there is minimal evidence that his family
or work was impacted. James’s admittedly wasteful spending on the marihuana was minor,
and only one incident was reported indicating that James had failed to attend normally to
business as a result of his drug use, and the only testimony concerning this one incident was
successfully impeached by prior testimony. There was also uncontested evidence that the
main cause for the decline in the family income was linked to events outside James’s control,
as the majority opinion concedes. After consideration of these factors, I conclude that it was
an abuse of discretion for the chancellor to find that James’s use of marihuana met the effect
test as a like drug to opium and morphine.
VI. Suggested Disposition and Future Proceedings
For these reasons, I respectfully dissent from the majority and would reverse and
remand for further proceedings. I recognize that remanding this case after a divorce has been
granted would be an unfortunate step. The obvious effect is that James and Stacy would
continue to be bound together, unhappily, in matrimony. However, from the record before
us, it is abundantly apparent that, on remand, the parties would have alternate grounds for
divorce to consider. Admittedly, this Court is not in the business of issuing advisory
opinions, so I go no further as to what might or might not happen if this case were remanded.
However, in sum, I conclude that it was error for the chancery court to find that James
was a habitual and excessive user of opium, morphine, or other like drug. If the Legislature
wishes to provide for divorce on the grounds of abusing any illegal drug, or any dangerous
drug, it of course may do so. To date, however, it has not. What the Legislature has provided
is that parties may seek a divorce on the grounds of “[h]abitual and excessive use of opium,
morphine or other like drug.” Miss. Code Ann. § 93-5-1 (Rev. 2004). Because marihuana
is unlike opium or morphine, both in physical effect and in its effect on family life, I would
reverse and remand. Because the majority finds otherwise, I respectfully dissent.
DICKINSON, P.J., AND KITCHENS, J., JOIN THIS OPINION.