Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Mississippi

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Michele and Roger Latham divorced in 2016. In 2017, Michele filed a petition for contempt against Roger, claiming that he had failed to comply with the divorce judgment. After a hearing, the chancellor found Roger in constructive criminal contempt for failing to comply with several terms of the divorce judgment. Roger appealed, arguing that the chancellor erred because he did not recuse himself before finding Roger in constructive criminal contempt. Because Roger raised the argument for the first time on appeal, the Mississippi Supreme Court considered it waived. Accordingly, the chancellor’s judgment was affirmed. View "Latham v. Latham" on Justia Law

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Brent and Tracy Williams were granted an irreconcilable-differences divorce, and the chancellor resolved the issues upon which the parties could not agree. At issue in the direct appeal was: (1) whether the chancellor erred by not providing Tracy a set visitation schedule with their teenage son; (2) whether the chancellor erred in requiring Tracy to pay child support; (3) whether the chancellor erred in the valuation of the Williams’s business interests; and (4) whether the chancellor erred in finding an airplane and a boat to be marital property. On cross-appeal, the issue was whether the chancellor erred by not ordering Tracy to make monthly payments to Brent on his $1 million judgment award. Finding no merit to the assignments of error on appeal or cross-appeal, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the chancery court. View "Williams v. Williams" on Justia Law

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In September 2013, the Gertys filed a joint complaint for an irreconcilable-differences divorce. The joint complaint sat with the Chancery Court for almost two years, during which the parties cooperated with each other and faithfully abided by the Property Settlement Agreement (“PSA”), which was filed contemporaneously with the joint complaint. The PSA provided that Michael would have physical custody of the couple’s minor child. Michael was required to move to the Great Lakes area to fulfill a three-year military commitment when Joesie agreed that their son would move with Michael. Joesie made the decision not to move to the Great Lakes area, instead, moving into her paramour's mother's house. For approximately two years, Michael and their son lived apart from Joesie. In January of 2015, Michael informed Joesie that reconciliation was impossible and that he wanted her to sign and finalize the divorce papers. Joesie, upon the advice of her attorney, surreptitiously told Michael that she also was ready to complete the irreconcilable-differences divorce. Based on the advice of her counsel, Joesie waited until her summer visitation had begun pursuant to the PSA and until her son was physically in Mississippi before withdrawing her consent to an irreconcilable-differences divorce. Joesie and Michael then filed separate complaints for divorce on the ground of adultery, inter alia, and alternatively sought an irreconcilable-differences divorce. The chancellor entered a final judgment and decreed that a divorce should be granted, but that neither party was entitled to a fault-based divorce. She found that Joesie had failed to establish adultery. She found that Michael had proved adultery because Joesie had admitted it, but that Michael had condoned Joesie’s adulterous conduct. Then the chancellor sua sponte declared the statutory scheme under Mississippi Code Section 93-5-2 (Rev. 2013) unconstitutional and granted an irreconcilable-differences divorce. Joesie was granted custody of their child. After final judgment was entered, Michael, Joesie and the State asked for reconsideration because no party had asked for, pleaded, argued, or offered proof on the unconstitutionality of the statute. The chancellor significantly amended her earlier final judgment, increasing Joesie’s award to include a percent of Michael’s military-retirement benefit and reducing the noncustodial parent’s summer visitation from three months, as provided in the PSA, to one month, contrary to the PSA and the chancellor’s original final judgment. The State appealed the chancellor's adjudication of 93-5-2 as unconstitutional. Michael appealed the trial court's adjudication of 93-5-2 as unconstitutional; (2) failing to award Michael a divorce on the ground of adultery; (3) reducing Michael’s summer visitation; (4) awarding Joesie a portion of Michael’s retirement benefits; and (5) awarding custody to Joesie. The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the chancellor’s finding regarding custody and child support, but reversed the remaining judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Gerty v. Gerty" on Justia Law

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Dr. Christopher Cummins, married man who was separated but not divorced from his wife, began a romantic relationship with one of his employees, Leah Jordan Goolsby (Jordan). The two began living together, had a child, and became engaged to one another. Cummins never divorced his wife. and he and Jordan never married. Jordan eventually ended their relationship and kept the engagement ring and wedding ring he gave her. When Jordan filed a paternity suit for child-support payments for their child, Cummins counterclaimed for the rings, which together were worth $11,435. Alternatively, he argued that if Jordan was awarded the rings, their value should be deducted from any child-support obligation. The chancellor awarded the rings to Jordan, finding the rings were not a conditional gift, because the condition of marriage was not met, since Cummins had remained married to his wife. The chancellor certified the ruling on the ring issue as final, and Cummins appealed. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court agreed the fatal fact to Cummins’s claim was his marriage to another woman: because Dr. Cummins could not legally marry at the time he gave the engagement rings, he could not argue to a court of equity that he was entitled to get the rings back, since the condition of marriage never took place. Because Cummins has no right to recover the rings due to his unclean hands, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Cummins v. Goolsby" on Justia Law

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E.K. was adjudicated as a neglected child. Elizabeth A. King and Timothy King were E.K.'s parents; he was born 2001. With a history of ADHD, epilepsy, autism, mental disability and obsessive, compulsive disorder (OCD), E.K. functioned on the level of a two-year-old. Elizabeth and Timothy had been separated for two weeks at the time of the initial investigation in this case. They had been divorced for four years in the past before having remarried. In December 2015, the Mississippi Department of Human Services Division of Family and Children’s Services (“DHS”) was contacted by law enforcement officials about Elizabeth and E.K. Law enforcement officers on the scene were concerned that Elizabeth was high on drugs, due to her repetitive 911 calls. According to an investigative report prepared by DHS, Elizabeth secured a protective order against Timothy and changed the locks to her residence. Last, the report noted that DHS was ordered by the Marion County Youth Court “to open prevention case to monitor to [sic] safety in the home.” DHS ultimately directed a formal petition to adjudicate E.K. as a neglected child be entered. First, E.K. was adjudicated neglected even though her mother was not properly before the youth court and her father received no notice of the adjudication hearing. Second, after review, the Mississippi Supreme Court found that the neglect petition was legally insufficient to provide notice to E.K. or her parents of the neglect charges. Third, the evidence offered to support a finding of neglect at the adjudication hearing was legally insufficient. As such, the Supreme Court vacated the youth court’s adjudication order and rendered judgment in favor of E.K. and her parents. View "In the Interest of E.K." on Justia Law

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Prior to April 2016, a chancellor could, as part of a contested adoption, terminate the parents’ rights, even when the termination issue was pending in youth court as part of a child-abuse proceeding. In April 2016, the adoption and termination-of-parental-rights statutes changed. Now, a chancellor cannot grant an adoption contested by the parents unless the parents’ rights have been terminated under the Mississippi Termination of Parental Rights Law (MTPRL). Under the MTPRL, the Mississippi Legislature carved out an important exception to the chancery court’s jurisdiction over termination proceedings, giving “a county court, when sitting as a youth court with jurisdiction of a child in an abuse or neglect proceeding, original exclusive jurisdiction to hear a petition for termination of parental rights against a parent of that child.” In this contested adoption, the chancellor applied the MTPRL and recognized the youth court had exclusive jurisdiction over the request to terminate parental rights because the youth court already had jurisdiction over the child as part of an abuse proceeding. And unless and until the youth court terminated the parents’ rights, the chancery court could not grant the petition to adopt the child. For this reason, the chancellor dismissed the adoption so the termination could be pursued in youth court. The Mississippi Supreme Court found the chancellor correctly interpreted and applied the controlling law when he dismissed the adoption petition, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "M.A.S. v. Mississippi Department of Human Services" on Justia Law

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In the first time this matter came before the Mississippi Supreme Court, the Court agreed with the chancellor that Tanya and Hobson Sanderson’s prenuptial agreement was procedurally conscionable. But the Court disagreed that potential substantive unconscionability was not a consideration. The Court reversed and remanded for the chancellor to weigh Tanya’s claim that the agreement was substantively unconscionable. Tanya had also claimed the chancellor erroneously classified as "Hob’s" separate property several assets that had been commingled with marital property. The Supreme Court agreed with Tanya regarding one asset: the couple’s joint bank account, and reversed the chancellor’s finding that the joint bank-account funds were not commingled. On remand, a different chancellor found the prenuptial agreement was substantively conscionable and thus enforceable. After a detailed "Ferguson" analysis, the chancellor then awarded Tanya $537.42 - the balance of the joint bank account at the time of Tanya and Hob’s final separation. Tanya appealed, arguing: (1) the chancellor failed to recognize the prenuptial agreement was unconscionable because the results of enforcement are unfair; or (2) alternatively, the chancellor erred by not expanding the scope of commingled marital assets to include Hob’s home and investment accounts. Upon review, the Supreme Court found no reversible error. View "Sanderson v. Sanderson" on Justia Law

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A same-sex couple conceived a child through the use of artificial insemination (AI) of sperm from an anonymous donor. Kimberly Day was the gestational mother; Z.S. was born in 2011 in Mississippi. The couple separated in 2013. In October 2016, the Rankin County Chancery Court entered a final judgment of divorce. In the judgment, the chancery court found, among other things, that Christina Strickland acted in loco parentis to Z.S., but that Christina was not Z.S.’s legal parent. Central to the chancery court’s decision was the finding that the anonymous sperm donor had parental rights that had to be terminated and thus precluded Christina from being Z.S.’s legal parent. Christina appealed, presenting a question of first impression to the Mississippi Supreme Court: whether the chancery court erred in finding that the rights of the anonymous sperm donor precluded a finding that Christina was Z.S.’s legal parent. After review of the record and the relevant law, the Supreme Court found the chancery court erred in this finding. First, an anonymous sperm donor is not a legal parent whose rights must be terminated. And second, the doctrine of equitable estoppel precluded Kimberly from challenging Christina’s legal parentage of Z.S. The chancery court’s judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for a custody determination. View "Strickland v. Day" on Justia Law

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Patrick Ridgeway sought an irreconcilable differences divorce from Louise Ridgeway (now Hooker). The parties entered into a written agreement, which the Chancery Court approved and memorialized in its Final Judgment of Divorce – Irreconcilable Differences. But after Hooker had filed a Petition for Citation of Contempt against Ridgeway approximately two years later, Ridgeway filed a Motion for Relief from Final Judgment of Divorce pursuant to Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(4), arguing that the judgment was void because the Chancery Court had lacked subject-matter and personal jurisdiction. The court found that it had jurisdiction of the subject matter and of the parties and denied Ridgeway’s Rule 60(b)(4) motion. Ridgeway appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. View "Ridgeway v. Ridgeway Hooker" on Justia Law

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Benardrick McKinney and Kasey Hamp’s son, K.M., was born out of wedlock while McKinney attended and played football for Mississippi State University. Hamp sought assistance to pay for K.M.’s support and expenses. The Mississippi Department of Human Services (DHS) became involved in her child-support request; DHS filed a complaint in Tunica County against McKinney to determine paternity and child support. A paternity test showed a 99.99% probability that McKinney was K.M.’s father. Based on that test, DHS returned to chancery court, and the chancellor entered a temporary order awarding Hamp $150 per month in child support. McKinney voluntarily increased his support obligation to $750 per month. In his junior year, McKinney was selected in the National Football League (NFL) draft, and signed a contract to play professional football for the Houston Texans. Hamp, individually, filed a complaint for child support, pointing out that McKinney’s income had increased substantially since DHS had filed its complaint. McKinney had signed a four-year, several-million-dollar NFL contract, which included a substantial signing bonus. McKinney answered the complaint and raised a counterclaim seeking custody of K.M. In his answer, McKinney argued that because DHS had already obtained a child-support award in another suit, Hamp failed to both state a claim and join a necessary party—DHS. Hamp petitioned to amend her complaint to name DHS as a party, but the chancellor denied her request. In consolidated appeals, the Mississippi Supreme Court found the chancellor properly included McKinney’s signing bonus as part of his gross income when crafting a child-support award. The Court also held that a chancellor’s order for prospective monthly child-support payments could not be stayed by a clerk-approved supersedeas bond under Mississippi Rule of Appellate Procedure 8(a). But until opinion, the Supreme Court had not addressed Rule 8(a)’s effect on prospective child support payments, so it was reasonable for the father to have relied on his attorney’s advice that the award was stayed. Thus, he should not have been held in contempt for nonpayment of the increased support award. View "McKinney v. Hamp" on Justia Law