Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Mississippi
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The chancery court granted divorce to William Jack ("BJ") Kerr on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment and its award of joint custody of the minor child, WHK. India Kerr argued the chancellor erred by granting her ex-husband's petition for divorce and not her own. She also sought an amendment to the custody award, arguing the chancellor's Albright analysis was incorrect. Finding no reversible error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the chancery court's judgment. View "Kerr v. Kerr" on Justia Law

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D.G.E.C. was born on June 1, 2016. Her biological parents were Rachel Coulter and Cody Jones. Coulter and Jones never married. On the evening of August 6, 2016, Jones took the nine-week-old baby to a room in their two-bedroom trailer to change her diaper. He noticed that her leg appeared limp. He told Coulter “her leg flopped over like it had no life in it” and expressed concern that it was broken. Eventually, Coulter and Jones took the baby to an emergency room. Coulter suggested that the baby might be suffering due to a reaction to her first round of vaccinations received three days earlier. X-rays of the leg revealed that it was fractured. The baby was transferred to University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) for further evaluation and treatment. Upon admission to UMMC, medical professionals identified bruising to the baby’s forehead and cheek, acute posterior rib fractures on both sides of her chest, lateral rib fractures, an intertrochanteric femur fracture or hip fracture, corner fractures above and below both knees, and left ankle fractures. Given the baby’s medical condition upon admission, a UMMC social worker contacted the Jefferson Davis County Department of Human Services (DHS) to report the injuries. Coulter appealed a chancery court judgment terminating her parental rights. She challenged the chancellor’s finding of fact that she was the custodial parent of her daughter when her daughter was abused, and its conclusion of law that responsibility for abuse can be imputed to custodial parents. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the chancellor’s findings of fact, finding the judgment was supported by "ample evidence as is legally sound." View "Coulter v. Dunn" on Justia Law

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Linda Battise was the mother of Joseph Aucoin, deceased. Joseph and Sheila Aucoin were married and had two daughters. After Joseph’s death, Sheila began restricting Linda’s visitation with the children because Linda was not abiding by Sheila’s parental decisions. Through counsel, Linda petitioned for grandparent visitation. The chancellor encouraged the parties to confer because Sheila made some statements showing that they could come to a visitation agreement without court involvement. Linda and Sheila reached an agreement; however, the chancellor declined to sign the agreed order. The chancellor advised Sheila to retain an attorney because she did not believe that Sheila fully understood the implications of the agreement. Furthermore, the chancellor told Sheila that she was entitled to attorney’s fees. Shiela hired an attorney, and filed a motion to dismiss or stay proceedings until fees were paid in advance. The chancellor denied Linda’s motion to recuse, and ordered Linda to pay $3,500 to Sheila for attorney’s fees within thirty days or else she could not proceed with her case. Linda appealed, arguing that: (1) the chancellor erred by requiring her to prepay attorney’s fees to Sheila before Linda’s case could be heard; (2) the chancellor erred by not entering a final judgment; and (3) the chancellor erred by not recusing. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the chancellor's denial of the motion to recuse. The Court reversed the prepayment order, and remanded for further proceedings on the merits. View "Battise v. Aucoin" on Justia Law

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This interlocutory appeal stemmed from a trial judge granting partial summary judgment, dismissing a claim of malicious prosecution. Richard and Victoria Wilbourn were in a longstanding domestic matter. Victoria accused Richard of misconduct towards their children, but the chancellor determined that the accusations were unfounded. Victoria went to the Ridgeland Police Department for help and filed an eight-page report against Richard, restating his alleged misconduct. The Ridgeland Police Department followed protocol, investigated, and referred the case to the district attorney’s office. The case was presented to a grand jury; the grand jury returned no bill. Notably, Richard was never charged, indicted, or arrested in connection with the investigation, and Victoria did not swear an affidavit against him. In the summer of 2016, Richard discovered the investigation and grand jury presentment and responded by filing suit, claiming malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. In response, Victoria moved for summary judgment. And after a hearing, the trial judge granted partial summary judgment, dismissing Richard’s claim of malicious prosecution but retaining the others. Definitively, the trial judge found that “no criminal proceedings were instituted and therefore [Richard] cannot satisfy the first element of his claim.” With no arrest or indictment, or Richard otherwise being subjected to oppressive litigation of criminal charges for the report that Victoria gave to the Ridgeland Police Department, the Mississippi Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not err in dismissing Richard's malicious-prosecution claim. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Wilbourn v. Wilbourn" on Justia Law

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Ashley Bionte Johnson filed a petition for presumption of death and requested that the chancellor presume her father, Audray Johnson, dead. She claimed that her father, Audray, had been gone from his physical body for more than seven years and should be presumed dead. Audray suffers from mental illness and has been treated for dissociative identity disorder. In 2017, Audray changed his name from Audray Johnson to Akecheta Andre Morningstar. In February 2020, a hearing was held on Ashley’s petition. Morningstar was present at the hearing and testified regarding Audray’s death. According to Morningstar, Audray’s spirit expired more than seven years ago, and Morningstar occupied Audray’s physical body. Morningstar testified that he was “an ambassador . . . a hybrid . . . part angel, part human” who originated “from the heavens.” He explained that he was “dispatched” to earth “to save the world.” Although Morningstar admitted he occupied Audray’s physical body, he asserted he “shouldn’t have the responsibility of taking care of a dead man’s family.” The chancellor denied Ashley’s petition, and Ashley timely appealed. The Mississippi Supreme Court determined Audray had not been absent from, and did not conceal himself in Mississippi for seven years, therefore the chancellor’s denial of the petition was affirmed. View "In the Matter of the Presumption of Death of Audray Johnson" on Justia Law

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Christine Barton (Jorgensen) appealed a chancery court ruling, arguing it was an abuse of the court's discretion in failing to enter a final domestic-violence protection order and by failing to appoint a guardian ad litem. The pleadings revealed that Jorgensen not only failed to seek an extension of the temporary domestic-abuse protection order previously issued by a justice court judge but she also failed to request a final domestic-violence protection order. By statute, the justice court order expires thirty days after entry, as here, when the party seeking protection and the respondent have minor children in common. The Mississippi Supreme Court concluded there was no abuse of discretion and affirmed. View "Barton a/k/a Jorgensen v. Barton" on Justia Law

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The Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services (MDCPS) sought to terminate involuntarily the parental rights of Jack Bynum, the putative father of a child in MDCPS' custody. The chancery court determined Bynum was both indigent and entitled to counsel. The chancellor appointed Bynum counsel and ordered MDCPS to pay his attorney's fees. MDCPS appealed. The agency argued Covington County should have paid for Bynum’s representation, just as it would if Bynum were an indigent criminal defendant. But the Mississippi Supreme Court found this was not a criminal case. "And the statutory scheme that directs the initiating county in criminal prosecutions to pay for indigent representation is expressly limited. It only applies to those 'charged with a felony, misdemeanor punishable by confinement for ninety (90) days or more, or commission of an act of delinquency.'” Thus, absent a legislative directive to assess an indigent parent’s attorney’s fees to Covington County, the chancery court did not abuse its legislatively conferred discretion by ordering MDCPS to pay Bynum’s attorney’s fees. View "Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services v. Bynum" on Justia Law

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The chancery court tried this adoption case twice. After the first trial, the chancellor granted the adoption petition of the maternal grandparents, C.C.B. and S.R.B.; after the second trial, the chancellor granted the competing adoption petition of G.E.K. and G.R.K., the foster parents. The grandparents appealed, arguing for the first time that the chancery court lacked subject matter jurisdiction under the Mississippi Termination of Parental Rights Law (MTPRL) to terminate parental rights and adjudicate the adoption of S.A.B. Also, for the first time on appeal, they argued the chancery court lacked jurisdiction because it failed to order a home study as required by statute. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court held the chancery court had jurisdiction under the MTPRL to accept the voluntary releases of parental rights filed by S.A.B.’s natural parents and to order S.A.B.’s adoption. Further, the Court held that, because the failure to order a home study did not implicate the chancery court’s subject matter jurisdiction, the issue could not be raised for the first time on appeal. Therefore, the Court affirmed. View "In the Matter of the Adoption of the Minor Identified in the Petition: C.C.B. and S.R.B. v. G.A.K. and G.R.K." on Justia Law

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George Ray, Sr., and Johnnita Ray were divorced on the ground of irreconcilable differences, and the chancery court decided issues of property settlement. George appealed, arguing that the chancellor erred by not crediting him for supporting Johnnita’s children, by finding him solely responsible for their joint debt, and by including his military-retirement income into the alimony determination. Finding no reversible error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the chancellor’s judgment. View "Ray v. Ray" on Justia Law

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In 2016, Linda Alford filed for divorce from Cincinnatus (“Nat”) Alford III. The parties agreed to a divorce based on irreconcilable differences, allowing the chancery court to divide the marital assets and expenses and to make a determination regarding alimony. The chancellor awarded Linda $5,000 per month in periodic alimony, $5,000 in attorney fees, and $6,000 in expert witness fees. Nat appealed the chancellor’s judgment. The Mississippi Supreme Court assigned the case to the Court of Appeals, which reversed and remanded the chancellor’s alimony award and reversed and rendered the amount of attorney fees. The Supreme Court granted Linda's petition for certiorari because it had not answered whether a chancellor should have considered Social Security benefits when considering initial alimony awards. The Supreme Court found that consideration of derivative Social Security benefits should have been reserved for alimony modification proceedings. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and reinstated the chancellor’s award of alimony. The Court of Appeals' decision to reverse and render the award of attorney fees was affirmed. View "Alford v. Alford" on Justia Law