Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Mississippi

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Amanda Copeland appealed the termination of Gary Copeland’s child-support obligation to his two minor children. After their divorce, Gary and Amanda were awarded joint legal custody of their minor children, with physical custody awarded to Amanda and visitation awarded to Gary. Gary subsequently filed a Petition for Citation of Contempt and For Modification and a Motion for Temporary Relief. During the trial on Gary’s petition and motion, his seventeen-year-old daughter and thirteen-year-old son testified. The chancellor found they no longer loved their father and they wished to terminate any relationship with him. Each child acknowledged sending hateful emails and texts, which included expressed desires either to kill their father or see him dead. The numerous text messages and emails admitted into evidence were filled with vitriolic invectives, expressing deep-seated anger, resentment, and ill-will not only toward their father, but also toward his parents and sister. The court determined that the conduct of the children was so egregious that was appropriate to terminate the support obligation. The issues presented for the Mississippi Supreme Court’s review were: (1) whether the chancellor manifestly wrong in granting relief that was not requested; (2) did the children’s animosity toward their father exist at the time of the divorce; and (3) was the chancellor’s decision supported by the evidence. The Supreme Court found the chancellor did not abuse his discretion, was not manifestly wrong or clearly erroneous, and did not apply an erroneous legal standard. The chancellor’s findings of fact were supported by substantial and credible evidence. View "Copeland v. Copeland" on Justia Law

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Thomas Dennis appealed a Chancery Court judgment, arguing that the chancellor erred by denying a petition to terminate his child-support obligations with respect to his step-great-grandchild, J.R.H. Thomas Dennis and Sheila Sims Dennis (“Sims”) were married; prior to her relationship with Dennis, Sims had a daughter named Renee Wright. Renee had a daughter named Courtney; Courtney was Sims’s granddaughter. Courtney married Josh Hartzell, and they were the natural parents of J.R.H. Therefore, Sims was J.R.H.’s great-grandmother and, by extension, Dennis was J.R.H.’s stepgreat-grandfather. J.R.H. and Dennis were not blood-related in any way. In May2005, the Mississippi Department of Human Services (“DHS”) informed Sims that J.R.H.’s natural parents had gotten into legal trouble. Dennis, Sims, and the Hartzells filed a Joint Petition for Child Custody. All parties agreed that it would be in the best interest of J.R.H. to be placed in the custody of and reside with Dennis and Sims. In the petition, the Hartzells each agreed to pay $106 per month to Dennis and Sims for the care, maintenance, and support of J.R.H. The Hartzells also requested visitation rights. Two years later, Sims filed for divorce. At some point after Dennis’s and Sims’s divorce, J.R.H. cut off any relationship with Dennis. Dennis filed an amended petition to consolidate the divorce matter and the child-custody matter and to modify the child-custody and support agreement. In his petition, Dennis argued that the chancellor should allow him to relinquish his custody of J.R.H. and to terminate any ongoing child-support obligations. The chancellor ultimately denied Dennis’s requested relief, finding no material change in circumstances had arisen. The chancellor also rejected Dennis’s argument that his child-support obligations should have been terminated because of J.R.H.’s refusal to see or speak to him for two years. He reasoned that the child was only twelve years old and therefore “not old enough to appreciate that [the] failure to have a relationship with Mr. Dennis is legally significant.” Dennis appealed, raising nine issues, which the Mississippi Supreme Court reduced to three main themes: (1) whether there was a legal basis for child support or, alternatively, whether the collapse of the relationship justified termination; (2) whether the natural parents’ ongoing parental obligations establish that Dennis should not be required to pay child support; and (3) whether Dennis should be permitted voluntarily to terminate his custodial obligations. Finding no reversible error in the chancellor’s decision, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Dennis v. Dennis" on Justia Law

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Thomas Dennis appealed a Chancery Court judgment, arguing that the chancellor erred by denying a petition to terminate his child-support obligations with respect to his step-great-grandchild, J.R.H. Thomas Dennis and Sheila Sims Dennis (“Sims”) were married; prior to her relationship with Dennis, Sims had a daughter named Renee Wright. Renee had a daughter named Courtney; Courtney was Sims’s granddaughter. Courtney married Josh Hartzell, and they were the natural parents of J.R.H. Therefore, Sims was J.R.H.’s great-grandmother and, by extension, Dennis was J.R.H.’s stepgreat-grandfather. J.R.H. and Dennis were not blood-related in any way. In May2005, the Mississippi Department of Human Services (“DHS”) informed Sims that J.R.H.’s natural parents had gotten into legal trouble. Dennis, Sims, and the Hartzells filed a Joint Petition for Child Custody. All parties agreed that it would be in the best interest of J.R.H. to be placed in the custody of and reside with Dennis and Sims. In the petition, the Hartzells each agreed to pay $106 per month to Dennis and Sims for the care, maintenance, and support of J.R.H. The Hartzells also requested visitation rights. Two years later, Sims filed for divorce. At some point after Dennis’s and Sims’s divorce, J.R.H. cut off any relationship with Dennis. Dennis filed an amended petition to consolidate the divorce matter and the child-custody matter and to modify the child-custody and support agreement. In his petition, Dennis argued that the chancellor should allow him to relinquish his custody of J.R.H. and to terminate any ongoing child-support obligations. The chancellor ultimately denied Dennis’s requested relief, finding no material change in circumstances had arisen. The chancellor also rejected Dennis’s argument that his child-support obligations should have been terminated because of J.R.H.’s refusal to see or speak to him for two years. He reasoned that the child was only twelve years old and therefore “not old enough to appreciate that [the] failure to have a relationship with Mr. Dennis is legally significant.” Dennis appealed, raising nine issues, which the Mississippi Supreme Court reduced to three main themes: (1) whether there was a legal basis for child support or, alternatively, whether the collapse of the relationship justified termination; (2) whether the natural parents’ ongoing parental obligations establish that Dennis should not be required to pay child support; and (3) whether Dennis should be permitted voluntarily to terminate his custodial obligations. Finding no reversible error in the chancellor’s decision, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Dennis v. Dennis" on Justia Law

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In 2014, the Mississippi Supreme Court issued its opinion in Gutierrez v. Gutierrez, 153 So.3d 703 (2014), affirming the chancellor’s judgment in part and reversing it in part, remanding the case for the resolution of three overarching issues. Clayton Gutierrez appealed the chancellor’s decisions concerning the issues on remand, outlined in the chancery court’s September 22, 2015, December 29, 2015, and February 26, 2016, orders. In all, Clayton raised five alleged errors. Finding that the court neither abused its discretion nor erred in its decision, the Supreme Court affirmed the chancellor’s judgments on the matter. View "Gutierrez v. Gutierrez" on Justia Law

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A widow challenged the Court of Appeals’ finding persuasive that she abandoned her marriage; when her husband died, she received only a child’s share of his estate. After dating for approximately six months; Sarah Young and Joe Estes married in 2006. Young entered the marriage with four natural children and three adopted minor grandchildren; Estes entered with several grown children. After marrying Estes, Young continued to maintain a home with her grandchildren where she had lived prior to the marriage. As noted by the chancellor, Estes’s and Young’s “living arrangement was somewhat non-traditional.” Despite this, the record shows that Young split her time between her children and Estes. She testified that she slept at his house when she was not working nights and prepared at least one meal a day for Estes. Following a short hospitalization, Young contended Estes’ behavior changed. She testified he lashed out at her. After Estes accused Young of adultery, she elected to separate from him. Estes’s family members testified that they, unlike Young, were very supportive of Estes following the hospitalization. In addition to finding Young absent, several family members testified that Young was stealing groceries to feed her own children. After Estes had refused to seek medical or mental help, Young initiated involuntary-commitment proceedings against Estes. The evaluation concluded that Estes competent, and not a danger to himself or anyone else. Estes was released from psychiatric care. Immediately thereafter, Young filed for divorce. Shortly after Estes received notice of the final divorce hearing, he shot and killed himself. Estes’s will did not provide for Young to inherit anything from his estate. Young renounced the will. The trial court granted Young a $12,000 widow’s allowance as well as a one-fifth, child’s share of the estate. She appealed, challenging the child’s share of the estate. Finding that the chancellor did not manifestly err when he determined that Young had not abandoned the marital relationship and was entitled to a child’s share of Estes’s estate, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals, affirmed the judgment of the Chancery Court, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Estate of Joe Howard Estes v. Young-Estes" on Justia Law

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An order of divorce was entered in 2008. This case made its third trip to the Mississippi Supreme Court. Drake Lewis appealed two issues: (1) the order of divorce should have been voided due to a lack of jurisdiction and that the chancellor erred in finding that he resided in Harrison County (he claimed improper venue for the suit); and (2) the chancellor erred in entering an order of contempt against him. Finding no error, the Court affirmed the judgment of the chancellor on both issues. View "Lewis v. (Lewis) Pagel" on Justia Law

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The parties ultimately agreed to an irreconcilable differences divorce, with the chancery court to decide certain issues: child custody, visitation, equitable division of property and attorney fees. The bulk of Candice Ballard’s appeal centered on the court’s order denying her custody of the parties’ three minor children based upon the chancery court’s determination that both Candice and Marshall Ballard were “unfit” and that neither should be awarded custody pursuant to Mississippi Code Section 93-5-24-(9)(a)(ii) (the “family-violence presumption”). The chancery court awarded custody to the Mississippi Department of Human Services but placed the children with Marshall’s parents. Candice challenged the custody decision, arguing the chancellor relied strictly on hearsay to establish her “unfitness” and history of family violence. She also argued the chancery court erred in dividing the marital estate and awarding attorney’s fees. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed and remanded with respect to the issues of custody and division of the marital estate; with respect to fees, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Ballard v. Ballard" on Justia Law

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Leslie Shumake appealed a Chancery Court judgment that found him in contempt for failure to pay his alimony obligations, denied his motion to modify alimony, and placed an equitable lien on his law practice to secure the payment of future alimony. Shumake argued that the chancellor erred by imposing the equitable lien, abused his discretion by failing to grant the motion to modify alimony, erred by rejecting his inability-to-pay defense to the contempt action, erred in the award of attorney fees, and erred by awarding Ms. Shumake the unpaid balance of the arrearage on the parties’ former first mortgage. The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed on all issues except the chancellor’s award of attorney fees for Ms. Shumake’s successful contempt action. The Court reversed the attorney fee award and remanded for the chancellor to subtract the fees attributable to Ms. Shumake’s defense of Mr. Shumake’s modification action. View "Shumake v. Shumake" on Justia Law

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Milton and Geneva Martin sought grandparent visitation with their two grandsons after they were denied visitation by Kimberly and Brandon Smith, the children’s biological mother and adoptive father. Marty Martin, the children’s father and the Martins’ son, was deceased. The Chancery Court granted grandparent visitation to the Martins, the Smiths appealed, and the case was assigned to the Mississippi Court of Appeals, which affirmed. After review, the Supreme Court found no error with the Court of Appeals or the Chancery Court’s orders, and affirmed. View "Smith v. Martin" on Justia Law

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Frank Hartley Jr. appealed the final judgment of the Chancery Court terminating his parental rights to his two biological children, A.B. and B.H., and granting an adoption to John D. and Lenita S. Watts. Finding that the judgment was supported by clear and convincing evidence, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Hartley v. Watts" on Justia Law