Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Mississippi

by
Twenty years after their divorce, Deveaux Carter filed for contempt against her exhusband, Allen Davis, for failing to pay child support and for their daughters’ medical, college, and other expenses. After a hearing, the chancellor calculated Davis’s total financial obligations under the divorce decree to be significant, $201,187.66. But the chancellor also found Davis and his mother had made substantial contributions directly to the children. His mother also made payments to Carter. The chancellor credited these contributions, totaling $197,911, toward Davis’s obligations. The chancellor then ordered Davis to pay the difference, $3,276.66. Citing these credits, the chancellor did not find Davis in willful contempt. But the chancellor awarded Carter $7,500 in attorney’s fees. He did so because Carter had to file suit to enforce the support order, with which Davis conceded he had not fully complied. The Court of Appeals reversed because the trial court did not find Davis in contempt. The Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision regarding the attorney’s fees award, finding the chancellor rightly recognized that Carter was entitled to attorney’s fees, even though the chancellor did not find Davis in willful contempt based on the credits. View "Carter v. Davis" on Justia Law

by
The husband in this case divorced his wife and entered into a property-settlement agreement that strongly favored his wife and child. The chancellor approved and adopted the agreement and incorporated it as part of the final divorce judgment. After abiding by the judgment’s terms for two years, the husband moved the court to set it aside or modify it. As grounds, he alleged duress and his wife’s supposed coercive misconduct in their negotiating of what he deemed an unconscionable settlement. The chancellor denied the husband’s request, finding he simply had waited too long to challenge the judgment. Finding no error in the chancellor’s decision, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. View "Smith v. Doe" on Justia Law

by
The husband in this case divorced his wife and entered into a property-settlement agreement that strongly favored his wife and child. The chancellor approved and adopted the agreement and incorporated it as part of the final divorce judgment. After abiding by the judgment’s terms for two years, the husband moved the court to set it aside or modify it. As grounds, he alleged duress and his wife’s supposed coercive misconduct in their negotiating of what he deemed an unconscionable settlement. The chancellor denied the husband’s request, finding he simply had waited too long to challenge the judgment. Finding no error in the chancellor’s decision, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. View "Smith v. Doe" on Justia Law

by
Patrick Gray and Felecia Hannah Dotch petitioned the Chancery Court to allow Gray to adopt D.D.H. without terminating Dotch’s parental rights. Dotch and Gray have never been married, and only Dotch is listed on D.D.H.’s birth certificate. Near the time of D.D.H.’s conception, however, Dotch and Gray were in a romantic relationship, and both believed that Gray was D.D.H.’s father. Early in her life, D.D.H. lived with Gray and Gray’s mother. When D.D.H. was old enough to attend school, she began to live with Dotch. During this time, Gray exercised visitation with D.D.H. and continued to provide financial support to her. More than a decade after D.D.H’s birth, Gray discovered that he was not her biological father. After this, Gray continued to visit and support D.D.H. The identity of D.D.H.’s biological father was not known. Gray and Dotch now both are married to other people. After consideration, the chancellor denied the petition. Aggrieved, Gray and Dotch appealed, arguing that their due-process and equal-protection rights were infringed. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed: the chancellor erred, as a matter of law, in finding that Mississippi Code Sections 93-17-3(4) and 93-17-13(2) (Supp. 2017) barred the adoption. As D.D.H.’s adoption by Gray was not barred by statute, it was unnecessary for the Supreme Court to perform a constitutional analysis of Sections 93-17-3(4) and 93-17-13(2). View "In the Matter of the Adoption of the Child Described in the Petition: D.D.H." on Justia Law

by
In this custody case, the chancellor found the natural parents unfit to retain custody of their young daughter. After considering the child’s best interest and conducting an "Albright" analysis, the chancellor awarded joint custody to the child’s maternal great-grandparents and paternal grandmother. The paternal grandmother appealed. She argued Mississippi Code Section 93-5-24 (Rev. 2013) prohibits joint-custody awards to third parties. The Court of Appeals affirmed the chancellor's decision. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court found Section 93-5-24 allowed joint-custody awards among third parties. Thus, the chancellor did not abuse his discretion, and the Court of Appeals was right in recognizing as much. View "Darby v. Combs" on Justia Law

by
Carla and William “Duff” Darnell were married in November 2004; had a child, C.D., in 2006; and separated in September 2010. Carla filed for divorce, and after a three-day trial, the chancellor awarded physical custody to Duff. Carla appealed, and the Mississippi Supreme Court remanded to the chancellor, instructing him to conduct a new Albright analysis. On remand, the chancellor reconsidered two witness statements, made new findings of fact and conclusions of law, conducted a complete Albright analysis, and specifically addressed why he disagreed with the guardian ad litem’s (GAL’s) recommendations. The chancellor determined that: it would be in the best interest of the minor child that the parents share joint legal custody of the child, with the child to be in the physical custody of Duff Darnell from the time that school starts in August of 2012, until the school year ends in May or June of 2013, and for each school year thereafter until further order ofthe Court. The mother shall have standard non-custodial parent visitation, every other weekend. Carla appealed again. Finding that the chancellor was not manifestly wrong or clearly erroneous in granting physical custody to Duff Darnell, the Supreme Court affirmed the chancellor’s amended judgment. View "Darnell v. Darnell" on Justia Law

by
Dale Miller and Jessica Smith agreed to an irreconcilable-differences divorce, leaving for the Chancery Court to decide custody, care, and visitation of their two children, Smitty and Morgan. As to Smitty, the chancellor terminated Miller’s parental rights because Miller was not the biological father of Smitty nor did he stand in loco parentis to Smitty. As to Morgan, the biological child of Miller and Smith, the chancellor awarded custody to Smith. The Court of Appeals affirmed the chancellor’s judgments. On petition for certiorari to this Court, Miller argued: (1) the trial court erred in terminating his parental rights to Smitty; and (2) his right to confrontation under the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and his right to be present under Article 3, Section 25 of the Mississippi Constitution were violated when the chancellor removed Miller from the courtroom during the testimony of Smith’s oldest daughter of a previous relationship. The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed, yet with respect to the second issue, the court found removing Miller from the courtroom as a harmless error. View "Miller v. Smith" on Justia Law

by
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

by
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

by
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