Dennis v. Dennis

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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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