Articles Posted in Family 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

Posted in: Family 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

Posted in: Family 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

Posted in: Family 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

Posted in: Family 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

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Thomas Harris sought a reduction in the alimony award he paid to Susan Harris, due to the Social Security benefits she was receiving that were based on his income. After review of the applicable law in Mississippi and in other states, the Mississippi Supreme Court overruled Spalding v. Spalding, 691 So. 2d 435 (Miss. 1997), to the extent that it held an alimony reduction to be automatic for Social Security benefits derived from the alimony-paying spouse’s income. Further, the Court fully reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded for the trial court to perform an analysis under Armstrong v. Armstrong, 618 So. 2d 1278 (Miss. 1993). View "Harris v. Harris" on Justia Law

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Nolana and Chad Griffin married in 2001. They had four daughters together—one born in 2001, another born in 2004, and twins born in 2009. Nolana was a high school teacher for the Walthall County School District. In early 2014, she confessed to Chad that she had engaged in sexual relationships with four of her teenaged students. Chad, an officer with the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, immediately contacted the district attorney. In April 2014, Nolana pled guilty to four counts of sexual battery of a minor by a person of trust or authority. For each count, Nolana was sentenced to twenty-five years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, with ten years suspended and the sentences to be served concurrently. She would be transferred to the Washington County Correctional Facility in Greenville, Mississippi, four hours away. Mississippi law presumes visitation with the noncustodial parent was in the best interest of the child. But under the circumstances here, where an incarcerated mother sought a court order requiring her four children, one of whom has a social disability, to drive four hours to visit her in prison, every other week, the chancellor found it was not. In reaching this decision, the Mississippi Supreme Court determined the chancellor applied the correct legal standard and supported his decision with substantial evidence. Given the broad deference afforded chancellors in visitation matters, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Griffin v. Griffin" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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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

Posted in: Family Law

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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