Justia Mississippi Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law

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The Mississippi Supreme Court remanded this case for further proceedings to determine child custody. On remand, the chancery court awarded custody of the children to the father. Aggrieved, the mother appealed, arguing that the instructions given by the Mississippi Supreme Court were simply to review the determination of the mother's fitness without the hearsay evidence, not to conduct a new trial on custody. Finding that the chancellor was not manifestly wrong or clearly erroneous in granting custody of the three minor children to the father, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Ballard v. Ballard" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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D.C., a minor foster child, alleged that Jason Case, his foster parent, sexually abused him. The Mississippi Department of Human Services ("DHS") removed D.C. from Case’s home and a subsequent investigation substantiated the alleged abuse. DHS did not contest that Case abused D.C. In his complaint, D.C. alleged negligence and gross negligence on behalf of DHS and the Department's executive director, Richard Berry, in the licensing of the foster home and the lack of care and treatment to D.C., both during his placement and after DHS removed D.C. from the foster home. After a period of discovery, DHS filed a motion for summary judgment. It maintained that it was entitled to immunity under Mississippi Code Section 43-15-125 (Rev. 2015) and Mississippi Code Section 11-46-9(1)(d) (Rev. 2012). Without any noted reference to Section 43-15-125, the circuit court denied DHS’s motion for summary judgement. DHS filed a petition for interlocutory appeal, which a panel of the Mississippi Supreme Court granted. After review of the record, the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the circuit court’s denial of summary judgment: the circuit court erred in denying DHS summary judgment for D.C.’s claims that stemmed from DHS’s licensing of the foster home, given the immunity DHS and its officers have under Section 43- 15-125. The circuit court, though, did not err in denying DHS summary judgment under Section 11-46-9(d)(1) of the Mississippi Tort Claims Act, because DHS did not meet its burden to show that no genuine issue as to any material fact existed. View "Mississippi Department of Human Services v. D.C." on Justia Law

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Michele and Roger Latham divorced in 2016. In 2017, Michele filed a petition for contempt against Roger, claiming that he had failed to comply with the divorce judgment. After a hearing, the chancellor found Roger in constructive criminal contempt for failing to comply with several terms of the divorce judgment. Roger appealed, arguing that the chancellor erred because he did not recuse himself before finding Roger in constructive criminal contempt. Because Roger raised the argument for the first time on appeal, the Mississippi Supreme Court considered it waived. Accordingly, the chancellor’s judgment was affirmed. View "Latham v. Latham" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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Brent and Tracy Williams were granted an irreconcilable-differences divorce, and the chancellor resolved the issues upon which the parties could not agree. At issue in the direct appeal was: (1) whether the chancellor erred by not providing Tracy a set visitation schedule with their teenage son; (2) whether the chancellor erred in requiring Tracy to pay child support; (3) whether the chancellor erred in the valuation of the Williams’s business interests; and (4) whether the chancellor erred in finding an airplane and a boat to be marital property. On cross-appeal, the issue was whether the chancellor erred by not ordering Tracy to make monthly payments to Brent on his $1 million judgment award. Finding no merit to the assignments of error on appeal or cross-appeal, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the chancery court. View "Williams v. Williams" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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In September 2013, the Gertys filed a joint complaint for an irreconcilable-differences divorce. The joint complaint sat with the Chancery Court for almost two years, during which the parties cooperated with each other and faithfully abided by the Property Settlement Agreement (“PSA”), which was filed contemporaneously with the joint complaint. The PSA provided that Michael would have physical custody of the couple’s minor child. Michael was required to move to the Great Lakes area to fulfill a three-year military commitment when Joesie agreed that their son would move with Michael. Joesie made the decision not to move to the Great Lakes area, instead, moving into her paramour's mother's house. For approximately two years, Michael and their son lived apart from Joesie. In January of 2015, Michael informed Joesie that reconciliation was impossible and that he wanted her to sign and finalize the divorce papers. Joesie, upon the advice of her attorney, surreptitiously told Michael that she also was ready to complete the irreconcilable-differences divorce. Based on the advice of her counsel, Joesie waited until her summer visitation had begun pursuant to the PSA and until her son was physically in Mississippi before withdrawing her consent to an irreconcilable-differences divorce. Joesie and Michael then filed separate complaints for divorce on the ground of adultery, inter alia, and alternatively sought an irreconcilable-differences divorce. The chancellor entered a final judgment and decreed that a divorce should be granted, but that neither party was entitled to a fault-based divorce. She found that Joesie had failed to establish adultery. She found that Michael had proved adultery because Joesie had admitted it, but that Michael had condoned Joesie’s adulterous conduct. Then the chancellor sua sponte declared the statutory scheme under Mississippi Code Section 93-5-2 (Rev. 2013) unconstitutional and granted an irreconcilable-differences divorce. Joesie was granted custody of their child. After final judgment was entered, Michael, Joesie and the State asked for reconsideration because no party had asked for, pleaded, argued, or offered proof on the unconstitutionality of the statute. The chancellor significantly amended her earlier final judgment, increasing Joesie’s award to include a percent of Michael’s military-retirement benefit and reducing the noncustodial parent’s summer visitation from three months, as provided in the PSA, to one month, contrary to the PSA and the chancellor’s original final judgment. The State appealed the chancellor's adjudication of 93-5-2 as unconstitutional. Michael appealed the trial court's adjudication of 93-5-2 as unconstitutional; (2) failing to award Michael a divorce on the ground of adultery; (3) reducing Michael’s summer visitation; (4) awarding Joesie a portion of Michael’s retirement benefits; and (5) awarding custody to Joesie. The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the chancellor’s finding regarding custody and child support, but reversed the remaining judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Gerty v. Gerty" on Justia Law

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Dr. Christopher Cummins, married man who was separated but not divorced from his wife, began a romantic relationship with one of his employees, Leah Jordan Goolsby (Jordan). The two began living together, had a child, and became engaged to one another. Cummins never divorced his wife. and he and Jordan never married. Jordan eventually ended their relationship and kept the engagement ring and wedding ring he gave her. When Jordan filed a paternity suit for child-support payments for their child, Cummins counterclaimed for the rings, which together were worth $11,435. Alternatively, he argued that if Jordan was awarded the rings, their value should be deducted from any child-support obligation. The chancellor awarded the rings to Jordan, finding the rings were not a conditional gift, because the condition of marriage was not met, since Cummins had remained married to his wife. The chancellor certified the ruling on the ring issue as final, and Cummins appealed. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court agreed the fatal fact to Cummins’s claim was his marriage to another woman: because Dr. Cummins could not legally marry at the time he gave the engagement rings, he could not argue to a court of equity that he was entitled to get the rings back, since the condition of marriage never took place. Because Cummins has no right to recover the rings due to his unclean hands, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Cummins v. Goolsby" on Justia Law

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