Justia Mississippi Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law
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Mark and Sylvia Barber divorced in 2008. The court awarded Mark Barber custody of the parties’ minor children. The trial court had appointed a guardian ad litem during the divorce proceedings to investigate allegations raised by Sylvia that Mark had abused their children. The chancellor, however, granted Mark’s motion to limit testimony of the guardian ad litem and to exclude a guardian ad litem report from evidence after finding Sylvia’s allegations of child abuse to be unsubstantiated. On appeal, Sylvia argued the trial court abused its discretion by not allowing the guardian ad litem to testify, or by not admitting into evidence a guardian ad litem report. She contended the exclusion impermissibly prevented the guardian ad litem from completing its court-appointed role and precluded admission of relevant and required findings regarding the alleged abuse and the best interest of the children. Mark contended the trial court did not err because a chancellor had the authority and the discretion to expand or limit the guardian ad litem’s role, and he argued the guardian ad litem’s findings contained inadmissible hearsay. The Mississippi Supreme Court determined the trial court did not abuse its discretion by limiting the guardian ad litem’s participation. But because the appointment was mandatory, the chancellor was required at least to consider the guardian ad litem’s report and recommendations, but declined to do so. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the chancery court’s judgment, and remanded for the chancellor to make findings of fact and conclusions of law that take into consideration the guardian ad litem’s report and recommendations. View "Barber v. Barber" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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In 1988, Douglas Long, Jr. married Catherine A. Long. After the couple divorced, Douglas, a Mississippi resident, sued Pennsylvania resident David Vitkauskas, alleging alienation of affections. Douglas claimed that Vitkauskas’s wrongful and adulterous actions irreparably injured his marriage with Catherine. Douglas alleged that Vitkauskas’s intentional, wrongful conduct proximately caused his divorce. Vitkauskas responded with a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. The trial court granted Vitkauskas’s motion and dismissed Douglas’s complaint. Douglas appealed, arguing that the trial court erred by finding that Vitkauskas was not subject to personal jurisdiction and, alternatively, by refusing to allow limited discovery pertaining to personal jurisdiction. Finding no error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. View "Long v. Vitkauskas" on Justia Law

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Nadia Alexis appealed a chancellor’s dismissal of her petition for domestic-abuse protection order and his assessment of the filing fee to her. Because sufficient evidence was not presented to support the issuance of a final domestic-abuse protection order, the trial court’s judgment was affirmed. View "Alexis v. Black" on Justia Law

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April Garner appealed a chancellor’s custody modification, awarding custody of her minor child to the child’s uncle, awarding grandparent visitation to the child’s step-grandfather, finding of contempt, and assessing various fees and costs. Because the Mississippi Supreme Court found the chancellor properly modified custody and found April in contempt, but lacked the authority to award grandparent visitation to a step-grandparent, it affirmed in part and reversed in part and remanded for further proceedings. View "Garner v. Garner" on Justia Law

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