Justia Mississippi Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles 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

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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

Posted in: Family Law

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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

Posted in: Family Law

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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

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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

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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