Justia Mississippi Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law
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Christine Barton (Jorgensen) appealed a chancery court ruling, arguing it was an abuse of the court's discretion in failing to enter a final domestic-violence protection order and by failing to appoint a guardian ad litem. The pleadings revealed that Jorgensen not only failed to seek an extension of the temporary domestic-abuse protection order previously issued by a justice court judge but she also failed to request a final domestic-violence protection order. By statute, the justice court order expires thirty days after entry, as here, when the party seeking protection and the respondent have minor children in common. The Mississippi Supreme Court concluded there was no abuse of discretion and affirmed. View "Barton a/k/a Jorgensen v. Barton" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services (MDCPS) sought to terminate involuntarily the parental rights of Jack Bynum, the putative father of a child in MDCPS' custody. The chancery court determined Bynum was both indigent and entitled to counsel. The chancellor appointed Bynum counsel and ordered MDCPS to pay his attorney's fees. MDCPS appealed. The agency argued Covington County should have paid for Bynum’s representation, just as it would if Bynum were an indigent criminal defendant. But the Mississippi Supreme Court found this was not a criminal case. "And the statutory scheme that directs the initiating county in criminal prosecutions to pay for indigent representation is expressly limited. It only applies to those 'charged with a felony, misdemeanor punishable by confinement for ninety (90) days or more, or commission of an act of delinquency.'” Thus, absent a legislative directive to assess an indigent parent’s attorney’s fees to Covington County, the chancery court did not abuse its legislatively conferred discretion by ordering MDCPS to pay Bynum’s attorney’s fees. View "Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services v. Bynum" on Justia Law

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The chancery court tried this adoption case twice. After the first trial, the chancellor granted the adoption petition of the maternal grandparents, C.C.B. and S.R.B.; after the second trial, the chancellor granted the competing adoption petition of G.E.K. and G.R.K., the foster parents. The grandparents appealed, arguing for the first time that the chancery court lacked subject matter jurisdiction under the Mississippi Termination of Parental Rights Law (MTPRL) to terminate parental rights and adjudicate the adoption of S.A.B. Also, for the first time on appeal, they argued the chancery court lacked jurisdiction because it failed to order a home study as required by statute. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court held the chancery court had jurisdiction under the MTPRL to accept the voluntary releases of parental rights filed by S.A.B.’s natural parents and to order S.A.B.’s adoption. Further, the Court held that, because the failure to order a home study did not implicate the chancery court’s subject matter jurisdiction, the issue could not be raised for the first time on appeal. Therefore, the Court affirmed. View "In the Matter of the Adoption of the Minor Identified in the Petition: C.C.B. and S.R.B. v. G.A.K. and G.R.K." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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George Ray, Sr., and Johnnita Ray were divorced on the ground of irreconcilable differences, and the chancery court decided issues of property settlement. George appealed, arguing that the chancellor erred by not crediting him for supporting Johnnita’s children, by finding him solely responsible for their joint debt, and by including his military-retirement income into the alimony determination. Finding no reversible error, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the chancellor’s judgment. View "Ray v. Ray" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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In 2016, Linda Alford filed for divorce from Cincinnatus (“Nat”) Alford III. The parties agreed to a divorce based on irreconcilable differences, allowing the chancery court to divide the marital assets and expenses and to make a determination regarding alimony. The chancellor awarded Linda $5,000 per month in periodic alimony, $5,000 in attorney fees, and $6,000 in expert witness fees. Nat appealed the chancellor’s judgment. The Mississippi Supreme Court assigned the case to the Court of Appeals, which reversed and remanded the chancellor’s alimony award and reversed and rendered the amount of attorney fees. The Supreme Court granted Linda's petition for certiorari because it had not answered whether a chancellor should have considered Social Security benefits when considering initial alimony awards. The Supreme Court found that consideration of derivative Social Security benefits should have been reserved for alimony modification proceedings. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and reinstated the chancellor’s award of alimony. The Court of Appeals' decision to reverse and render the award of attorney fees was affirmed. View "Alford v. Alford" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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On remand from the Mississippi Supreme Court, the chancellor granted Michael Gerty a divorce from Joesie Gerty on the ground of adultery. The chancellor revisited her prior holdings regarding visitation, division of martial assets, and alimony. Finding error only regarding the number of months the parties were married, the Supreme Court affirmed as to all other issues and remanded for entry of final judgment. View "Gerty v. Gerty" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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Daniel Tewksbury and Bobbie Young were previously married and were the parents of two minor children, Lane and Emma. They divorced in May 2006, and Daniel was ordered to pay child support. Daniel stopped making child-support payments in 2008. Bobbie later married Gerald Young, Jr. Gerald filed a petition to adopt Lane and Emma. In the adoption, Daniel’s parental rights were terminated. As of the termination of his parental rights, Daniel owed Bobbie $34,759 for child support. On April 5, 2015, Daniel died in an automobile accident. The accident occurred while Daniel was in the course and scope of his employment with Air Masters Mechanical, Inc. Bobbie then filed a petition with the Workers’ Compensation Commission on behalf of Lane and Emma, claiming that the children were entitled to Daniel’s workers’ compensation death-benefit proceeds and sought the payment of the $34,759 in outstanding child support. The Workers’ Compensation Commission Administrative Judge (AJ) determined that the child-support lien of $34,759 was valid and payable under Section 71-3-129. Air Masters and Associated General Contractors filed a petition for review with the Commission. The Commission concluded that Lane and Emma were not entitled to Daniel’s death benefits because they were not his statutory dependents under Mississippi Code Section 71-3-25 (Supp. 2019). The Commission reversed the AJ’s order and dismissed Bobbie’s petition. On appeal, a divided Court of Appeals reversed the Commission’s decision, concluding the child-support lien was valid. The Mississippi Supreme Court reversed, finding Section 71-3-129 did not authorize a lien on death benefits payable directly to the deceased employee’s statutory dependents. Accordingly, the child-support lien did not apply to Daniel’s death benefits. Further, because Daniel had no statutory dependents, there were simply no benefits to which the lien can attach in this case. As a result, the Commission properly dismissed the claim. The judgment of the Court of Appeals was reversed. The judgment of the Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Commission was reinstated and affirmed. View "Young v. Air Masters Mechanical Inc." on Justia Law

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Kimberly Carson Linley and Charles Carson were former spouses who shared a child together. Following their divorce, the Oktibbeha County Chancery Court entered a money judgment against Carson. Carson appealed the judgment to the Mississippi Supreme Court and filed an appeal bond. While the appeal was pending, Linley’s attorney executed the money judgment and had writs of garnishments issued by the Oktibbeha County Circuit Court. Once issued, Linley served the writs on Carson’s employer and bank. Carson sued Linley and Hurdle in Scott County, alleging that they conspired to seize his funds. Linley and Hurdle filed motions to transfer venue to Oktibbeha County. The Scott County Circuit Court granted the motions and transferred venue to the Circuit Court of Oktibbeha County. Carson filed an interlocutory appeal, arguing the Scott County Circuit Court had abused its discretion by transferring venue. Because the Scott County Circuit Court abused its discretion by transferring venue, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed its ruling and remanded the matter for further proceedings. View "Carson v. Linley" on Justia Law

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Karrah Wangler appealed a chancellor’s dismissal of her complaint for divorce on the ground of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment. Because Karrah failed to show sufficient evidence of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. View "Wangler v. Wangler" on Justia Law

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