Not every marriage ends happily in the hospitality state. For couples with children in the mix, custody is among the first issues that surface in their minds when weighing the possibility of divorce. It is an odd thought for many - formally dividing your child's time between you and your former spouse. However, you can handily navigate the complexities of Mississippi custody law if you are equipped with an experienced Mississippi family law attorney. It is also incredibly helpful to arm yourself with knowledge pertaining to the laws that will be guiding your family's future. There are an assortment of issues - emotional and legal - to wade through, and you are far better off when equipped with a knowledgeable attorney to field your questions and devotedly see to your rights as a parent.
Mississippi Custody Law
Joint custody is permitted in Mississippi for divorced or separated parents. The child's wishes are not officially considered in Mississippi court rooms, only the child's best interest is considered where the court is concerned. The court will generally only intervene if the parents cannot amicably decide on a custody agreement on their own. The contested custody issues will be decided upon during a hearing.
The law presumes mothers and fathers are equally entitled to custody of their children. There is no legal preference given to either parent at the outset. Instead, the court weighs the following factors (established in the Mississippi Supreme Court case Albright vs. Albright) when resolving custodial disputes between parents:
- the age, health and sex of a child
- which parent had continuing care of the child prior to separation
- which parent has the best parenting skills
- which has the willingness and capacity to provide primary child care
- the employment responsibilities of both parents
- the physical and mental health and age of parents
- emotional ties of the parent and child
- the parents' moral fitness
- the child's home, school, and community record
- the preference of a child at the age of twelve
- stability of the home environment and employment of each parent
- and other relevant factors.
The justices that defined these factors were keen to note that this is not a "mathematical formula," in which the parent who succeeds on more of these counts will be automatically awarded custody. As noted by D. Bell, Mississippi Family Law (1st ed, 2005) at section 5.03, "[a]lthough chancellors are instructed to weigh parents' relative merits under each factor, a parent who 'wins' on more factors is not necessarily entitled to custody. In some cases, one or two factors may control an award." (Emphasis added.)
If witnesses are needed to determine the parents' merit under each factor, then the credibility of witness testimony also becomes a factor.
The court does not look favorably on either parent's attempt to interfere with the child's relationship with the other parent. This could be grounds, in some cases, to deny custody to a given parent. If the court finds that one parent has alienated the child from the other parent, encouraged the child to disobey the other parent, belittled or otherwise derided the other parent, that parent could in turn be denied custody.
Type of Custody
- Physical custody means the period of time in which a parent resides with the child.
- Legal custody refers to the authority of a parent to make important decisions about the child's well-being.
- Joint custody means that legal and physical custody is shared between the parents.
- Joint legal custody means that major responsibilities and the ability to make decisions about the child are divided between the two parents.
- Joint physical custody means that the child's time is divided in an equitable manner between his or her parents.
How Does the Court Determine My Child's "Best Interests?"
This can be puzzling for parents who believe they each would cater to their child's best interest as the custodial parent. How then does the court determine where the best interests of the child lay? Major factors such as safety and well-being are considered, but in many cases, both parents would equally cater to those needs. The court also weighs maintaining consistency regarding education, community, and family life. Disparities in the parents' respective abilities to care and provide for the child will be considered. The court will try to determine which parent can effectively provide for the daily physical, emotional, developmental, educational and special needs of the child in a healthy, loving and nurturing environment.
The court will not award custody to a parent with a violent record. Per Miss Code Ann § 93-5-24 (2004), there is a presumption that custody should not be granted to a parent with a history of violence. The term "history" does not necessitate that parent's violence must present as a pattern. A single incident is enough to award custody to the non-violent parent.
Unless justified by unusual circumstances, Mississippi law holds a strong preference for keeping siblings together. This is regarded as an important consideration in custody decisions. Even if one child wishes to stay with the non-custodial parent, the court is more concerned with keeping the children together than complying with the child's request. For example, a Mississippi court of appeals reversed an order separating eleven- and twelve-year-old sisters, because one daughter's slightly greater attachment to her mother did not justify their separation.
Visitation in Mississippi
There are three major components of visitation: (1) residential schedule; (2) vacation schedule; and (3) holiday schedule. The residential schedule is the regular, ongoing pattern by which the children divide their time between parents. The vacation schedule dictates how the child will spend extended time for school breaks and their parent's personal vacations. The holiday schedule dictates how holidays are assigned to each parent with regard to where the child spends them.
Are Grandparents Given Visitation Rights in Mississippi?
Although grandparents' visitation rights are not recognized or guaranteed in every state, they are legally recognized in the state of Mississippi. This means that grandparents can assert their right to see and have visits with their grandchild, and their request is legally enforceable.
Will A Child Custody Ruling Made in Another State Carry Over in Mississippi?
Although Mississippi and many other states have their own unique child custody laws, a number of states (Mississippi included) have adopted the federal law known as the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, which ensures that each state honors the unique child custody laws, provisions, and rulings made in other states. This means that any ruling made in Mississippi, in adherence to state law, be honored should you move to another state. Similarly, if a ruling was made in a different state that somehow contradicts a feature of Mississippi family law, the ruling/provision would be honored in Mississippi regardless.
Mississippi Family Law Attorney
As you move forward in your divorce, there are a number of emotional, legal and financial factors to consider. It is in your best interest and your child's best interest that you do not move forward with a divorce on your own. An attorney is critical to the outcome of your case. Tupelo family law attorney William Wayne Housley will handle your divorce with integrity and resolve, applying his decades of legal experience to get you the best result possible in your divorce. Do not hesitate to contact William Wayne Housley online or call 662-844-5635.