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RUTH ANN STEELE WADE v. ISRAEL SYLVESTER LEE

JUNE 05, 1985

RUTH ANN STEELE WADE
v.
ISRAEL SYLVESTER LEE, IV



BEFORE PATTERSON, C.J.; DAN M. LEE AND ROBERTSON, JJ.

ROBERTSON, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

I.

This is another of those cases the moral of which is that our law accords value to the best interest of a minor child secondary only to life itself. This premise in mind, it should startle no one that a county judge presented a petition for a writ of habeas corpus by a non-custodial parent followed by proof that the custodial parent had become a frequent drug user and was substantially emotionally unstable refused to enforce a prior chancery court custody decree. We likewise

 doubt anyone will be surprised that we affirm.

 II.

 Ruth Ann Steele Wade and Israel Sylvester Lee were divorced on October 13, 1980, by decree of the Chancery Court of Sharkey County, Mississippi. That decree vested primary custody of the parties' only child, Jason Lowry Lee, in Wade, his mother. Weekend visitation rights were granted Lee, Jason's father. At the time Jason was approaching four years of age, he having been born on January 17, 1977.

 On or about February 25, 1983, Lee was exercising weekend visitation rights with his then six year old son at his residence in Jackson, Mississippi. Wade appeared intoxicated when she attempted to pick up the child, and Lee refused to give him to her.

 Wade filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus against Lee in the County Court of the First Judicial District of Hinds County, Mississippi. After hearing testimony from both sides, the County Judge on April 6, 1983, entered a Judgment dismissing Wade's position and temporarily vesting custody of the child with Lee, his father. In the face of substantial testimony that Wade had become a frequent user of illegal controlled substances, had become emotionally unstable, and that her second marriage was floundering, the trial judge found that Wade was" an unfit and unsuitable mother for the said child and is an unsuitable influence on said child ". This ruling is assigned as error on this appeal.

 III.

 A.

 This proceeding lies within the subject matter jurisdiction of the County Court of the First Judicial District of Hinds County, Mississippi, Miss. Code Ann. 9-9-23 (1972); Cole v. Cole, 194 Miss. 292, 295, 12 So.2d 425, 426 (1943); Payne v. Payne, 58 So.2d 377, 378-79 (Miss.1952); Thibodeaux v. Hilliard, 287 So.2d 434 (Miss.1973), notwithstanding that the original custody decree had been entered by a chancery court. Smith v. Watson, 425 So.2d 1030, 1032 (Miss.1983). Mixon v. Bullard, 217 So.2d 28 (Miss.1968). We long ago assumed that in matters such as this the" county judge . . . acts . . . with all the power and authority of a . . . chancellor ". Cole v. Cole, 194 Miss. 292, 295, 12 So.2d 425, 426 (1943).

 Wade, nevertheless, disputes the authority of the County

 Court and argues that its decision unlawfully effects a modification of the divorce decree of the Chancery Court of Sharkey County in that it vests custody of the minor child in Lee and, in addition, affects such connected issues such as Lee's responsibility to pay child support to Wade. In this connection it must be noted that the County ...


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