DATE OF JUDGMENT: SEPTEMBER 5, 1996 TRIAL JUDGE: HONORABLE J. N. RANDALL, JR. COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: HANCOCK COUNTY CHANCERY COURT
Before: Bridges, C.j., Coleman, Diaz, And Southwick, JJ.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Southwick, J., For The Court:
NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - DOMESTIC RELATIONS
TRIAL COURT DISPOSITION: THE CHANCELLOR REDUCED THE AMOUNT OF CHILD SUPPORT TO BE PAID BY KENNETH WAYNE WARD FROM $900 PER MONTH TO $324 PER MONTH.
DISPOSITION AFFIRMED - 02/24/98
MOTION FOR REHEARING FILED:
Laurie Jo Ward Scally appeals from the judgment of the Hancock County Chancery Court that modified the amount of child support paid by her ex-husband, Kenneth Wayne Ward. The chancellor also made specific visitation orders because of clashes over the "reasonable visitation" agreed to at the time of divorce. The parties had three children from their marriage. Scally asserts that since Ward was in substantial arrears for child support, the complaint should have been dismissed under the doctrine of unclean hands. In the alternative, Scally argues that the court should have transferred the cause to Washington State where she and the children lived. We agree with the chancellor's resolution of these issues and affirm.
Scally and Ward were divorced on November 2, 1992. The mother, Scally, was awarded custody of the three minor children. Ward agreed to pay child support of $300 per month per child and periodic alimony in the amount of $200 per month. After the divorce decree, Scally moved with the children to the State of Washington. Ward remarried in October 1993. He and his current wife also moved to Washington. Ward testified that he moved in an effort to be closer to his children. After working several odd jobs and having difficulty finding better employment, the Wards returned to Mississippi.
On May 31, 1994, Ward filed a motion for modification of the final judgment, requesting the court to reduce the amount of child support and to terminate the obligation of spousal support based upon a material change in his circumstances. Scally responded by filing a motion seeking to dismiss the cause, or alternatively, to transfer the cause to the State of Washington. Scally asserted that Ward was in substantial arrears in child support payment, and therefore, he was not entitled to any relief from the original judgment under the doctrine of unclean hands. Additionally, Scally contended that the State of Washington was a more convenient forum.
During a hearing on the matter, Ward testified that he was unable to pay $900 per month in child support based on his current income. Scally, who did not appear at the hearing, was represented by her attorney. The chancellor required Ward to pay the past-due support but reduced the future support obligations to $324 per month. That amount was based upon the child support award guidelines, applied to Ward's current income. Although the chancellor found that Ward owed Scally a substantial amount in overdue child support and alimony, the chancellor concluded that Ward's arrearage was not the result of "willful, obstinate and rebellious intent." The chancellor granted Scally a judgment for the arrearage ...