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Bailey v. Bailey

December 10, 1998

STEVEN BAILEY
v.
SANDRA BAILEY (RUSSELL)



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sullivan, Presiding Justice

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 04/07/97

TRIAL JUDGE: HON. DENISE OWENS

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: HINDS COUNTY CHANCERY COURT

NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - DOMESTIC RELATIONS

DISPOSITION: REVERSED AND REMANDED - 12/10/98

EN BANC.

INTRODUCTION

¶1. At issue is the question of whether childbirth is a condition warranting a reduction of child support ordered to be paid by the mother to the custodial parent. Finding that the reduction of the mother's monthly obligation was an abuse of discretion, we reverse and remand this case to the Hinds County Chancery Court for further proceedings.

STATEMENT OF THE CASE

¶2. On December 20, 1993, Steven and Sandra Bailey were divorced on grounds of irreconcilable differences. The chancellor granted Steven and Sandra joint legal custody of the couple's two minor children, with Steven having physical custody. Steven was ordered to provide the children with health insurance, and each parent was ordered to pay one- half of any medical expenses not covered by insurance. Sandra was ordered to pay child support in the amount of $300.00 per month beginning December 1, 1993.

¶3. On April 20, 1995, Sandra filed a motion for modification, seeking a change in custody, or alternatively, expanded visitation. The chancellor granted the request for expanded visitation, permitting visitation with the children on Sandra's birthday and on certain Mondays following weekends in which she had visitation with the children.

¶4. On January 17, 1997, Sandra filed a motion for modification of her child support payments, arguing that she would soon go on a 12-week maternity leave following the expected birth of her child. Soon after, Sandra voluntarily terminated her employment. Sandra sought to be relieved of her obligation to pay child support, or alternatively, that the amount of child support be reduced. On April 7, 1997, the Chancellor ordered Sandra's child support obligations reduced from $300 per month to $140 per month and relieved her from having to make child support payments during the five weeks when the children were making their summer visitation. Steven timely appealed to this Court, assigning the following as error:

"I. The lower court erred in finding change in circumstances when, after giving birth to another child by her new husband, the Appellee voluntarily quit her job with full knowledge of her financial situation and her court ordered obligation to support her two children by her prior marriage.

II. The lower court erred in finding that there had been a material change in circumstances which was not reasonably anticipated at the time of the final divorce judgment which justifies a modification of the Appellee's child support obligation."

STATEMENT OF THE LAW

¶5. The chancellor in this case misapplied Mississippi law, improperly allowing Sandra a reduction in child support obligations after she quit her job to stay home with her new baby. Furthermore, because she entered the court with "unclean hands" Sandra was by law prohibited from receiving a child support modification.

ΒΆ6. The clean hands doctrine prevents a complaining party from obtaining equitable relief in court when he is guilty of willful misconduct in the transaction at issue. Calcote v. Calcote, 583 So.2d 197, 199-200 (Miss. 1991). "[A] husband may not petition for modification of the original decree without showing either that he has performed it or that his performance has been wholly impossible. . . . However, a husband may exonerate himself from failure to make alimony or child support payments as ordered, because of his inability to pay, but his evidence must be made with particularity and not in general terms." Hooker v. Hooker, 205 So.2d 276, 278 (Miss.1967). Sandra had missed two child support payments (February and March of 1997) when she appeared in court on her motion for modification. She presented no specific evidence of her inability to pay, other ...


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