Before Bridges, C.j., Payne, And Southwick, JJ.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Southwick, J.
DATE OF JUDGMENT: 07/23/1997
TRIAL JUDGE: HON. DON GRIST
COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: LAFAYETTE COUNTY CHANCERY COURT
NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - DOMESTIC RELATIONS
TRIAL COURT DISPOSITION: MODIFICATION ALLOWED UNSUPERVISED VISITATION
DISPOSITION: AFFIRMED - 12/18/98
¶1. Dueling contempt motions were filed in Lafayette County Chancery Court in a domestic relations case. Both were found in contempt, but the principal substantive ruling was to revise visitation in a manner favorable to the father, Donald Saunders. The mother, Jeannette Saunders, appeals. She argues that the court misinterpreted the original visitation provisions, that there was inadequate proof of her contempt, that the best interests of the child are disserved by the new visitation, and that visitation should not have been made immediately effective because she filed for reconsideration. We affirm since we find no error in the first three issues; the last issue is moot.
¶2. The parties to this appeal have been involved in a contentious legal contest over visitation rights involving their only child and payment of certain financial obligations. Married for over twelve years, Jeannette and Donald Saunders' divorce became final on March 1, 1995. Mr. Saunders had lived with his parents in Virginia for some time before the divorce while Ms. Saunders resided in Lafayette County, Mississippi. Incorporated into the divorce order was a property settlement, child custody and support agreement. It provided that Donald Saunders would pay $500 per month in child support, provide for one-half of the child's medical insurance, be equally responsible with the mother for the child's medical bills not covered by insurance and pay to the mother one-half of then-outstanding medical expenses of $2,583.58. Mr. Saunders was granted specific visitation and the right to claim the child as a deduction for income tax purposes and to receive proof from his ex-wife of medical expenditures on behalf of the daughter.
¶3. The first dispute arose a few months after the divorce. On September 26, 1995, the chancellor entered a judgment finding Mr. Saunders in wilful contempt and ordered him to pay $2,613.93 in arrearage and attorney's fees. A modification in child support payments was instituted combining the $500 per month in child support with the $63 per month in health insurance premiums. Having determined that Mr. Saunders had in fact been harassing Ms. Saunders, the court significantly limited Mr. Saunders' contacts with his former wife.
¶4. In October of 1995, a show-cause hearing was held. Though Mr. Saunders did not appear, the chancellor relied upon the progress being made in payments and determined that Mr. Saunders should not be incarcerated. Visitation rights were suspended until such time as he purged himself fully of contempt. At the next hearing on November 27, 1995, Mr. Saunders again did not appear but had made further progress on payment. He was adJudged still in contempt and continued to have his visitation suspended. Furthermore he lost his right to declare the child as a deduction for income tax purposes for 1995. Mr. Saunders purged himself of contempt before the next hearing was held. On Jeannette Saunders' motion, an order to dismiss the action was granted on January 12, 1996. Mr. Saunders's visitation rights were reinstated.
¶5. Mr. Saunders petitioned the chancery court on July 18, 1996, to have Jeannette Saunders held in contempt for alleged interference with visitation rights and her failure to provide sufficient proof of medical coverage. Mr. Saunders argued that a material change in circumstances arose from his former wife's failure to act in good faith regarding visitation. He requested a modification of visitation, reimbursement for a number of expenses, and an award of attorney's fees. Ms. Saunders counter-claimed. She alleged that Mr. Saunders was not complying with child support, medical insurance or medical treatment payment obligations, and was not abiding by the tax deduction ruling nor the orders prohibiting him from harassing her. After a hearing the chancellor found Jeannette Saunders to be in ...