Connie Lynn DAVIS, Individually, and as Maternal Grandmother and Next Friend of Danielle Lynn Vaughn
William Daniel VAUGHN.
Rankin County Chancery Court, Dan H. Fairly, J.Sharon Patterson Thibodeaux, attorney for appellant.
William P. Featherston, Jr., attorney for appellee.
Before RANDOLPH, P.J., LAMAR and KITCHENS, JJ.
¶ 1. In this custody dispute between the natural father and the maternal grandmother,
the chancellor granted custody to the father, finding that the father had not deserted his child. Although the grandmother had stood in loco parentis to the child since the mother's death, the chancellor correctly recognized that this alone could not overcome the natural-parent presumption. See Smith v. Smith, 97 So.3d 43 (Miss.2012) (reemphasizing that a third party's in loco parentis status, standing alone, could not rebut the natural-parent presumption). Finding no error, we affirm the judgment of the chancery court.
¶ 2. This appeal is before the Court following our reversal of the initial joint custody award and our remand of the case for additional proceedings. Vaughn v. Davis (Vaughn II), 36 So.3d 1261 (Miss.2010). In October 2000, Davis's daughter, Theresa Davis, gave birth to Danielle, who is the child at the center of this custody dispute. The appellee, William Daniel Vaughn, is Danielle's natural father. Theresa and Vaughn never married each other, and Danielle lived with her mother and grandmother from birth.
¶ 3. When Danielle was seventeen months old, her mother, Theresa, died in a car wreck. At the time of Theresa's death, Vaughn was attending school, working full time, and living in an apartment with two roommates. Given his circumstances, Vaughn and Davis agreed that Danielle would continue to live with Davis until Vaughn finished school and became financially stable. Danielle lived with her maternal grandmother for two years under this informal arrangement. During that time, her father's interaction with her was sporadic, and he contributed little financial assistance.
¶ 4. In August, 2004, Davis filed a petition for custody and emergency temporary relief with the Rankin County Chancery Court. Two days after the petition was filed, Vaughn agreed to an order giving Davis temporary custody, with Vaughn's receiving biweekly visitation rights, pending a final hearing.
¶ 5. Danielle remained in her grandmother's care for the next three years and was seven years of age when the chancellor entered his final order granting Davis physical custody of Danielle, with Davis and Vaughn sharing joint legal custody. The chancellor found that Davis had stood in loco parentis since the death of Danielle's mother, and that Vaughn had forfeited his right to rely on the natural-parent presumption when he voluntarily relinquished physical custody of Danielle in the 2004 agreed order. The chancellor then considered the Albright factors and determined that it was in the best interests of the child to remain with her grandmother. Albright v. Albright, 437 So.2d 1003 (Miss.1983).
¶ 6. Vaughn appealed the final judgment, and the case was assigned to the Court of Appeals. Relying on this Court's decision in Grant v. Martin, 757 So.2d 264, 265 (Miss.2000), the Court of Appeals affirmed the chancellor's award of physical custody to the grandmother. Vaughn v. Davis (Vaughn I), 37 So.3d 68 (Miss.Ct.App.2009). In Grant, 757 So.2d at 266, this Court declared that " a natural parent who voluntarily relinquishes custody of a minor child, through a court of competent jurisdiction, has forfeited the right to rely on the existing natural parent presumption." The decision further held that, upon such forfeiture, the natural parent must demonstrate " by clear and convincing evidence that the change in custody is in the ...