COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: TATE COUNTY CHANCERY COURT. DATE OF JUDGMENT: 01/07/2013. TRIAL JUDGE: HON. VICKI B. COBB. TRIAL COURT GRANDPARENT VISITATION AWARDED TO APPELLEES.
DISPOSITION: REVERSED AND RENDERED.
FOR APPELLANT: DAVID MARK SLOCUM JR., JOANNA MARIE FREDERICK.
FOR APPELLEES: LEIGH ANN DARBY.
BEFORE IRVING, P.J., BARNES AND FAIR, JJ. LEE, C.J., IRVING AND GRIFFIS, P.JJ., BARNES, ISHEE, ROBERTS, CARLTON AND MAXWELL, JJ., CONCUR. JAMES, J., CONCURS IN PART WITHOUT SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION.
NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - DOMESTIC RELATIONS
¶1. This appeal arises from a chancellor's order granting Robert and Annie Alexander visitation rights with their great-grandchildren under Mississippi Code Annotated section 93-16-3 (Rev. 2013). Julia " Beth" Lott, the children's mother and their daughter's daughter, raises two issues on appeal: (1) the Alexanders do not have standing under section 93-16-3, and, in the alternative, (2) the chancellor erred in finding Lott unreasonably denied visitation. We find the first issue to be dispositive. We hold, consistent with the Legislature's definition of " grandparent" and the plain language of section 93-16-3 that great-grandparents are not grandparents within the meaning of section 93-16-3. Therefore, because the Alexanders do not have standing to seek visitation under that statute, we do not address the second issue.
¶2. The Alexanders petitioned for visitation with their great-grandchildren on August 20, 2012. Lott filed a motion to dismiss the Alexanders' petition, asserting that, as great-grandparents, the Alexanders improperly sought visitation under section 93-16-3. During the visitation hearing on December 14, 2012, both parties argued the motion before the chancellor. The chancellor denied the motion, stating:
Subsection two, which is what we are travelling under today[,] of § 93-16-3 entails a different fact situation [than subsection one]. There's different criteria that are established and if, in fact, these great-grandparents can establish that same criteria, [subsection two] doesn't make any distinction and say[s] that this only applies to grandparents and not great-grandparents . . . . [The] statute anticipates that normally a parent would do that or a grandparent, but not a great[-]grandparent. But [the great-grandparents] have kind of stood in the place of her mom in her life. So I'm going to proceed with this . . . if they do establish the things that I was told in the pretrial conference, then I'm going to step out on a limb and I'm going to interpret this to apply in this particular case, to the great-grandparents.
¶3. At the close of the visitation hearing, the chancellor ruled in favor of the Alexanders, finding that the following criteria had been met in accordance with section 93-16-3(2): (1) the Alexanders established a viable relationship with their great-grandchildren, (2) Lott unreasonably denied the Alexanders visitation rights, and (3) the visitation rights would be in the best interest of the children. On January 7, 2013, the chancellor entered an order granting the Alexanders ...