KRISTEN E. MCGEE FARTHING, APPELLANT
BRANDON W. MCGEE, APPELLEE
COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: LAWRENCE COUNTY CHANCERY COURT. DATE OF JUDGMENT: 05/10/2013. TRIAL JUDGE: HON. DAVID SHOEMAKE. TRIAL COURT DISPOSITION: DENIED MOTION TO TERMINATE PARENTAL RIGHTS.
FOR APPELLANT: ROBERT E. EVANS.
FOR APPELLEE: JWON TERRELL NATHANIEL.
BEFORE GRIFFIS, P.J., MAXWELL AND FAIR, JJ. LEE, C.J., IRVING AND GRIFFIS, P.JJ., BARNES, ISHEE, ROBERTS, CARLTON AND FAIR, JJ., CONCUR. JAMES, J., SPECIALLY CONCURS WITH SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION.
¶1. Mississippi law mandates a guardian ad litem (GAL) be appointed to protect the interest of children in termination-of-parental-rights cases. Once appointed, a GAL must be adequately instructed on the proper performance of his or her duties, which in termination cases requires making recommendations to the court. And when deciding if termination is proper, " chancellors, in their findings of fact, must include at least a summary of the GAL's recommendations."  Though chancellors are not bound bye a GAL's recommendations, they must give their reasons when they reject them.
¶2. The chancellor here appeared unaware of these obligations. He remarked that he did not " know what [he] can do" with the GAL's recommendations--which found adoption by the child's stepfather was in the child's best interest and favored termination of the father's parental rights. And his order denying the parental-termination request made no mention of the GAL's various findings and recommendations. Because of this confusion, and his belief a pending adoption petition was necessary before termination could be
considered, we reverse and remand for the chancellor to consider the GAL's report in addressing this termination request.
Facts and Procedural History
¶3. Kristen Farthing and Brandon McGee were married on April 23, 2006. They had one child together, Ashton, who was born on September 7, 2006. The couple separated the day after Ashton was born, and later divorced.
¶4. Kristen was awarded custody of Ashton, and Brandon was granted visitation. Brandon was also ordered to pay child support. After the divorce, Kristen and Ashton opted to stay in Mississippi. But Brandon moved away to Tennessee and commuted to Texas to work on gas pipelines.
¶5. In December 2007, Brandon was severely burned in a work accident. His face was disfigured, he suffered fourth and fifth degree burns to his face and shoulders, and his entire nose had to be rebuilt. As a result, Brandon spent nine weeks in the hospital and required over thirty medical procedures. He also underwent several skin grafts and treatments at burn centers in Georgia and Tennessee. After the accident, he was forced to move in with his mother in Tennessee, who cared for him and drove him to his doctor's appointments.
¶6. In 2010, the parties entered an agreed judgment lowering Brandon's child support obligation and agreeing Brandon was $28,000 in arrears for nonpayment of child support. And on September 29, 2011, Kristen petitioned the court to terminate Brandon's parental ...