MAEGAN WHITE A/K/A MEAGAN WHITE A/K/A MAEGAN LEE WHITE, APPELLANT
CHRISTOPHER WHITE A/K/A CHRISTOPHER LEE WHITE, APPELLEE
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: WEBSTER COUNTY CHANCERY COURT. DATE OF JUDGMENT: 11/12/2013. TRIAL JUDGE: HON. DOROTHY WINSTON COLOM. TRIAL COURT DISPOSITION: CUSTODY OF MINOR CHILDREN AWARDED TO APPELLEE.
FOR APPELLANT: ROBBIE E. WILLIS, JAMES P. VANCE.
FOR APPELLEE: CARRIE A. JOURDAN.
BEFORE LEE, C.J., ROBERTS AND JAMES, JJ. LEE, C.J., IRVING AND GRIFFIS, P.JJ., BARNES, ISHEE, CARLTON, MAXWELL AND FAIR, JJ., CONCUR. JAMES, J., CONCURS IN PART AND DISSENTS IN PART WITHOUT SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION.
NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - CUSTODY
[¶1] The Webster County Chancery Court granted Maegan Lee White (" Maegan" ) and Christopher Lee White (" C.L." ) an irreconcilable-differences divorce. The parties submitted all child-related issues to the court, including child custody and visitation. The court awarded C.L. sole custody of their two minor children and gave Maegan visitation rights. Maegan timely appealed. Finding no error, we affirm.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
[¶2] Maegan and C.L. married on July 1, 2006, in Starkville, Mississippi. Their son, Garrett, was born on January 13, 2007. The couple's daughter, Harley, was born December 26, 2007. Maegan filed for divorce on February 21, 2012, on the grounds of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment, or in the alternative, irreconcilable differences. She also sought permanent custody of Garrett and Harley. C.L. filed his answer and a counter-complaint for divorce on May 9, 2012, citing adultery, habitual cruel and inhuman treatment, or in the alternative, irreconcilable differences. He also sought permanent custody of the two children. A temporary order was entered on June 4, 2012, granting Maegan temporary custody of the children and awarding C.L. visitation every other weekend.
[¶3] On or about September 11, 2012, Maegan filed a motion to suspend visitation, alleging tat C.L. had inappropriately touched Harley. As a result, the chancellor suspended C.L.'s visitation and appointed a guardian ad litem (GAL) to investigate. Once the GAL filed her report, C.L. filed a motion to reinstate visitation on October 12, 2012. On November 20, 2012, the chancellor reinstated C.L.'s visitation but ordered that all visits be supervised by the Webster County Department of Human Services. In April 2013, the court reinstated C.L.'s full visitation rights. Thereafter, on April 2, 2013, the parties consented, in writing, to a divorce on the ground of irreconcilable differences, submitting the following issues to the court: child custody and visitation, child support, children's health insurance and health-related bills, children's school and extracurricular expenses, claiming the children on tax returns, all other child-related matters, division of personal property, and taxes. A trial was held June 18-19, 2013.
[¶4] At trial, the following facts were presented: Maegan is twenty-eight years old and has been a registered nurse since 2007. She earned her nursing degree while married to C.L. Maegan has worked with five different companies in various capacities since beginning her career. C.L. is forty years old and owns a body shop next door to the marital home. Until the separation, Maegan, C.L., and their two children lived together in Webster County. C.L. worked at his body shop for the entirety of the marriage, while Maegan had to travel from Webster County in order to attend school and later for work. While both parties were at school or work, Maegan's family members often helped watch the children until May 2008, when both children began attending daycare. While C.L.'s job was consistently near the home and provided " normal" working hours, Maegan's career as a nurse sometimes required her to work night shifts and required significant travel. During this time, parenting duties were equal, although sometimes aided by Maegan's family members.
[¶5] When the parties separated in June 2011, Maegan moved with the children to Oktibbeha County, which was near to her mother and her job at Mississippi Home Care in Starkville. Initially, C.L. and Maegan split equal time with the children, rotating every two days as well as three-day weekends. In August 2011, Maegan enrolled Garrett and Harley in preschool in Louisville, which was approximately fifteen minutes from their home in Sturgis. The children adjusted well to their new school, and Harley began speech therapy. In February 2012, Maegan moved, along with the children, to Caledonia. Here, Maegan enrolled the children in a pre-kindergarten program at Caledonia Elementary. In June 2012, the court awarded Maegan temporary full custody and gave C.L. visitation rights for every other weekend and the month of July 2012.
[¶6] In August 2012, Maegan filed an emergency motion with the court, alleging that C.L. had inappropriately touched Harley. Maegan testified at trial that in August 2012, when the children returned after a visit with C.L., Maegan discovered blood in Harley's underwear and an abscess on her upper thigh. Two weeks later, Harley had a " fit" when she had to return to C.L.'s, including becoming physically ill, screaming, and crying. Soon after, Harley allegedly disclosed to Maegan that C.L. had inappropriately touched her. After Maegan filed her emergency motion presenting these allegations, the court revoked C.L.'s visitation rights and an investigation commenced. Harley was interviewed by police, by the Lowndes County Department of Human Services, and the court-appointed GAL. The GAL's report later stated that Harley had told the GAL that her mother told her she could avoid returning to C.L.'s if she told people he had touched her private parts. Maegan denied this at trial. The allegations against C.L. were found to be unsubstantiated, and his visitation rights were restored.
[¶7] In December 2012, Maegan resigned from her job and moved from Caledonia back to Sturgis. She began a new job at Rolling Hills, a healthcare facility in Starkville, and the children were enrolled at the Louisville Public Schools. Roughly two months after beginning employment with Rolling Hills, Maegan began working at Diamond Grove in Louisville. Two weeks after being hired, Maegan was terminated. She testified at trial it was because her drug screen tested positive for Adderall, and although she had a prescription, the facility said they could not take a risk of having an employee with access to amphetamines at their facility, where many patients
had the same type of medicine. At the time of trial, Maegan had secured employment as a home health nurse in Louisville. Maegan testified that the children, regardless of where they were living or where their mother worked, had a schedule that they adhered to. If she was ever " on call," there were always friends or family members nearby who would be able to temporarily care for the children.
[¶8] Additionally, Maegan testified generally that she and the children attended church regularly, and that she did not consume alcohol regularly or abuse drugs. She denied that anyone who cared for her children drank to excess or had any problems with alcohol. She also denied dating anyone during her marriage and denied having sexual relationships with anyone in front of her children. Maegan claimed that both prior to and after the separation, C.L. neglected Harley. She testified that he often took Garrett hunting and fishing, but left Harley at home. Even when both children were home, he had little to do with Harley. Maegan's mother and grandmother both testified similarly about C.L.'s involvement with Harley. Both women also testified about Maegan's parenting skills and their willingness to help care for the children whenever needed.
[¶9] Additional witnesses were called to testify about Maegan, including Taryn Shurden, a friend and coworker. Shurden's testimony called into question the veracity of Maegan's statements that she did not drink or date during or after the separation. Shurden testified that she had seen Maegan drink alcohol socially and said it would be untrue for someone to say she never drank. Shurden also testified that she did not believe Maegan to have a problem with alcohol; however, Maegan had confided concerns about her own mother's drinking. Finally, Shurden testified that she knew of two prior relationships Maegan had both during the marriage and after the separation. Jimmy Owens, the human-resources director at Diamond Grove, where Maegan worked for a very brief time, also testified. Owens denied Maegan's account of her time at Diamond Grove. He stated that after Maegan's drug screen came back positive for amphetamines, he tried to get in touch with her about providing a valid prescription. She was unable or unwilling to do so and never contacted him again. She was ultimately terminated for absenteeism.
[¶10] C.L.'s testimony obviously differed in many respects from Maegan's. He testified that he had lived in the marital home prior to the marriage, and he still lived there post-separation. His business had been continuously located less than a mile away from his home, and he worked there generally from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. C.L. stated that he had owned this business since 1999, and because he was the boss, he had flexibility to come and go as needed. C.L. admitted, like Maegan, that they shared parenting responsibilities while married, but denied that she did the bulk of the work and that he neglected Harley. C.L. did not deny that Maegan, as an offshoot of her career as a nurse, was primarily responsible and more knowledgeable about the children's heath needs. C.L. testified that he had a wonderful relationship with both children, and he showed no favoritism to Garrett because he was a boy. C.L. admitted he took Garrett hunting and fishing more often than Harley, but only because Garrett was a boy and was older. C.L. noted that both children had some confusion over the separation at first, but that even despite the allegations made against him, he still had a healthy relationship with both children.
[¶11] C.L. testified that he planned to stay in his current home for the foreseeable
future. He said that both children would be able to be enrolled in Webster County schools, should he be given custody, and they could remain there until they graduated from high school. Despite the problems between him and Maegan, C.L. said he would be more than happy to have Maegan involved in the children's school life and extracurricular activities. Contrary to Maegan's testimony, C.L. denied refusing to participate in Harley's speech therapy. He testified that he did not really know that she was in speech therapy, and he did not believe it was necessary. However, he did notice a marked improvement in her speech and would continue to assist in therapy as needed. C.L. acknowledged that his family was not as involved with the children as Maegan's was, but he appreciated the help her family was able to provide.
[¶12] C.L. testified that he was, at the time of trial, in a relationship with a woman named Jennifer Smith. He said that he sometimes spent the night with Jennifer when he did not have visitation with his children, but that Jennifer had never stayed at his home when Garrett and Harley were there. Smith testified similarly. C.L. testified that he did not want to push his children into his new relationship with Smith, and he felt it was important for them not to see him stay with Smith because he was still married to their mother. C.L. testified about the importance of morals and stability for his children, both of which he believed he could provide.
[¶13] The final witness testimony came from the GAL, who had already submitted her report to the court. In her report and her testimony, the GAL recommended that custody be given to C.L., based off the stability he could provide to the children. She did not note any specific detrimental effects on Garrett and Hartley from the multiple moves they had endured since the separation, but she did believe that switching schools could be difficult for children. She mentioned that her opinion of C.L.'s stability and truthfulness had strengthened during the trial. However, the GAL's opinion of Maegan's truthfulness somewhat declined during her investigation and the trial. Specifically, the GAL testified that she believed the molestation allegations were created by Maegan to further her cause for full custody. Her report was admitted as an exhibit. In her final recommendation, the GAL noted:
The Court is confronted with the dilemma in which two loving, capable parents both want custody of their minor children. The father offers more stability to the children. . . . Maegan, on the other hand, has not exhibited much stability. . . . I believe it is in the best interest of the children to stay in one area and develop a home community, which seems to have already been established in Mathiston.
Maegan and C.L. both have great parenting skills. . . . Garrett and Harley would be in good hands with either parent. However, I believe that the [f]ather offers the most stability to the children and it would be in their ...