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Hamilton v. Young

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

February 16, 2017

JOHN K. HAMILTON
v.
KIDRON S. WISE YOUNG

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 08/19/2015

         LEE COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. TALMADGE D. LITTLEJOHN TRIAL JUDGE

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: WILLIAM WAYNE SMITH

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: ROY O. PARKER, JR. T. K. MOFFETT

          BEAM, JUSTICE

         ¶1. This interlocutory appeal arises from the registration of an Ohio-issued divorce decree in the Lee County Chancery Court and a subsequent petition for modification by the obligee, a Mississippi resident. Asserting the continuing and exclusive jurisdiction of the Ohio court in matters involving the modification and alteration of the decree, the obligor-father appeals the chancery court's denial of his motion to dismiss the obligee-mother's complaint for modification of the decree. Reviewing the procedural history and the facts of the case, we find that (1) neither the Ohio court nor the parties consented in writing to the transfer of jurisdiction, and (2) because evidence indicates that the Ohio court never relinquished jurisdiction, that court is the proper forum for proceedings on modification. Thus, this Court reverses the chancery court's ruling and enters judgment in favor of the father, dismissing the mother's complaint for lack of jurisdiction.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. On July 10, 2010, the Court of Common Pleas in Muskingum County, Ohio, entered a judgment granting the divorce of Appellant John Hamilton and Appellee Kidron Wise Young. The judgment entry and divorce decree dissolved the parties' marriage and provided for the care, custody, control, and support of their minor child, Adelie Wise-Hamilton. Through the decree, Young received residential parent and legal custodian status with regard to Adelie. The decree made Hamilton the nonresidential parent with requirements to abide by a parenting schedule as outlined by the parties' separation agreement.

         ¶3. Some time after the divorce became final, Young and Adelie moved to Mississippi. Once settled, Young registered the 2010 divorce decree with the Lee County Chancery Court, in accordance with Mississippi Code Sections 93-25-81 and 93-25-83. By registering the decree with a Mississippi court, the order became enforceable in the same manner and subject to the same procedures as an order issued by a court in this state. Miss. Code Ann. § 93-25-85 (Rev. 2013). However, while the Lee County court gained the ability to enforce the decree, the registration did not authorize it to modify or amend the order as long as the Ohio court-the issuing tribunal-maintained jurisdiction. Id. Eight months later, but prior to an entry of registration by the court, Young amended her complaint to include a request that the court assume jurisdiction of the case pursuant to Mississippi Code Section 93-25-101.[1]

         ¶4. In an order dated July 30, 2013, nunc pro tunc July 15, 2013, the Lee County Chancery Court registered the Ohio decree, granting full faith and credit to the judgment. Additionally, without elaboration, the court assumed jurisdiction "of all matters relating to the minor child including, but not limited to: custody, visitation, and support, pursuant to Section 93-25-101." The order was certified and shared to be "spread upon the minutes" of the Ohio court.

         ¶5. Less than one month later, on August 21, 2013, the Ohio court held a hearing on Hamilton's motion to modify parental rights and responsibilities. Without reference to the Lee County court's July 30th order, the Ohio court ruled that, because Hamilton still resides in Muskingum County, it maintains jurisdiction over all matters relating to Adelie. Finding that the parties had reached an agreement as to all issues presented, the court modified the original divorce decree to represent that the parties reside in separate states and entered an order reflecting the arrangement outlined in the judge's settlement memorandum. Signed by both parties and their attorneys, this memorandum modified the original parenting arrangement and its visitation schedule. Although not dated when signed, the order on this hearing was entered by the clerk of Ohio court on September 6, 2013.

         ¶6. In November 2014, the Ohio court again amended the 2010 decree. Upon the recommendation of the Muskingum County Department of Job and Family Services, Child Support Division, the court decreased the amount of monthly support Hamilton was required to provide for Adelie's care and maintenance. These changes in support were to be effective retroactively, beginning on November 1, 2014.

         ¶7. Aggrieved, in May 2015, Young filed in Lee County Chancery Court a complaint for modification of the September 2013 and November 2014 Ohio orders. Hamilton then timely responded with a motion to dismiss the action based on the Ohio court's continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over the matter. Citing the Muskingum County court's September 2013 order, Hamilton asserted that because he continues to reside where the cause of action originated, the Ohio court maintains jurisdiction over matters involving Adelie. The Lee County Chancery Court held a hearing on the matter on August 12, 2015, and ultimately denied Hamilton's motion. Referencing a conversation held between the Lee County chancellor and the Ohio court prior to the July 2013 order, the court ruled that the Ohio judge had relinquished jurisdiction, upon which the Lee County Chancery Court assumed jurisdiction and granted full faith and credit to the Ohio divorce decree. The court also held that, although Hamilton referenced the September 2013 order as an indication of Ohio's continuing jurisdiction, that order was not dated and therefore not proper.

         ¶8. On appeal, Hamilton presents one issue and asks this Court:

I. Whether the Lee County Chancery Court erred when it denied the Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody, Jurisdiction, and Enforcement Act. In her response, Young presents two additional issues for review:
II. Whether Hamilton is estopped from challenging an order of the Chancery Court two years after its entry, by filing a Motion to Dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.
III. Whether Mississippi's jurisdiction in this matter can be challenged by a court in Ohio without finding that Ohio is the more convenient forum.

         Because these issues contain mixed requirements for review, the standard of review for each issue is addressed, independently, prior to its analysis.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         I. Whether the Chancellor erred in denying the Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act.

         ¶9. Jurisdictional questions involving divorce decrees, child-support agreements, and custodial arrangements are issues familiar to this Court, and several cases before today have asked similar questions. See Edwards v. Zyla, 2016 WL 6822419 (Miss. 2016)(Motion for rehearing denied 2/2/17; mandate issued 2/9/2017); Grumme v. Grumme, 871 So.2d 1288 (Miss. 2004); Dep't of Human Servs. v. Shelnut, 772 So.2d. 1041 (Miss. 2000); Bradshaw v. Bradshaw, 418 So.2d 64 (Miss. 1982). What sets this action apart from those previously decided is the question of fact surrounding the apparent waiver of jurisdiction by the Ohio court, and whether that apparent waiver effectively granted the Lee County Chancery Court authority over all issues related to the minor child. We hold that it does not.

         ¶10. While Hamilton asks the Court to review the jurisdictional issue under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) at the time of filing, the matter sub judice remained governed by both the UCCJEA and the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA). Because Young's complaint involves a modification of both the visitation arrangement and child-support payments, the questions pertaining to ...


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