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In re C.T.

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

June 6, 2017

IN THE MATTER OF C.T., A MINOR, JASON TAYLOR AND JESSICA TIMMONS:
v.
JESSICA TIMMONS APPELLEE JASON K. TAYLOR APPELLANT

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 10/07/2015

         RANKIN COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. JOHN S. GRANT III TRIAL JUDGE

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: M. JUDITH BARNETT JEANINE M. CARAFELLO

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: JESSICA TIMMONS (PRO SE)

          BEFORE LEE, C.J., BARNES AND WESTBROOKS, JJ.

          LEE, C.J.

         ¶1. Jason Taylor appeals the decision of the chancery court, alleging that the chancellor erred when he (1) found that Jessica Timmons was entitled to decide which school the child would attend; (2) modified his child-support obligation; (3) modified the visitation schedule; (4) found him in contempt for failure to make timely child-support payments and failed to find Timmons in contempt for failure to notify him of her new address; and (5) assessed him with $2, 000 in attorney's fees. Finding no error, we affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. Taylor and Timmons had a child in 2011 but were never married. In January 2013, Taylor and Timmons filed a joint complaint for determination of paternity, child custody, and other relief, and the Rankin County Chancery Court rendered an agreed order pursuant to their joint complaint. As it relates to this appeal, the agreed order specified that: both parties shared joint legal custody of the minor child; Timmons was awarded primary physical custody, and Taylor was awarded visitation; Taylor was to pay Timmons child support in the amount of $300 per month due on the first day of each and every month; and Taylor was also to pay daycare and after-school expenses, public and/or private school tuition for the child beginning in first grade, all extracurricular activity expenses, one-half of uninsured medical expenses, and also to maintain health insurance for the child.

         ¶3. In August 2013, the Mississippi Department of Human Services (DHS) filed a petition on behalf of Timmons to modify the final judgment, seeking an upward modification of Taylor's child-support obligation. Taylor filed an answer and counter-complaint, seeking a modification of the agreed order to award him physical custody of the child. Then, in April 2014, Timmons, represented pro bono by an attorney volunteering through Mission First's Legal Aid Office, filed a petition for a judgment of contempt, alleging that Taylor had failed to pay child support and also requesting an award of attorney's fees. Taylor filed his answer and later filed a petition for litigation accountability, which alleged he was never in arrears. Finally, in October 2014, Taylor filed a petition for contempt, alleging that Timmons had denied him his visitation rights and seeking an award of attorney's fees.

         ¶4. The chancellor heard the matter on the above pleadings on November 17, 2014, September 16, 2015, and September 17, 2015. At the close of the hearing, the chancellor made his findings, which were reflected in the final judgment issued in October 2015. From this judgment, Taylor now appeals.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶5. Timmons did not file a brief in response to Taylor's appeal. Usually, "failure of an appellee to file a brief is tantamount to confession of error and will be accepted as such . . . ." Rogillio v. Rogillio, 101 So.3d 150, 153 (¶12) (Miss. 2012) (quoting Dethlefs v. Beau Maison Dev. Corp., 458 So.2d 714, 717 (Miss. 1984)). However, this Court has previously held that "when matters on appeal touch the welfare of a minor child, then regardless of whether a party filed a brief, this Court 'will reach the merits of the issues in this appeal, though we proceed unaided by a brief from the appellee.'" Self v. Lewis, 64 So.3d 578, 584 (¶28) (Miss. Ct. App. 2011) (quoting S.S. v. S.H., 44 So.3d 1054, 1056 (¶8) (Miss. Ct. App. 2010)); see also Barber v. Barber, 608 So.2d 1338, 1340 (Miss. 1992). Accordingly, in the instant custody case, we reach the merits of the case and apply our familiar standard of review as stated below.

         ¶6. Our standard of review in domestic-relations cases is limited. Bowen v. Bowen, 107 So.3d 166, 169 (¶6) (Miss. Ct. App. 2012) (citing Arrington v. Arrington, 80 So.3d 160, 164 (¶11) (Miss. Ct. App. 2012)). "The findings of a chancellor will not be disturbed when supported by substantial evidence unless the chancellor abused his discretion, was manifestly wrong [or] clearly erroneous, or an erroneous legal standard was applied." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). "[W]e review de novo the chancellor's interpretation and application of the law." Seale ...


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