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Bradshaw v. Moore

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

June 13, 2017

PATRICK BRADSHAW APPELLANT
v.
ERICA MOORE APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 03/14/2016

         COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: DESOTO COUNTY CHANCERY COURT, HON. PERCY L. LYNCHARD JR. JUDGE

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: BYRON RUSSELL MOBLEY

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: A.E. (RUSTY) HARLOW JR. KATHI CRESTMAN WILSON

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

          LEE, C.J.

         ¶1. Patrick Bradshaw appeals the chancellor's order awarding sole legal and physical custody of L.M., [1] a minor child, to Erica Moore. Finding no error, we affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. Erica had a child, L.M., born in November 2009. Although Erica knew Patrick was L.M.'s father, Patrick was not named on L.M.'s birth certificate. Erica and Patrick were never married or in a relationship. At all times since her birth, L.M. has lived with Erica and with her grandparents-the Santuccis-Erica's mother and stepfather.

         ¶3. Patrick, who lived in Florida at the time, first learned he was L.M.'s father on April 17, 2010, after a telephone conversation with Erica. Almost a year later, in March 2011, Patrick paid for Erica, Mrs. Santucci, and L.M. to travel to Florida for Patrick to meet L.M. In July 2011, Patrick saw L.M. again at a family wedding. Prior to his petition for custody, these two occasions were the only instances of contact Patrick had with L.M. Though Patrick testified that he knew he was L.M.'s father as early as 2011, he declined all invitations to visit with L.M. at her home and never sent any financial support for L.M.

         ¶4. In August 2011, Erica applied for public benefits, and as a result, the Mississippi Department of Human Services (DHS) initiated a petition to determine paternity against Patrick. Patrick consented to a DNA test, but the test was never conducted due to an administrative error at DHS. Erica attempted to reopen the petition for paternity against Patrick in 2013, but DHS could not find a valid address to contact Patrick. As such, the petition for paternity against Patrick was again halted.

         ¶5. In March 2014, Erica and the Santuccis met with an attorney to transfer sole physical and legal custody of L.M. to the Santuccis for financial reasons. Both parties testified that they believed that Erica could have physical and legal custody returned to her at any point and that the parties understood the arrangement to be temporary. The custody petition filed by the Santuccis declared the identity of L.M.'s natural father to be unknown. The Santuccis testified they did not include Patrick because he was not on the birth certificate and was not a part of L.M.'s life, and because they had difficulty locating him at the time they filed their petition for custody. Thus, Patrick never received notice of the Santuccis' petition for custody. Erica did not contest the Santuccis' petition for custody, and on April 2, 2014, the Santuccis were granted legal and physical custody of L.M. Despite the change in physical and legal custody, Erica, L.M., and the Santuccis all continued to live together, and Erica continued to provide for L.M.'s needs.

         ¶6. Meanwhile, the petition for paternity against Patrick was pending at DHS. In September 2014, Patrick's DNA test results confirmed that he was L.M.'s natural father, and so required him to provide child support for L.M. On October 22, 2014, Patrick brought a complaint for custody against Erica. The chancery court held a hearing on the matter and set aside the previous order, which had granted custody to the Santuccis, finding that Patrick was deprived of due process. The Santuccis and Erica jointly answered Patrick's complaint for custody, arguing that it should be denied. Patrick counterclaimed for custody against the Santuccis. In May 2015, the court issued a temporary order granting the Santuccis custody of L.M. and Patrick visitation rights until trial.

         ¶7. On Februrary 22, 2016, trial took place. There was extensive testimony from the Santuccis, Erica, and Patrick regarding the history among the parties. The Santuccis testified that Erica was a fit, proper, and suitable person to have custody of L.M., and so they withdrew their petition for custody at trial. The Court then dismissed the Santuccis' original petition for custody and replaced Erica as the original plaintiff against Patrick regarding custody of L.M. The chancellor conducted the initial custody determination between the ...


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