OF JUDGMENT: 03/14/2016
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
LEE, C.J., BARNES AND WESTBROOKS, JJ.
Patrick Bradshaw appeals the chancellor's order awarding
sole legal and physical custody of L.M.,  a minor child, to
Erica Moore. Finding no error, we affirm.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ...