OF JUDGMENT: 07/19/2016
COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. M. RONALD DOLEAC TRIAL JUDGE
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: GAY L. POLK-PAYTON
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: BARBARA BOND PARKER
GRIFFIS, P.J., CARLTON AND GREENLEE, JJ.
The Forrest County Chancery Court awarded Lauren Roberts and
Tyler Eads joint legal and physical custody of their
eight-year-old son, Thomas. In appealing the chancellor's
denial of her request for primary physical custody, Lauren
asserts that the chancellor (1) erred in his application of
the Albright factors and (2) misapplied Mississippi
statutory law and caselaw. Finding no error, we affirm.
Tyler and Lauren cohabited in 2008. Following their son's
birth in 2009, the parties ended their relationship and
eventually married other people. Tyler married Jenny Eads
around December 2009, and the couple later had two children
together. Lauren married Harry Martinolich in May 2012, and
they had one child together. Lauren and Harry later divorced,
and in May 2015, Lauren married Daniel Roberts. At the time
of the hearing on this matter, Lauren and Daniel were
expecting a child.
On May 22, 2015, Lauren filed a petition seeking sole legal
and physical custody of Thomas. On June 29, 2015, Tyler filed
a response, a counterclaim for custody, and a motion for
temporary relief. The same day the chancellor entered a
temporary order awarding Lauren temporary legal and physical
custody of Thomas and granting Tyler visitation rights. The
chancellor also appointed a guardian ad litem (GAL) for
On March 1, 2016, the GAL submitted her initial report. The
GAL found that Lauren, age twenty-six, worked as a nurse with
the Hattiesburg School District. The GAL further found that
Tyler, age twenty-seven, had worked for numerous companies as
a truck driver and was currently employed by Ross Trucking.
The GAL found no concerns with the parties' spouses and
determined that both spouses were involved in Thomas's
life and cared for him very much. Although Thomas enjoyed
spending time with his father, stepmother, and half-brothers,
the GAL found that he had lived his entire life with his
mother. As a result, the GAL concluded that Thomas was closer
to Lauren and was more comfortable in a living environment
Taking into consideration the Albright factors, the
GAL found the following factors favored Lauren: (1)
continuity of care; (2) employment and responsibilities of
that employment; (3) emotional ties with the child; (4)
stability of the home environment; and (5) stability of
employment. Due to Thomas's age, the GAL deemed
inapplicable the factor regarding his
preference. She further concluded that all the
remaining Albright factors were neutral. Based on
her findings, the GAL initially recommended that Lauren
retain primary physical custody of Thomas, Tyler receive
standard visitation rights, and the parties share legal
custody. At the end of her initial report, the GAL wrote that
she reserved the right to change her opinion based upon
pending testimony and the receipt of additional information.
After filing her original report, the GAL followed up with
the parties and reviewed Thomas's school records. In
addition, the GAL interviewed Tyler's parents
(Thomas's paternal grandparents) and the paternal
grandmother of Lauren's son from her marriage with Harry.
The additional information gathered by the GAL led her to
change her custody recommendation. As a result, the GAL
submitted a supplemental report on June 17, 2016.
In her supplemental report, the GAL explained that she
originally recommended Lauren retain primary physical custody
of Thomas because she believed Lauren had continuity of care
and that neither Tyler nor his parents were active in
Thomas's life. However, the GAL stated she had received
new information that showed both Tyler and his parents had
actively participated in Thomas's life prior to the
custody filing but that Lauren had not allowed them to see
Thomas since she filed for sole custody. In addition, the GAL
reported that Tyler had initially refrained from refuting
Lauren's allegations or speaking negatively about her
because he was afraid Lauren "would continue to withhold
[Thomas] from his life." The GAL found that Lauren had
twice previously withheld visitation from Tyler, with each
occasion lasting from several weeks to several months. After
taking into account the additional information she had
received, the GAL recommended that Lauren and Tyler share
legal and physical custody of Thomas.
On June 28, 2016, the chancellor held a hearing on the
parties' custody dispute. On July 19, 2016, the
chancellor entered his final judgment. In applying the
Albright factors, the chancellor agreed with the
GAL's analysis that the following factors were neutral:
(1) Thomas's age, health, and sex; (2) the parties'
parenting skills; (3) the parents' willingness and
capacity to provide primary child care; (4) the parents'
age, physical health, and mental health; (5) Thomas's
home, school, and community record; and (6) the parents'
relative financial situations. Although ...