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In re Dissolution of Marriage of Tullos

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

November 7, 2017

IN THE MATTER OF THE DISSOLUTION OF THE MARRIAGE OF JAMES CATLIN TULLOS AND JESSICA LYNN TUCKER TULLOS: JESSICA LYNN TUCKER TULLOS APPELLANT
v.
JAMES CATLIN TULLOS APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 05/19/2016

         SMITH COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. GERALD MARION MARTIN TRIAL JUDGE:

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: W. TERRELL STUBBS LAUREN ELIZABETH CAVALIER

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: RAYMOND PATRICK TULLOS

          BEFORE IRVING, P.J., BARNES AND WESTBROOKS, JJ.

          WESTBROOKS, JUDGE.

         ¶1. Jessica Tullos appeals the order modifying child custody and support of her minor children. The order awarded her former husband, James Tullos, physical custody of both minor children and required Jessica to pay child support. It is from that order that this appeal is taken.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. Jessica and James were married on September 4, 2004. Two children were born of that union. A joint complaint for divorce was filed by James and Jessica on December 17, 2013. On March 14, 2014, a judgment of divorce was entered for the parties. Jessica was given physical custody of the minor children, and James was given visitation and required to pay $1,000 per month in child support.

         ¶3. On August 28, 2015, James filed a petition to modify the judgment, requesting that the chancery court award him physical custody of the minor children and require Jessica to pay child support. James alleged that Jessica was using illegal drugs in the presence of their children. Jessica was served with the petition and a summons on September 4, 2015, requiring that she appear at the Covington County Courthouse in Collins, Mississippi. The original hearing date was set for September 29, 2015.

         ¶4. On September 29, 2015, the court entered an order continuing the case and resetting it for trial, and the hearing was continued to October 15, 2015, at 9:30 a.m. in the Smith County Courthouse in Raleigh, Mississippi. Raymond Tullos, James's attorney, and Jessica, who was pro se, signed the first order continuing the matter. On October 15, 2015, the trial was continued by order of the court to December 10, 2015, at 9:30 a.m. in the Smith County Courthouse in Raleigh. Jessica did not sign that order, and the record is unclear whether Jessica was present.

         ¶5. On December 10, 2015, the chancery court entered another order continuing the case to February 1, 2016, at 9:30 a.m. in the Smith County Courthouse in Raleigh. Jessica did not sign the order, and the record does not reflect whether she was present at the hearing. Moreover, only the chancellor signed the order continuing the matter. An order appointing April Taylor Bryant as guardian ad litem (GAL) for the minor children was also entered on February 1, 2016. On that same day, the chancellor signed an order continuing the case to March 30, 2016. On March 30, 2016, the fifth and final order of continuance was signed by the chancellor, continuing the hearing to May 19, 2016. While the order was signed, it was not filed until March 31, 2016. The final order of continuance was signed by James's attorney and the chancellor but not Jessica, and the record is unclear if Jessica was present at the hearing.

         ¶6. On May 19, 2016, a hearing on the petition to modify custody was held. James, his attorney, and the GAL were present during the hearing, but Jessica was not. James testified that Jessica had moved to North Dakota with their son. James stated that when he exercised his visitation rights and picked up the children, sometimes Jessica was not at home and the children had a dirty physical appearance. According to James, Jessica was using illegal drugs and had used drugs in front of their children. James stated that though Jessica had not used drugs in his presence, he observed Jessica inebriated in the presence of their children when he picked them up for visitation. James also stated that Jessica's mother, father, and stepmother called him and asked that he not return the children to Jessica until they got Jessica help for her drug use.

         ¶7. The GAL testified that she believed that it was in the best interest of both minor children to reside with James. According to the GAL, after she requested the younger child B.J.'s[1] school records, his school counselor informed her that he had missed a number days. The GAL also testified that the school counselor stated that B.J.'s education had been impacted by Jessica's constant relocation. The GAL stated that when she spoke with Jessica regarding B.J.'s welfare, Jessica made false statements about James's visitation and also gave the GAL an incorrect physical address. When the GAL attempted to call Jessica back, she could not reach her. The GAL left a voicemail message informing Jessica that she would be visiting both James's and Jessica's homes. ...


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