JULIA N. BENNETT APPELLANT
ANDRE D. BENNETT APPELLEE
OF JUDGMENT: 09/12/2016
COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. JOHN C. MCLAURIN JR. TRIAL JUDGE
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: WILLIAM P. FEATHERSTON JR.
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: TAMEIKA LADANYA BENNETT .
IRVING, P.J., FAIR AND WESTBROOKS, JJ.
Julia Bennett appeals the Rankin County Chancery Court's
judgment awarding her ex-husband, Andre Bennett, custody of
their two daughters if she removed them to another state. The
sole issue on appeal is whether the chancery court complied
with Mississippi Code Annotated section 93-11-65(1)(a) (Rev.
2013) by declining to honor the eldest child's stated
preference to live with her mother. Because the chancellor
adopted the findings of the family master explaining the
deviation from the child's preference, we affirm.
Andre and Julia married in 1999. During their marriage, they
had two daughters - Madeline (born in 2002) and Camille (born
in 2006). In 2011, the couple divorced on the ground of
irreconcilable differences. The final judgment of divorce
ordered Andre and Julia to share joint legal and physical
custody of the children, with Julia maintaining physical
custody. The judgment further detailed alternating weekly
custodial periods, with Andre having overnight visits every
Wednesday and every other Friday and Saturday.
On July 29, 2016, Andre filed a petition to cite Julia for
contempt, modify physical child custody, and other relief. He
claimed that a material change in circumstances had occurred,
namely Julia's decision to relocate with the children to
St. Louis, Missouri. Less than two weeks later, Andre filed a
petition for an emergency hearing. He requested temporary
legal and physical custody of the children to continue their
enrollment in Rankin County schools pending a final custody
determination by the court. The chancellor granted
Julia immediately filed an emergency motion to dissolve the
chancellor's order granting emergency relief. The court
granted her motion in part, dissolving the previous award of
temporary custody to Andre in favor of their continued joint
legal and physical custody. However, the court maintained its
decision that the children would continue attending schools
in Rankin County until the scheduled hearing on custody
Julia counterclaimed Andre's petition to modify custody.
She requested sole physical custody of the minor children.
She also requested that Andre receive visitation based on the
move to St. Louis.
The court appointed a family master, who held the
modification hearing on August 19, 2016. Andre testified that
he was very active in his daughters' lives and that he
did not want the custodial arrangement to change (which would
be inevitable if Julia moved to St. Louis). Andre also
testified that he recently bought a three-bedroom house for
himself and the girls. When the girls stayed over, he helped
them with their homework and cooked for them.
Julia testified that her father and boyfriend lived in St.
Louis. She stated that she had been in a relationship for
about one year and she planned to get married. Julia further
stated that she would live with her father until she married
her boyfriend. At the time of the hearing, Julia had no
income. However, she stated that she had a job lined up in
St. Louis beginning in September. Julia ...