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Bennett v. Bennett

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

April 10, 2018

JULIA N. BENNETT APPELLANT
v.
ANDRE D. BENNETT APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 09/12/2016

          RANKIN COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. JOHN C. MCLAURIN JR. TRIAL JUDGE

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: WILLIAM P. FEATHERSTON JR.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: TAMEIKA LADANYA BENNETT .

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

          FAIR, J.,

         ¶1. 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.

         FACTS

         ¶2. Andre and Julia married in 1999. During their marriage, they had two daughters - Madeline[1] (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.

         ¶3. 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[2] pending a final custody determination by the court. The chancellor granted Andre's motion.

         ¶4. 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 modification.

         ¶5. 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.

         ¶6. 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.

         ¶7. 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 ...


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