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Burgess v. Williamson

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

October 2, 2018

LAQUITA BURGESS APPELLANT
v.
MCKINLEY WILLIAMSON APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 05/09/2017

          COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: JONES COUNTY CHANCERY COURT, SECOND JUDICIAL DISTRICT HON. FRANKLIN C. MCKENZIE JR. TRIAL JUDGE.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: GAY L. POLK-PAYTON.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: MICHAEL CLAYTON BAREFIELD.

          BEFORE GRIFFIS, P.J., WILSON AND TINDELL, JJ.

          WILSON, J.

         ¶1. Laquita Burgess and McKinley Williamson have a daughter, Elizabeth, who was born in 1999. Prior to 2015, Burgess and Williamson had an extra-judicial custody and support arrangement. In 2015, Williamson petitioned the Jones County Chancery Court to determine custody and support. The court awarded physical custody to Williamson, visitation to Burgess, and joint legal custody. The court also ordered Burgess to pay child support to Williamson. One year later, Williamson filed a petition for contempt alleging that Burgess was behind on child support. Burgess answered and sought a modification of her support obligation. The day before the hearing on the petition and counterclaim, Burgess filed a motion to dismiss alleging that the court lacked jurisdiction. Burgess did not attend the hearing the following day, although her attorney was present. The chancery court denied Burgess's motion to dismiss and found her in contempt for failing to pay child support. ¶2. On appeal, Burgess alleges that the chancery court lacked jurisdiction and erred in setting child support. We find no error and affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶3. Burgess and Williamson have never been married but have a daughter, Elizabeth, who was born in Forrest County in 1999. Burgess allowed Williamson to have physical custody of Elizabeth in 2003, and Elizabeth lived with Williamson and his wife in Georgia from 2003 to 2009. Williamson's wife is a member of the United States Air Force, and in January 2010 the Williamsons moved to Ramstein Air Base in Germany with Elizabeth and their other two children. Burgess consented to Elizabeth's move to Germany with Williamson.

         ¶4. On January 20, 2015, Williamson filed a petition for custody and child support in the Jones County Chancery Court. Although he and Elizabeth still lived in Germany, Williamson asserted that he was a resident of Jones County and that the Jones County Chancery Court had jurisdiction pursuant to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). See Miss. Code Ann. § 93-27-201 (Rev. 2013). Williamson sought sole physical and joint legal custody of Elizabeth. He alleged that Elizabeth's passport had recently expired and that he had been unable to obtain Burgess's written consent to renew the passport. As a result, Elizabeth was "unable to leave Germany." Williamson also sought an order requiring Burgess to pay child support.

         ¶5. Burgess filed an answer. She denied that Williamson was a resident of Jones County, but she admitted that the chancery court had jurisdiction, and she filed a counterclaim for physical custody of Elizabeth and child support. Burgess alleged that she was a resident of Forrest County, although she was then stationed at Fort Meade in Maryland as a member of the United States Army.

         ¶6. After a trial, [1] the chancery court entered a final judgment on September 8, 2015, granting physical custody to Williamson with joint legal custody and visitation rights to Burgess. The court ordered Burgess to pay $827 in child support each month, "[i]n accordance with statutory guidelines, as applied to [Burgess's] Rule 8.05 Financial Declaration."[2] Neither party appealed the court's final judgment.

         ¶7. In November 2016, Williamson filed a petition for contempt and requested entry of a wage withholding order against Burgess. Williamson alleged that Burgess had unilaterally reduced her monthly support payments and had failed to make some payments altogether. He requested that the court find Burgess in contempt and enter a judgment for the arrearage and his attorney's fees. By this time, Burgess had relocated to a United States Army base in Germany, where she was served by certified mail.

         ¶8. Burgess answered Williamson's petition and counterclaimed for a modification of support based on an alleged change in her income. In her answer, Burgess "denied," without explanation, Williamson's allegation that the court had jurisdiction under the UCCJEA. However, in her counterclaim, she expressly acknowledged that the chancery court had "jurisdiction of the parties." She also waived any ...


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