OF JUDGMENT: 08/25/2017
COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. JOHN S. GRANT III JUDGE
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: MICHAEL CHAD MOORE
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: JANICE T. JACKSON
J. WILSON, P.J., TINDELL AND LAWRENCE, JJ.
On December 31, 2012, the Rankin County Chancery Court
granted Natasha Hilton and Chris Harvey an
irreconcilable-differences divorce. On May 20, 2016, Natasha
filed a petition to require Chris to sign a passport
application for their minor children to be able to leave the
United States with her on vacation. Chris filed his answer to
Natasha's petition on September 20, 2016, as well as a
counter-petition for contempt, modification of custody, and
attorney's fees. The chancellor ultimately modified the
couple's custody arrangement in favor of Chris, held
Natasha in contempt of court, and awarded attorney's fees
to Chris. Natasha now appeals to this Court, arguing that
Chris failed to properly serve her with a copy of the
Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 81 summons for his
counter-petition until after the 120-day deadline, in
violation of Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 4.
We find that this case, as a domestic-relations matter, is
governed by Rule 81 rather than Rule 4. Because Rule 81 has
no 120-day deadline, we also find that service was not
defective upon Natasha. We therefore affirm the
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Natasha and Chris were married on June 11, 1984, and had two
children from the marriage. On December 31, 2012, the
chancellor granted Natasha and Chris an
irreconcilable-differences divorce. In his final judgment of
divorce, the chancellor referenced the couple's
marital-dissolution agreement, wherein the couple agreed upon
and were awarded joint legal custody of the two children. A
special custody provision was included in the agreement,
allowing Natasha to have mid-week visits with one or more of
the children while they were in Chris's custody.
On May 20, 2016, Natasha filed a petition to require Chris to
sign a passport application for their two children, which
would allow her to take the children on vacation out of the
country. On May 24, 2016, Natasha issued a summons for the
petition to be heard on June 27, 2016. Chris claims that he
was never served for this hearing, and no proof of service
exists in the record. Chris's counsel, however, entered
an appearance on June 10, 2016. At some point, the hearing
was continued from June 27, 2016, to September 29, 2016.
Natasha claims that this continuance was agreed upon by the
parties, but nothing in the record confirms this assertion.
Natasha issued a new summons for the September 29 hearing on
August 26, 2016, and Chris was served with the summons on
August 27, 2016. On September 20, 2016, Chris filed an answer
to Natasha's petition, as well as a counter-petition for
contempt, modification of custody, and attorney's fees.
That same day Chris filed a motion to continue the September
29 hearing. The parties ultimately agreed upon a hearing date
of January 30, 2017. Natasha issued another summons upon
Chris for the new hearing date on November 17, 2016, and
Chris was properly served with the summons on the same day.
On December 5, 2016, Chris issued a summons for his
counter-petition, but the summons was not served upon Natasha
until January 24, 2017. The parties heavily dispute the
reason for this delay. Natasha claims that Chris
"didn't bother to have [her] served with the Rule 81
summons until January 24, 2017," which was 126 days
after he filed his counter-petition. Chris, however, claims
that "Natasha purposely avoided service of process until
January 24, 2017," making the January 30 hearing
untimely. In support of his claim, Chris submitted to the
chancellor an affidavit signed by his process server, Tyler
Miller, wherein Miller described his efforts to serve Natasha
and Natasha's attempts to avoid service of process.
The parties agreed upon one final continuance of the case to
July 18, 2017. Chris issued a second summons for the July 18
hearing, which was served upon Natasha on February 28, 2017.
Chris claims that he issued this second summons to satisfy
persistent complaints from ...