OF JUDGMENT: 03/06/2018
HARRISON COUNTY CHANCERY COURT, FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT HON.
JENNIFER T. SCHLOEGEL TRIAL JUDGE
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: HARRY RAY LANE
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEES: RITA MARION SILIN
J. WILSON, P.J., TINDELL AND McDONALD, JJ.
Dyrene and Donald Owens (the Owenses) filed a petition in the
Harrison County Chancery Court, First Judicial District, for
guardianship of their granddaughter T.N.W., hereafter
referred to as Tiffany. Following a hearing, the chancellor
determined that clear and convincing evidence supported a
finding that Farrah Owens, the Owenses' daughter and
Tiffany's mother, had deserted Tiffany. The chancellor
then conducted an Albright analysis and concluded
that third-party custody was in Tiffany's best interest.
Farrah appeals the chancellor's judgment appointing the
Owenses as Tiffany's guardians.
While placing Tiffany with her grandparents may very well
have been in her best interest, we conclude that insufficient
evidence supported the chancellor's finding of desertion.
Because we reverse the chancellor's judgment on this
ground, we decline to address Farrah's remaining
assignments of error. We remand this case for further
proceedings so the chancellor may determine under what basis,
if any, the Owenses' guardianship of Tiffany should
continue and, if so, what visitation rights Farrah should
In December 2016, when Tiffany was two months old, Farrah and
Tiffany moved to Gulfport, Mississippi, to live with the
Owenses. On February 9, 2017, when Tiffany was four months
old, the Owenses filed a petition seeking an emergency order
naming them as Tiffany's guardians. On the same date, the
chancellor entered an ex parte order granting the Owenses
temporary legal and physical custody of Tiffany. On February
20, 2017, the chancellor entered a temporary custody order
that continued to grant the Owenses temporary legal and
physical custody of Tiffany but also granted Farrah
reasonable visitation with Tiffany by mutual agreement with
In November 2017, the chancellor held a two-day hearing on
the Owenses' guardianship petition. On March 6, 2018, the
chancellor entered an order appointing the Owenses as
Tiffany's guardians. The chancellor found that
"Farrah's long and continuous absences, her failure
to exercise her parental rights, and her failure to fulfill
her parental responsibilities" provided a sufficient
evidentiary basis for desertion. The chancellor then
considered the Albright factors and determined that
all but one of the factors favored the Owenses. After concluding
that it was in Tiffany's best interest to remain with the
Owenses, the chancellor appointed them as Tiffany's
guardians, stated that they could claim Tiffany as a
dependent for income-tax purposes, and ordered Farrah to pay
the Owenses $157 a month in child support until Tiffany
reached the age of twenty-one or became emancipated.
Aggrieved, Farrah appeals.
"A chancellor's custody decision will be reversed
only if it was manifestly wrong or clearly erroneous, or if
the chancellor applied an erroneous legal standard."
Neely v. Welch, 194 So.3d 149, 155 (¶18) (Miss.
Ct. App. 2015). Where substantial evidence supports the
chancellor's findings of fact, this Court must not
reweigh the evidence but must instead defer to the
chancellor's findings. Id.
In child-custody cases, the best interest of the child is the
paramount concern. Burgev. Burge, 223
So.3d 888, 899 (¶37) (Miss. Ct. App. 2017). "In
custody battles between a natural parent and a third party,
it is presumed that it is in the child's best interest to
remain with his or her natural parent." Id.
(quoting Smith v. Smith, 97 So.3d 43, 46 (¶8)
(Miss. 2012)). Thus, a "third party must first clearly
rebut the natural-parent ...