2002 Regular Session
To: Judiciary A
By: Representative Reeves
AN ACT TO AMEND SECTIONS 93-5-23 AND 93-5-24, MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, TO CLARIFY THAT NEITHER PARENT SHALL BE GIVEN PREFERENCE FOR CUSTODY OF A CHILD BASED ON GENDER; AND FOR RELATED PURPOSES.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI:
SECTION 1. Section 93-5-23, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:
93-5-23. When a divorce shall be decreed from the bonds of matrimony, the court may, in its discretion, having regard to the circumstances of the parties and the nature of the case, as may seem equitable and just, make all orders touching the care, custody and maintenance of the children of the marriage, and also touching the maintenance and alimony of the wife or the husband, or any allowance to be made to her or him, and shall, if need be, require bond, sureties or other guarantee for the payment of the sum so allowed. Orders touching on the custody of the children of the marriage shall be made in accordance with the provisions of Section 93-5-24. The court may afterwards, on petition, change the decree, and make from time to time such new decrees as the case may require. However, where proof shows that both parents have separate incomes or estates, the court may require that each parent contribute to the support and maintenance of the children of the marriage in proportion to the relative financial ability of each. In the event a legally responsible parent has health insurance available to him or her through an employer or organization that may extend benefits to the dependents of such parent, any order of support issued against such parent may require him or her to exercise the option of additional coverage in favor of such children as he or she is legally responsible to support.
Whenever the court has ordered a party to make periodic payments for the maintenance or support of a child, but no bond, sureties or other guarantee has been required to secure such payments, and whenever such payments as have become due remain unpaid for a period of at least thirty (30) days, the court may, upon petition of the person to whom such payments are owing, or such person's legal representative, enter an order requiring that bond, sureties or other security be given by the person obligated to make such payments, the amount and sufficiency of which shall be approved by the court. The obligor shall, as in other civil actions, be served with process and shall be entitled to a hearing in such case.
Whenever in any proceeding in the chancery court concerning the custody of a child a party alleges that the child whose custody is at issue has been the victim of sexual or physical abuse by the other party, the court may, on its own motion, grant a continuance in the custody proceeding only until such allegation has been investigated by the Department of Human Services. At the time of ordering such continuance the court may direct the party, and his attorney, making such allegation of child abuse to report in writing and provide all evidence touching on the allegation of abuse to the Department of Human Services. The Department of Human Services shall investigate such allegation and take such action as it deems appropriate and as provided in such cases under the Youth Court Law (being Chapter 21 of Title 43, Mississippi Code of 1972) or under the laws establishing family courts (being Chapter 23 of Title 43, Mississippi Code of 1972).
If after investigation by the Department of Human Services or final disposition by the youth court or family court allegations of child abuse are found to be without foundation, the chancery court shall order the alleging party to pay all court costs and reasonable attorney's fees incurred by the defending party in responding to such allegation.
The court may investigate, hear and make a determination in a custody action when a charge of abuse and/or neglect arises in the course of a custody action as provided in Section 43-21-151, and in such cases the court shall appoint a guardian ad litem for the child as provided under Section 43-21-121, who shall be an attorney. Unless the chancery court's jurisdiction has been terminated, all disposition orders in such cases for placement with the Department of Human Services shall be reviewed by the court or designated authority at least annually to determine if continued placement with the department is in the best interest of the child or public.
The duty of support of a child terminates upon the emancipation of the child. The court may determine that emancipation has occurred and no other support obligation exists when the child:
(a) Attains the age of twenty-one (21) years, or
(b) Marries, or
(c) Discontinues full-time enrollment in school and obtains full-time employment prior to attaining the age of twenty-one (21) years, or
(d) Voluntarily moves from the home of the custodial parent or guardian and establishes independent living arrangements and obtains full-time employment prior to attaining the age of twenty-one (21) years.
No preference shall be given to any party to any custody case on account of gender, the male and female being presumed to be equally fit insofar as their respective genders are concerned.
SECTION 2. Section 93-5-24, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:
93-5-24. (1) Custody shall be awarded as follows according to the best interests of the child:
(a) Physical and legal custody to both parents jointly pursuant to subsections 2 through 7.
(b) Physical custody to both parents jointly pursuant to subsections 2 through 7 and legal custody to either parent.
(c) Legal custody to both parents jointly pursuant to subsections 2 through 7 and physical custody to either parent.
(d) Physical and legal custody to either parent.
(e) Upon a finding by the court that both of the parents of the child have abandoned or deserted such child or that both such parents are mentally, morally or otherwise unfit to rear and train the child the court may award physical and legal custody to:
(i) The person in whose home the child has been living in a wholesome and stable environment; or
(ii) Physical and legal custody to any other person deemed by the court to be suitable and able to provide adequate and proper care and guidance for the child.
In making an order for custody to either parent or to both parents jointly, the court, in its discretion, may require the parents to submit to the court a plan for the implementation of the custody order.
(2) Joint custody may be awarded where irreconcilable differences is the ground for divorce, in the discretion of the court, upon application of both parents.
(3) In other cases, joint custody may be awarded, in the discretion of the court, upon application of one (1) or both parents.
(4) There shall be a presumption that joint custody is in the best interest of a minor child where both parents have agreed to an award of joint custody.
(5) (a) For the purposes of this section, "joint custody" means joint physical and legal custody.
(b) For the purposes of this section, "physical custody" means those periods of time in which a child resides with or is under the care and supervision of one of the parents.
(c) For the purposes of this section, "joint physical custody" means that each of the parents shall have significant periods of physical custody. Joint physical custody shall be shared by the parents in such a way so as to assure a child of frequent and continuing contact with both parents.
(d) For the purposes of this section, "legal custody" means the decision-making rights, the responsibilities and the authority relating to the health, education and welfare of a child.
(e) For the purposes of this section, "joint legal custody" means that the parents or parties share the decision-making rights, the responsibilities and the authority relating to the health, education and welfare of a child. An award of joint legal custody obligates the parties to exchange information concerning the health, education and welfare of the minor child, and to confer with one another in the exercise of decision-making rights, responsibilities and authority.
An award of joint physical and legal custody obligates the parties to exchange information concerning the health, education and welfare of the minor child, and unless allocated, apportioned or decreed, the parents or parties shall confer with one another in the exercise of decision-making rights, responsibilities and authority.
(6) Any order for joint custody may be modified or terminated upon the petition of both parents or upon the petition of one (1) parent showing that a material change in circumstances has occurred.
(7) No preference shall be given to any party to any custody case on account of gender, the male and female being presumed to be equally fit insofar as their respective genders are concerned.
(8) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, access to records and information pertaining to a minor child, including but not limited to medical, dental and school records, shall not be denied to a parent because the parent is not the child's custodial parent.
SECTION 3. This act shall take effect and be in force from and after July 1, 2002.