2007 Regular Session
To: Judiciary A
By: Representative Lott
AN ACT TO AMEND SECTIONS 93-5-24 AND 93-11-65, MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, TO PROHIBIT A COURT FROM MODIFYING AN ORDER OF CHILD CUSTODY IF THE PARTY WHO HAS CUSTODY OF THE CHILD HAS BEEN CALLED TO ACTIVE MILITARY DUTY; TO PROHIBIT A COURT FROM BASING A BEST INTEREST DETERMINATION ON THE SEPARATION OF A PARENT FROM THE CHILD DUE TO ACTIVE MILITARY DUTY; TO PROVIDE EXCEPTIONS; AND FOR RELATED PURPOSES.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI:
SECTION 1. 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 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 (1) 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) There shall be no presumption that it is in the best interest of a child that a mother be awarded either legal or physical custody.
(8) If a parent is called to military service, the court shall not make a best interest determination based on that parent's separation from the child or children due to military service unless the party has died while on active duty.
(9) 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.
(10) (a) (i) In every proceeding where the custody of a child is in dispute, there shall be a rebuttable presumption that it is detrimental to the child and not in the best interest of the child to be placed in sole custody, joint legal custody or joint physical custody of a parent who has a history of perpetrating family violence. The court may find a history of perpetrating family violence if the court finds, by a preponderance of the evidence, one (1) incident of family violence that has resulted in serious bodily injury to, or a pattern of family violence against, the party making the allegation or a family household member of either party. The court shall make written findings to document how and why the presumption was or was not triggered.
(ii) This presumption may only be rebutted by a preponderance of the evidence.
(iii) In determining whether the presumption set forth in subsection (10) has been overcome, the court shall consider all of the following factors:
1. Whether the perpetrator of family violence has demonstrated that giving sole or joint physical or legal custody of a child to the perpetrator is in the best interest of the child because of the other parent's absence, mental illness, substance abuse or such other circumstances which affect the best interest of the child or children;
2. Whether the perpetrator has successfully completed a batterer's treatment program;
3. Whether the perpetrator has successfully completed a program of alcohol or drug abuse counseling if the court determines that counseling is appropriate;
4. Whether the perpetrator has successfully completed a parenting class if the court determines the class to be appropriate;
5. If the perpetrator is on probation or parole, whether he or she is restrained by a protective order granted after a hearing, and whether he or she has complied with its terms and conditions; and
6. Whether the perpetrator of domestic violence has committed any further acts of domestic violence.
(iv) The court shall make written findings to document how and why the presumption was or was not rebutted.
(b) (i) If custody is awarded to a suitable third person, it shall not be until the natural grandparents of the child have been excluded and such person shall not allow access to a violent parent except as ordered by the court.
(ii) If the court finds that both parents have a history of perpetrating family violence, but the court finds that parental custody would be in the best interest of the child, custody may be awarded solely to the parent less likely to continue to perpetrate family violence. In such a case, the court may mandate completion of a treatment program by the custodial parent.
(c) If the court finds that the allegations of domestic violence are completely unfounded, 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 allegations.
(d) (i) A court may award visitation by a parent who committed domestic or family violence only if the court finds that adequate provision for the safety of the child and the parent who is a victim of domestic or family violence can be made.
(ii) In a visitation order, a court may take any of the following actions:
1. Order an exchange of the child to occur in a protected setting;
2. Order visitation supervised in a manner to be determined by the court;
3. Order the perpetrator of domestic or family violence to attend and complete to the satisfaction of the court a program of intervention for perpetrators or other designated counseling as a condition of visitation;
4. Order the perpetrator of domestic or family violence to abstain from possession or consumption of alcohol or controlled substances during the visitation and for twenty-four (24) hours preceding the visitation;
5. Order the perpetrator of domestic or family violence to pay a fee to defray the cost of supervised visitation;
6. Prohibit overnight visitation;
7. Require a bond from the perpetrator of domestic or family violence for the return and safety of the child; or
8. Impose any other condition that is deemed necessary to provide for the safety of the child, the victim of family or domestic violence, or other family or household member.
(iii) Whether or not visitation is allowed, the court may order the address of the child or the victim of family or domestic violence to be kept confidential.
(e) The court may refer but shall not order an adult who is a victim of family or domestic violence to attend counseling relating to the victim's status or behavior as a victim, individually or with the perpetrator of domestic or family violence, as a condition of receiving custody of a child or as a condition of visitation.
(f) If a court allows a family or household member to supervise visitation, the court shall establish conditions to be followed during visitation.
SECTION 2. Section 93-11-65, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:
93-11-65. (1) (a) (i) In addition to the right to proceed under Section 93-5-23, Mississippi Code of 1972, and in addition to the remedy of habeas corpus in proper cases, and other existing remedies, the chancery court of the proper county shall have jurisdiction to entertain suits for the custody, care, support and maintenance of minor children and to hear and determine all such matters, and shall, if need be, require bond, sureties or other guarantee to secure any order for periodic payments for the maintenance or support of a child. 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. Proceedings may be brought by or against a resident or nonresident of the State of Mississippi, whether or not having the actual custody of minor children, for the purpose of judicially determining the legal custody of a child. All actions herein authorized may be brought in the county where the child is actually residing, or in the county of the residence of the party who has actual custody, or of the residence of the defendant. Process shall be had upon the parties as provided by law for process in person or by publication, if they be nonresidents of the state or residents of another jurisdiction or are not found therein after diligent search and inquiry or are unknown after diligent search and inquiry; provided that the court or chancellor in vacation may fix a date in termtime or in vacation to which process may be returnable and shall have power to proceed in termtime or vacation.
(ii) * * * If the court finds that both parties are fit and proper persons to have custody of the children, and that either party is able to adequately provide for the care and maintenance of the children, the chancellor may consider the preference of a child of twelve (12) years of age or older as to the parent with whom the child would prefer to live in determining what would be in the best interest and welfare of the child. The chancellor shall place on the record the reason or reasons for which the award of custody was made and explain in detail why the wishes of any child were or were not honored.
(iii) If a party is called to active duty military service, the court shall not make a best interest determination based on that party's separation from the child or children due to military service unless the party has died while on active duty.
(b) An order of child support shall specify the sum to be paid weekly or otherwise. In addition to providing for support and education, the order shall also provide for the support of the child prior to the making of the order for child support, and such other expenses as the court may deem proper.
(c) The court may require the payment to be made to the custodial parent, or to some person or corporation to be designated by the court as trustee, but if the child or custodial parent is receiving public assistance, the Department of Human Services shall be made the trustee.
(d) The noncustodial parent's liabilities for past education and necessary support and maintenance and other expenses are limited to a period of one (1) year next preceding the commencement of an action.
(2) Provided further, that where the 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 in proportion to the relative financial ability of each.
(3) 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.
(4) When a charge of abuse or neglect of a child first arises in the course of a custody or maintenance action pending in the chancery court pursuant to this section, the chancery court may proceed with the investigation, hearing and determination of such abuse or neglect charge as a part of its hearing and determination of the custody or maintenance issue as between the parents, as provided in Section 43-21-151, notwithstanding the other provisions of the Youth Court Law. The proceedings in chancery court on the abuse or neglect charge shall be confidential in the same manner as provided in youth court proceedings, and the chancery court shall appoint a guardian ad litem in such cases, as provided under Section 43-21-121 for youth court proceedings, who shall be an attorney. In determining whether any portion of a guardian ad litem's fee shall be assessed against any party or parties as a cost of court for reimbursement to the county, the court shall consider each party's individual ability to pay. 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 the public.
(5) Each party to a paternity or child support proceeding shall notify the other within five (5) days after any change of address. In addition, the noncustodial and custodial parent shall file and update, with the court and with the state case registry, information on that party's location and identity, including social security number, residential and mailing addresses, telephone numbers, photograph, driver's license number, and name, address and telephone number of the party's employer. This information shall be required upon entry of an order or within five (5) days of a change of address.
(6) In any case subsequently enforced by the Department of Human Services pursuant to Title IV-D of the Social Security Act, the court shall have continuing jurisdiction.
(7) In any subsequent child support enforcement action between the parties, upon sufficient showing that diligent effort has been made to ascertain the location of a party, due process requirements for notice and service of process shall be deemed to be met with respect to the party upon delivery of written notice to the most recent residential or employer address filed with the state case registry.
(8) 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 schoolhaving attained the age of eighteen (18) years, unless the child is disabled, or
(d) Voluntarily moves from the home of the custodial parent or guardian, establishes independent living arrangements, obtains full-time employment and discontinues educational endeavors prior to attaining the age of twenty-one (21) years, or
(e) Joins the military and serves on a full-time basis, or
(f) Is convicted of a felony and is incarcerated for committing such felony, or
(g) Cohabits with another person without the approval of the parent obligated to pay support.
(9) A determination of emancipation does not terminate any obligation of the noncustodial parent to satisfy arrearage existing as of the date of emancipation; the total amount of periodic support due prior to the emancipation plus any periodic amounts ordered paid toward the arrearage shall continue to be owed until satisfaction of the arrearage in full, in addition to the right of the person for whom the obligation is owed to execute for collection as may be provided by law.
(10) Upon motion of a party requesting temporary child support pending a determination of parentage, temporary support shall be ordered if there is clear and convincing evidence of paternity on the basis of genetic tests or other evidence, unless the court makes written findings of fact on the record that the award of temporary support would be unjust or inappropriate in a particular case.
SECTION 3. This act shall take effect and be in force from and after its passage.