2002 Regular Session

To: Judiciary A

By: Representative Reeves

House Bill 853



     SECTION 1.  Section 9-5-255, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     9-5-255.  (1)  Except as provided by subsection (8) of this section, the * * * chancellor of each chancery court district in the state, or in the event there is more than one chancellor for the district, than upon a majority vote of all chancellors for the district, may apply to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court for the appointment of one or more persons to serve as family masters in chancery in each of the counties or for all of the counties within the respective chancery court district if the * * * chancellor, or in the event there is more than one chancellor for the district, then all chancellors for the district, states in writing that the chancery court district's docket is crowded enough to warrant an appointment of a family master.  The Chief Justice shall determine from the information provided by the

 * * * chancellors if the need exists for the appointment of a family master.  If the Chief Justice determines that the need exists, a family master shall be appointed.  If the Chief Justice determines that the need does not exist, no family master shall be appointed.

     (2)  Family masters in chancery shall have only the power to hear cases and recommend orders establishing, modifying and enforcing orders for support in matters referred to them by chancellors and judges of the circuit, county or family courts of such county, and over all child support and paternity matters that are brought pursuant to the Mississippi Uniform Law on Paternity and referred to them by such judges provided that one (1) of the parties in the case is the Department of Human Services.  As used in this section, "order for support" shall have the same meaning as such term is defined in Section 93-11-101.

     (3)  In all cases in which an order for support has been established and the person to whom the support obligation is owed is a nonrelated Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) family on whose behalf the Department of Human Services is providing services, the family master in chancery or any other judge or court of competent jurisdiction shall, upon proper pleading by the department and upon appropriate proceedings conducted thereon, order that the department may recover and that the obligor shall be liable for reasonable attorney's fees and court costs which the department incurs in enforcing and collecting amounts of support obligation which exceed administrative fees collected and current support owed by the obligor.

     (4)  Persons appointed as family masters in chancery pursuant to this section shall meet and possess all of the qualifications required of chancery and circuit court judges of this state, shall remain in office at the pleasure of the appointing chancellor, and shall receive reasonable compensation for services rendered by them, as fixed by law, or allowed by the court.  Family masters in chancery shall be paid out of any available funds budgeted by the board of supervisors of the county in which they serve; provided, however, in the event that a family master in chancery is appointed to serve in more than one county within a chancery court district, then the compensation and expenses of such master shall be equally apportioned among and paid by each of the counties in which such master serves.  The chancery clerk shall issue to such persons a certificate of appointment.

     (5)  Family masters in chancery shall have power to administer oaths, to take the examination of witnesses in cases referred to them, to examine and report upon all matters referred to them, and they shall have all the powers in cases referred to them properly belonging to masters or commissioners in chancery according to the practice of equity courts as heretofore exercised.

     (6)  Family masters in chancery shall have power to issue subpoenas for witnesses to attend before them to testify in any matter referred to them or generally in the cause, and the subpoenas shall be executed in like manner as subpoenas issued by the clerk of the court.  If any witness shall fail to appear, the master shall proceed by process of attachment to compel the witness to attend and give evidence.

 * * *

     (7)  In all cases heard by masters pursuant to this section, such masters shall make a written report to the chancellor or judge who refers the case to him.  Such chancellor or judge may accept, reject or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made and reported by the master, and may recommit the matter to the master with instructions.  In all cases referred to such master, initialing for approval by the master of a proposed decree shall be sufficient to constitute the master's report.

     (8)  Any chancellor required by this section to appoint a person or persons to serve as family masters in chancery may forego the requirement to appoint such masters or if family masters have been appointed, such chancellor may terminate such appointments and leave such positions vacant, only if an exemption from the United States Department of Health and Human Services is obtained for the county or counties involved.  Such positions may remain vacant for as long as such exemption remains in effect.

     SECTION 2.  This act shall take effect and be in force from and after its passage.