Supreme Court agrees with chancellor in Tippah custody case

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

A Tippah County child custody decision was upheld by the Mississippi Supreme Court.
The 2009 case involved a child, his mother, father and his grandparents – all given fake names by the court for the sake of privacy.
According to Thursday’s ruling, William and Sarah Smith sought temporary and permanent custody of their grandson, Jason Wells. Later, they asked to adopt him and terminate the parental rights of his mother, their daughter, Tara, and the child’s biological father, Robert Johnson.
Chancellor Glenn Alderson declined to terminate the parental rights but awarded primary custody to the Smiths because of the mother’s alleged “long and continuous absences” from the child.
The high court agreed with the judge’s decisions that the mother had deserted the child and put the Smiths in possession of him, finding they were best to have custody.
The mother appealed and the case went to the Mississippi Court of Appeals, which agreed with her that the chancellor was wrong to assume she had given up her natural-parent rights.
COA sent the case back to Tippah County to consider that issue. The grandparents appealed.
The Smiths maintained that the judge first found the mother deserted the child, then concluded that they had assumed the responsibilities of a parent.
For the 7-2 majority, Chief Justice William Waller wrote the court agreed with the Smiths and reversed the Court of Appeals decision, saying the record supports the mother’s desertion and that Alderson was not wrong to override the natural-parent status.
The dissenters objected to the chancellor’s not making clear that the mother’s conduct was evidence of her intent to desert the child.

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