Custody determinations may take place in the process of divorce proceedings or they may be stand-alone actions between unmarried parents or third-parties (i.e., grandparents, aunts, etc.). Like most legal actions, custody determinations may be contested or agreed. However, when the parties agree to a custody arrangement, the agreement must be reviewed by a judge in the Chancery Court of the proper jurisdiction. Once the court issues a Custody Order, that court retains exclusive continuing jurisdiction over that matter indefinitely, in accordance with the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, which the Mississippi legislature adopted in 2004.
Previous to 1983, Mississippi courts determined child custody through the lens of a maternal preference, placing children of “tender years” with mothers as a default position. However, in 1983, the Mississippi Supreme Court handed down the opinion called Albright v. Albright and abandoned the maternal preference and announced that age of the child (“tender years”) was only one of a number of factors courts should analyze when deciding custody matters. Ultimately, the court will determine which custody arrangement is in the best interest of the child. This can be a variation of sole physical custody, sole legal custody, joint physical custody, and joint legal custody.
The twelve factors delineated by the court are: (1) the age, health, and sex of a child; (2) which parent had continuing care of the child prior to separation; (3) which parent has the best parenting skills; (4) which has the willingness and capacity to provide primary child care; (5) the employment responsibilities of both parents; (the physical and mental health and age of parents; (7) emotional ties of the parent and child; (8) the parents’ moral fitness; (9) the child’s home, school, and community record; (10) the preference of a child at the age of twelve; (11) stability of the home environment and employment of each parent; and (12) other relevant factors.
Chancellors hearing custody actions need not analyze all of these factors and may at their discretion choose factors relevant to the facts of the case at bar. There is no mathematical formula for weighing one factor against the other. Each party may present evidence as to their merits under each factor, and the weight of that evidence may determine which party will “win.” Custody is a difficult decision with many implications. Therefore, chancellors do not take custody decisions lightly.
Baucum Law Firm, PLLC is the solo practice of Z.V. “Zeke” Baucum IV of Laurel, Mississippi. Zeke specializes in Family Law, Wills & Estates, Business Formation and Contracts, Intellectual Property, and General Litigation. If you have a custody dispute or modification, contact Baucum Law Firm, PLLC today!
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