MARITAL FAULT AS SOMETHING ELSE

October 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’ve talked here before about how lawyers on appeal often argue that the chancellor’s decision should be reversed on the basis that he or she used custody as a sanction for marital misconduct. And there is case law that supports that argument. Brekeen v. Brekeen, 880 So.2d 280, 287 (Miss. 2004); Smullins v. Smullins, 77 So.3d 119, 129 (Miss.App. 2011); Albright v. Albright, 437 So.2d 1003, 1005 (Miss. 1983).

The thing is that custody may not be used to punish the misconduct, nor may the misconduct be the sole basis, but misconduct may properly be considered as one among the other several applicable Albright factors, and it may be considered as proof of several other factors.

In the case of Collins v. Collins, decided by the COA on October 2, 2012, the chancellor had proof of Kim Collins’ adulterous relationship with a man (Haley) other than her husband, Jarrad. The evidence was that she took trips to rendezvous with the man, leaving her son Conner with someone else, presumably her husband. She spent dozens of hours talking on the phone with her paramour and texting him. Judge Russell’s opinion says:

¶18. It appears from the record that Kim’s adultery was important to show how her behavior with the minor child changed during that period. There was testimony that since her involvement with Haley, Kim appeared to be gone more often and was not around Connor as much as Jarrad. Jarrad’s mother testified that Kim had not been a good mother the last two years because Kim put her relationship with another man before her son.

* * *

¶20. As in Smullins, the chancellor expressed concern over Kim’s involvement with another man because of its impact on her relationship with Connor. Thus, the chancellor’s findings “were not a sanction against an adulterous parent . . . .” Smullins, 77 So. 3d. at 129 (¶46).

When you present your child custody case, don’t put all your eggs in the adultery or other misconduct basket without adding how you want the judge to fit that testimony into the other Albright factors. For instance, when your client testifies about the misconduct, ask why that behavior concerns him or her vis a vis custody, and prepare the witness to address continuity of care, stability, parenting skills, demonstrated willingness and capacity to provide care for the child, physical and mental health, emotional ties, and any other conceivable relevant factors. Only after you have done that should you harp on the moral fitness factor.

in Collins, the chancellor had an ample basis to find that Kim had undercut her own case for custody by choosing to put her relationship with the other man ahead of her attention for her son. When the chancellor put it in those terms, the COA had no way to go but to affirm.

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