No Longer Competing Jurisdiction over TPR
May 14, 2019 § 3 Comments
You might recall that in the case of MDHS v. Watts, 116 So.3d 1056 (Miss. 2012), the MSSC held that a chancery court was not required to hold its exclusive jurisdiction over adoption in abeyance to allow a youth court to proceed to termination of parental rights (TPR) of the parents.
When Watts was decided, there were two TPR statutes: one was a stand-alone statute that allowed for TPR without adoption (although that was proven not true in Chism v. Bright), and the other was part of the adoption statute.
Some four years after Watts the legislature amended the TPR and adoption statutes and made important changes that had the effect of eviscerating Watts. It added MCA § 93-17-7(1) to the adoption statutes. That section states: “No infant shall be adopted to any person if a parent whose parental rights have not been terminated under the Mississippi Termination of Parental Rights Law (MTPRL), after having been summoned, shall appear and object thereto before the making of a decree of adoption.” Simply put, now all TPRs proceed under the MTPRL.
Another change was to MCA § 93-15-105. Added is subsection (1), which says that if the youth court has taken jurisdiction over an abused or neglected child, it has original exclusive jurisdiction over any TPR proceeding as to the parents of that child. In the case of M.A.S. v. MDHS, 245 So.3d 410, 415 (Miss. 2018), the MSSC held that:
¶ 17. There is also no longer competing jurisdiction between youth court and chancery court over parental-rights terminations involving abused or neglected children. House Bill 1240 added a new Section 93–15–105, which covers jurisdiction and venue of termination-of-parental-rights proceedings. Miss. Code Ann. § 93–15–105(1) (Supp. 2017). Under Section 93–15–105(1), “[t]he chancery court has original exclusive jurisdiction over all termination of parental rights proceedings” with one important exception. In direct contradiction to Watts, Section 95–15–105(1) unequivocally provides that a “county court, when sitting as a youth court with jurisdiction of a child in an abuse or neglect proceeding, has original exclusive jurisdiction to hear a petition for termination of parental rights against a parent of that child.” Miss. Code Ann. § 93–15–105(1) (Supp. 2017) (emphasis added).
¶ 18. This means that when a petition for adoption is filed in chancery court— as it must be [Fn omitted] — and the parents of that child contest the adoption, amended Section 93–17–7(1) now requires that the parents’ rights be terminated under the MTPRL before the contested adoption can be granted. The MTPRL provides that the chancery court also has jurisdiction over the termination proceeding unless the youth court already has jurisdiction over the child in an abuse or neglect proceeding. Miss. Code Ann. § 93–15–105(1) (Supp. 2017). If the youth court already has jurisdiction over the child in an abuse and neglect proceeding, then the youth court has exclusive original jurisdiction to hear a petition to terminate parental rights. So a person seeking to adopt the abused or neglected child no longer can simply seek the termination of the parents’ rights as part of her adoption petition. Instead, the MTPRL makes clear she must first petition for the termination of parental rights in youth court, before she can seek an adoption in chancery court.
Watts on Westlaw now flies a red flag.
It’s not all that uncommon for foster parents who have gotten a child by youth court action to want to adopt their child. As long as youth court retains jurisdiction, however, the prerequisite TPR must be in that court, and keep in mind that the goal in youth court is reunification, which is not necessarily the goal of chancery court.