No Longer Competing Jurisdiction over TPR

May 14, 2019 § 5 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.


§ 5 Responses to No Longer Competing Jurisdiction over TPR

  • Monique Brown-Barrett says:

    Distinction in roles? Consider Chancery court acting as a youth court division ( when no county ct exists) where MAS states county court as youth court shall have the exclusive jurisdiction for the tpr vs when chancery court acting pursuant to its original jurisdiction upon a petition for tpr and adoption filed by a separate person filing request for tpr and adoption in chancery after having been denied custody and or concurrent adoption plan in youth court .
    What are the roles of the chancellor ? Are there any distinctions? Roles and procedures? Just a thought. Does the chancellor have duty to bring about the objectives of the legislature as stated in MAS ?

  • Monique Brown-Barrett says:

    M.A.S. Case states that chancery ct has jurisdiction of TPR with the exception of when the child has already been under youth ct jurisdiction as a neglected or abused child, but there is the further problem bc there is an exception to the exception . MAS holds that when the child is under the youth ct sitting under county court , however a footnote in the case states that there are occasions where a county does not have a county court, and in those counties the youth court sits as a part of the chancery court. So in that case it appears that the youth court would still have jurisdiction but in chancery and thus the chancery court must be acting as a youth ct division and continue within and follow the rules and dictates and orders of the youth court, just as if the youth ct were in a county court. Regardless the intent of the legislature as discussed in MAS must be achieved even if the the youth court division is in chancery in that county. To do otherwise would present an equal protection for children in counties without a county court vs those with children in counties with a county court. Therefore the chancery ct in counties without a county court must also provide the same protections the legislature intended to be available to all children in a youth court for a tpr and adoption, whether in counties with or without a county court, by disallowing persons to forum shop, and the other objectives that were specifically stated in MAS .

  • Jim Potuk says:

    Thanks judge. It now appears that the Attorney General’s office has adopted that position, or at least that is my understanding. This is a fascinating case.

  • Paulette Turner says:

    Isn’t it also true that the Youth Court that has jurisdiction under the Youth Court may give the prospective adoptive parent(s) leave to pursue the termination and the adoption in the same action in Chancery Court?

    • Larry says:

      My understanding is that YC would have to relinquish jurisdiction to chancery before chancery could take it up. I question whether jurisdiction over just the TPR could be released or whether jurisdiction over the child completely must be released.

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