When the Parents are the Last to Know, the Family Court Just May Lack Jurisdiction to Rule

Mother and Father have two small Children. Mother and Father both have substance abuse problems.

Mississippi family court appoints Maternal Grandparents as the legal guardians of the Children.

At first, the Maternal Grandparents allow the Children’s Paternal Grandmother the same visitation as was originally awarded to Father by the divorce court.

But the Maternal Grandparents later reduce the Paternal Grandmother’s visitation.

So the Paternal Grandmother files a family court case seeking (more) grandparent visitation.

At trial, the family court awards Paternal Grandmother the same amount of timesharing that was awarded to Father in the original divorce court order.

Maternal Grandparents appeal.

This case stands out for pitting grandparent against grandparent … and totally overlooking the Children’s parents, even though they are both still alive.

And it is on this oversight that the appellate court hangs its hat in setting aside the family court’s ruling. The appellate court holds that the failure to name the Children’s parents as parties in the case is a jurisdictional defect depriving the family court of power to proceed on the Paternal Grandmother’s petition.

The appellate court could have stopped there but, also interestingly, elected to offer the family court additional guidance for its next round on this case. Specifically, the appellate court directed the family court to make more findings regarding the reasons for its award of visitation to the Paternal Grandmother, as required by Mississippi statute in all grandparent visitation cases.

It is not clear why the family court failed to make proper statutory findings at trial, but it is possible that the divorce court thought the applicable statute did not apply because it is expressed in terms of suit against parents, rather than guardians or custodians. But the appellate court finds that the statute does apply in the case at hand.

Read more in this Mississippi appellate case.