Don’t Just Ask for a Restraining Order

Have you been physically assaulted by your spouse or the father (or mother) of your child? Have you contacted the local police and other authorities regarding the abuse? Oftentimes children are the primary victim of their own parents’ hatred of one another. If your children have witnessed one or more incidents of physical abuse, they are likely viewed by Mississippi law as victims of abuse and neglect themselves and have multiple avenues of recourse. While courts with criminal jurisdiction such as Justice Court, County Court, and Municipal Courts are able to provide you with a peace bond or other means of restraining your spouse/opposing parent from the harassment and stalking that so often accompanies domestic abuse, they have severe limitations.

Unfortunately, the separation of powers between the various types of courts in Mississippi can present additional challenges to the actual victims of domestic abuse. Mississippi Chancery Courts are of limited jurisdiction of all matters set forth in §159 of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890. The State of Mississippi is comprised of twenty (20) Chancery Court Districts (see §9-5-3, Mississippi Constitution, 1890). There are six (6) specific subject-matter areas in which Chancery Court exercises exclusive, complete, and ongoing jurisdiction, including “All Matters in Equity” and “Minor’s Business”. “Equity” is an often confusing and misinterpreted term. According to Black’s Law Dictionary (Seventh Ed.), equity has a four part definition, the first two of which are particularly telling as to the depth and breadth of Mississippi Chancery Court subject-matter jurisdiction. First, Black’s asserts that equity is “Fairness, impartiality, evenhanded dealing”. Secondly, It is “The body of principles constituting what is fair and right; natural law”. Clearly equity isn’t a lucid concept, rather a notion that is reflective of available recourse as to principles of justice.

Victims of domestic violence are able to obtain relief from Chancery Court per the procedure set forth in Mississippi Code Annotated §93-21-3 as well as those governed by Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 65. As codified, the victim of domestic violence, married or unmarried, may go so far as to award the abused parent possession of the home or to require that the perpetrator provide adequate housing including utilities and other related expenses. Also, Chancellors are empowered by statute to encumber jointly held assets and make adequate provision for the care and support of minor children as well as the victim. Custody of the children, child support, and visitation are all within the realm of properly exercised equitable judicial discretion. Equity permits that Chancellors have broad authority in the spirit of protecting those who cannot protect themselves.

In short, Mississippi Chancery Courts are empowered by legislative proclamation to address a variety of issues that adversely affect children, as they too are considered victims of domestic abuse. Often it is assumed that a court other than Chancery Court is able to afford domestic violence victims some level of redress outside of the scope of a restraining order itself. However, as previously stated, the exclusive nature of Chancery Court jurisdiction as to “Minor’s Business” and “All Matters in Equity” precludes other arms of the judiciary from ordering such relief to victims.

The victim of domestic violence not only is afforded relief in various forms both equitable and by statute, but retains significant advantages in the determination of both temporary and physical custody. Mississippi Code Annotated §93-5-24 provides in pertinent part that;

“there shall be a rebuttable presumption that it is detrimental to the child and not in the best interest (i.e. in regards to the commonly cited Albright v. Albright factors) of the child to be placed in the sole custody, joint legal custody or joint physical custody of a parent who has a history of perpetrating family violence. The court may find a history of perpetrating family violence if the court finds, by a preponderance of the evidence, one (1) incident of family violence that has resulted in serious bodily injury to, or a pattern of family violence against, the party making the allegation or a family household member of either party. The court shall make written findings to document how and why the presumption was or was not triggered. This presumption may only be rebutted by a preponderance of the evidence.”

It is clear that victims, parents and children alike, are afforded significant protections from those who would harm them. Although the presumption that violence perpetrators are not proper custodians or decision-makers for a child may be overcome it presents a sufficiently robust obstacle to those persons who have been restrained, enjoined, or otherwise found civilly liable for home-trauma. To be clear, the ball is not in the abuser’s court. Our office is fully able to address all of the challenges that domestic violence creates.

If you or someone you care about is a domestic violence victim and is in need of an attorney with experience as to the best path forward, my staff and I are ready to provide you with the resources to obtain justice. Our office exclusively handles domestic litigation and is unlike so many other firms who lack the client base to remain focused on these matters. We have 14 years of experience in this sub-category of Mississippi law and the will, desire, and knowledge to ensure that equity will be done.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi domestic attorney who specializes in family litigation. He was admitted to practice in 2004.

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