Termination of Parental Assistance Due To a Child’s Poor Behavior in Mississippi

Under Mississippi law, a child can forfeit both child support and college assistance through his or her poor behavior.  A case recently decided by the Mississippi Court of Appeals provides a thorough examination of the issue.  In the case of Stasny v. Wages, No. 2012-CA-00567-COA, decided June 25, 2013, Lori Stasny and John Wages divorced in 2004.  The couple had two children during the marriage, Sarah and Tyler.  Stasny and Wages agreed to a joint custody agreement wherein neither would pay child support and both would equally contribute to the children’s vehicle expenses and college trust funds.  Four years later, Stasny and Wages ended up back in court requesting a modification of the custody arrangement.  They decided that Lori Stasny, the mother, would have custody of Sarah and Tyler would be in the custody of his father, John Wages.

A year later, Stasny petitioned to have Wages’ parental rights terminated, and both children joined in the petition.  A guardian ad litem was appointed and informed the court that Sarah, then 16, desired to have Wages parental rights terminated so that she could be adopted by her stepfather.  However, the court could not find grounds for termination.  Stasny tried to negotiate with Wages by offering to terminate his financial obligations towards the children if he terminated his rights, but he refused.  The case sat on the docket unresolved.

In 2010, Stasny sought to be awarded child support and to modify the settlement agreement.  By this time, Tyler had reached the age of emancipation, so the only concern was Wages’ financial obligations towards 18-year-old Sarah.  A hearing was held, encompassing the request for child support and the still pending petition to terminate Wages’ parental rights.  At the hearing, Sarah testified that she had not seen her father in over two years, despite the fact that she was scheduled to see him every other weekend.  She said she had other priorities which took precedence over her relationship with her father.

Based on the evidence, the chancellor concluded that Sarah’s actions towards her father were clear and extreme enough to warrant forfeiture of her father’s financial obligations towards her and reversal of his agreement to pay for college expenses.  The court of appeals upheld this determination.

The court of appeals summarized the law in Mississippi concerning termination of child support or college education responsibility as follows:

  1. Termination of child support—in order for a child to reject the parent-child relationship to the extent that child support is forfeited, the child’s actions must have been both clear and extreme.  Courts will generally look at whether the child has abandoned the parent-child relationship, such as refusing to visit with or communicate with the parent for an extended period of time.
  2. Termination of support of college-aged children—if the child is college-aged, as was Sarah, the court need not find the child’s actions clear and extreme.  Instead, a parent’s duty to support a college-aged child is dependent not only on the child’s aptitude for college, but on the child’s behavior toward and relationship with the parent.  The court will look at whether the parent-child relationship makes the child deserving of the additional financial burden placed on the parent.  Mississippi courts applying this standard have found no obligation to support a college-aged child where the child refused to visit the parent and spoke disparagingly towards the parent.

If you are a parent seeking to terminate your parental obligations towards a child who refuses to have a relationship with you, it is imperative you consult with a knowledgeable family law attorney.  An action to terminate your financial obligations is complex and will require the assistance of  a skilled child support attorney.  Similarly, if you are a child who stands to lose the financial assistance of a parent due to your alleged poor behavior, you should act quickly to secure the representation of an experienced child support attorney.  You need to begin mounting your defense to such allegations.

The Law Office of Matthew S. Poole has extensive experience in a wide array of family law matters, including termination of parental obligations due to a child’s poor behavior.  We can assist you in your action, whether it involves an action to terminate financial obligations or defense of a motion to terminate.  Call us today at (601) 573-7429 to schedule a consultation.

Tags: ,