State ex rel. Guinn v. Watson

Decision Date22 April 1946
Docket Number37375.
Citation210 La. 265,26 So.2d 740
CourtLouisiana Supreme Court
PartiesSTATE ex rel. GUINN v. WATSON.

Rehearing Denied May 27, 1946.

Appeal from Ninth Judicial District Court, Parish of Rapides; Cleveland Dear, Judge.

John R. Hunter & Son, of Alexandria, for relator-appellant.

C F. Gravel, Jr., Vincent Hazleton, and K. Hundley, all of Alexandria, for respondent-appellee.


Relatrix in this case, Mrs. Pauline Guinn, instituted habeas corpus proceedings against respondent, Mrs. Dixie Watson, to obtain the care and custody of relatrix' illegitimate child, a girl three years old at the time the case was tried in the court below, now about six years of age. The lower court after a trial on the merits, rendered judgment rejecting relatrix' demands and recalling, vacating annulling, rescinding, and setting aside the writ of habeas corpus theretofore granted. From this judgment relatrix appealed to this court.

The little girl whose custody relatrix seeks in these proceedings was born in the Memorial Mercy Home Hospital in the City of New Orleans on August 22, 1940. For some time prior to the birth of the child, the mother, who was unmarried, was employed in Alexandria as a hat-check girl in a night club, as a clerk in a department store, and as a waitress in various restaurants. After the child's birth, the mother returned to Alexandria, leaving the child at the hospital, and did not see her daughter, insofar as the record discloses, until some time in March, 1941, when the child was about six months old. At that time relatrix went to New Orleans, and, as her counsel state in brief, upon her representation to the hospital authorities that she was taking the child to the home of her sister, she was permitted to have the baby, whom she took to Alexandria to the home of her landlady, where she was renting a room. A few days thereafter, relatrix' sister and her aunt took the infant child to the home of relatrix' parents in Grant Parish, near Alexandria. The evidence is conflicting as to what happened on this occasion, but relatrix' father admits that he refused to take the child. He testified on the trial that he 'did not want that child here', giving thereafter as his reasons that he was trying to make a crop and did not see how he could care for the baby at that time.

The infant was then taken back to relatrix in Alexandria and shortly thereafter was placed in the custody and care of Mrs. Dixie Watson, respondent herein, in whose care and custody the child has been ever since--for a period of two and one-half years at the time of the trial in September, 1943, and for a period of about five years at the present time.

Relatrix was about 20 years of age at the time the child was born. After her return from New Orleans with the child in March of 1941, she was employed (until the date of her marriage) in Alexandria at various cafes, restaurants, laundries, and a bowling alley. She states that it was her intention at the time of her return from New Orleans to place the child in the care and custody of her parents, who refused to accept the child, as herein-above set forth. She actually kept the child with her only a few days before placing her in the care of respondent, who took the baby to her home of her own free will and with her husband's consent.

On January 17, 1942, relatrix married Leroy Guinn. The child whose custody is the object of these proceedings was at that time about one and one-half years of age. After the marriage, the mother and her husband (except for a period of approximately one month during which they were in Oklahoma) maintained a home in Alexandria and lived together until January 2, 1943, when Mr. Guinn was inducted into the Armed Forces of the United States. During this period of time, which was almost a year, relatrix' husband was steadily employed with the exception of a short interval, and relatrix did not work. After her husband entered the Armed Forces, she resumed employment at a laundry in Alexandria, where she was still employed at the time this suit was instituted on August 31, 1943, her husband being at that time with the Armed Forces in North Africa.

The rule in this state seems to be clear that the mother has a superior right to the custody of her child over third persons, but that this right must yield to the superior right of the State to deprive her of the care and possession of her child in the event the physical, mental, and moral welfare of the child requires it. State ex rel. Castille v. Cooke et al., 183 La. 404, 164 So. 153, and authorities therein cited.

In the case of State ex rel. Harris v. McCall et ux., 184 La. 1036, 168 So. 291, 292, this court said: 'Although parents have a natural right to the custody of their children, nevertheless the state has an interest in children which goes beyond the mere parental right. In all cases involving their custody, the welfare of the children must be considered, and should prevail over the mere parental right to their possession. State v. Dartez, 154 La. 722, 98 [210 La. 271] So. 164; State v. Stanga, 161 La. 978, 109 So. 783; Davis v. Willis, 169 La. 13, 124 So. 129; State v. Spiers, 170 La. 454, 128 So. 275.'

The rule set out hereinabove, that is, that the welfare of the child is of paramount importance in determining who is entitled to custody of the child, has consistently been followed by the courts of this state. State ex rel. Castille v. Cooke and State ex rel. Harris v. McCall, supra; State ex rel. Lassere v. Michel et al., 105 La. 741, 30 So. 122, 54 L.R.A. 927; Ex parte Ryan, 126 La. 449, 52 So. 573; State ex rel. Peter v. Stanga et ux., 161 La. 978, 109 So. 783; Davis v. Willis et al., 169 La. 13, 124 So. 129; State ex rel. Stockstill v. Spiers et ux., 170 La. 454, 128 So. 275.

Counsel for respondent cite and call to our attention the case of United States ex rel. Schneider v. Sauvage et ux., 3 Cir., 91 F. 490, 492, in which case the court, in discussing the law with reference to the custody of a minor child, in our opinion very wisely and properly said: 'The general trend of the best-considered decisions of our American courts seems to be that when a child of tender years has been surrendered by its parent or parents to the care of another, where the new relationship has been allowed to continue a number of years, and the duty of a parent, in care, in nurture, and in affection, has been faithfully rendered by the foster parents, the courts will not give any active aid to the parent to reclaim the custody of the surrendered child, if convinced that the child will be properly cared for by the foster parents, and the child is content to stay. It will be noted that the first and principal inquiry, the 'polestar,' as it has been said, by which the courts are guided, is, what is for the best interests of the child? The several rights of the parent and foster parent are secondary to this principal question. That the welfare of the child, rather than the supposed absolute right of the parent, is the end the court seeks, is clear. * * *'

The rule that the mother has a superior right to the custody of her children applies to illegitimate children as well as to legitimate children, and no distinction is made with reference to her rights in either respect. Revised Civil Code, Article 256. However, her rights in either case are not absolute but must yield to the welfare and best interest of the child.

At the time of the trial of this suit in the lower court, relatrix testified that it was her intention to secure the custody of the child in this proceeding and place her in the care and keeping of her parents, who, according to their testimony were then ready, willing, and able to rear the child, although relatrix' father had previously refused to take the child when she was about...

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29 cases
  • T., In re
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan — District of US
    • November 7, 1967
    ...not preclude an award of custody. In re Petition of Dickholtz (1950), 341 Ill.App. 400, 94 N.E.2d 89, 91; State ex. rel. Guinn, v. Watson (1946), 210 La. 266, 26 So.2d 740, 743; Ware v. Muench (1935), 232 Mo.App. 41, 89 S.W.2d 707, 715; Commonwealth ex rel. Pressens, v. Siegler (1950), 167 ......
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    ...the State to deprive a parent of the custody of his child if the best interest and welfare of the child require it. State ex rel. Guinn v. Watson, 210 La. 265, 26 So.2d 740; State ex rel. Graham v. Garrard, 213 La. 318, 34 So.2d 792, and cases therein cited; State ex rel. Mouton v. Williams......
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    ...164 So. 160.9 Davis v. Willis, 169 La. 13, 124 So. 129; State ex rel. Munson v. Jackson, 210 La. 1, 26 So.2d 152; State ex rel. Guinn v. Watson, 210 La. 265, 26 So.2d 740; State ex rel. Graham v. Garrard, 213 La. 318, 34 So.2d 792; State ex rel. Lombardo v. Miller, 232 La. 617, 94 So.2d 888......
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