Father beats his mother in fight over his son

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 8, 2002

Derek Morgan speaks to his 4-year-old son, Zac, before Zac’s first Cub League game Saturday.(The Vicksburg Post/C. TODD SHERMAN)

[04/07/02}For many, there is nothing like the opening day of baseball on a sunny afternoon in April. The national anthem, the crack of the bat and “play ball.”

But for Derek Morgan, this season’s opening day, Saturday, and his 4-year-old son’s first game were extra sweet, thanks to a ruling by the Mississippi Supreme Court.

“I’m on cloud nine,” Morgan said.

Nearly two years ago, Morgan, now 28, spent two weekends, including Father’s Day weekend, in the Washington County Jail after refusing to give up his son for court-ordered visitation with Morgan’s mother. On Thursday, the Supreme Court reversed that order.

“It’s a relief beyond explanation,” Morgan said.

In May 2000, Washington Chancery Judge Jane Weathersby said Morgan’s mother, Jackie West, could have then-3-year-old Zaac every sixth weekend and one week during the summer. But Morgan refused to turn Zac over when her weekend fell at the same time as his visitation, which was scheduled for every other weekend.

Derek Morgan and his ex-wife, Rachelle Majure Morgan, appealed Weathersby’s decision, but for the past two years have had to share their son with West.

“He was just being pulled apart,” Derek Morgan said.

Derek Morgan, who lives in Vicksburg with his second wife, Amanda, and her three children, said the travel time to Greenville was hard on Zac, who lived most of the time with his mother, Rachelle Morgan, in Lawrence, near Meridian.

“This whole deal has just been horrible on everybody,” Rachelle Morgan said Saturday.

West, 54, first petitioned the courts in 2000 to gain rights after she and Derek Morgan could not agree on visitation.

Both sides argued in court that Mississippi law supports their claims. The law provides grandparents the right to petition the courts for visitation with a grandchild when they have been unreasonably denied visitation and it is in the best interest of the child.

Grandparents’ rights have been argued before the Mississippi Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. court used the Mississippi law in determining that grandparents in Washington State did not have special status in visitation cases and that the state court went too far in allowing a person visitation rights any time it was found to be in the child’s best interest.

In Derek Morgan’s case, the Mississippi Supreme court said that Weathersby’s ruling went too far.

“The chancellor’s decision to award visitation to West that conflicted with times that Derek was to have Zac resulted in West gaining visitation rights superior to that of the father,” Chief Justice Edwin Lloyd Pittman wrote in the ruling.

With the court’s order in hand, Derek and Amanda Morgan said that life can return to normal for now while they wait to see if West will take them back to court. West did not return calls to her home.

“We’ve been celebrating since Thursday,” Amanda Morgan said.

But fighting for Zac has also been a financial hardship on Derek Morgan, a medical technician at River Region Medical Center, and his family. The cost of taking the case to the state’s highest court was about $10,000.

Derek and Amanda Morgan borrowed the money to pay their legal expenses and the entire family pitched in. According to Amanda Morgan, her three other children Matthew, 14, Jacob, 11, and Sarah, 12 gave up their allowances to help fight for their little brother.

“I’d have paid any amount of money to get this,” Derek Morgan said.

Derek Morgan said he worries about how his mother will react to the court order, but still, he won’t stop her from coming to visit Zac in Vicksburg.