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Pahl v. Haugh

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Third District

September 23, 2013


Appeal from Hancock County Common Pleas Court Juvenile Division Trial Court No. 20940287

John C. Filkins for Appellant

Elizabeth K. Haugh, Appellee



(¶1} Plaintiff-Appellant, Brent J. Pahl, ("Brent" or "Father"), appeals the judgment of the Hancock County Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile Division, denying his motion for reallocation of parental rights and responsibilities, in which he claimed that it was no longer in the best interest of the child for the Defendant-Appellee, Elizabeth K. Haugh ("Elizabeth" or "Mother") to continue as the residential parent of the parties' daughter. On appeal, Brent contends that the trial court erred in denying his motion to name him as the residential parent and when it overruled his objections to the Magistrate's Decision before the court reporter had the opportunity to transcribe and file the trial transcripts. For the reasons set forth below, the judgment is reversed and remanded.

(¶2} Brent and Elizabeth are the parents of a young daughter, Vaeda, who was born in September 2008. The parties were never married, although they had been in a long-term relationship and had resided together in Brent's home on Center Street in Findlay, Ohio, along with Elizabeth's daughter from a previous relationship, Brooklyn. Brent was the named the father of Vaeda on the birth certificate.

(¶3} In August of 2009, Brent filed a complaint to establish parentage. Shortly thereafter, Elizabeth moved out of Brent's home, along with her two daughters. On September 23, 2009, Elizabeth filed a motion for temporary orders, requesting that she be designated the residential parent and requesting that Brent pay child support. Due to the animosity between the parties after their separation, the trial court ordered both parties to adhere to mutual restraining orders. After a hearing, the magistrate designated Elizabeth as the temporary residential parent, granted Brent parenting time, and ordered him to pay child support. The trial court's Temporary Orders on this matter were filed February 9, 2010. Brent also filed a motion to be designated the residential parent and legal custodian of Vaeda.

(¶4} After a two-day hearing, the magistrate issued her decision on the final orders in March of 2010. The magistrate recommended that it was in the best interest of the parties' child for Elizabeth to be designated the residential parent and legal custodian and for Brent to be given regular visitation time as established in the temporary orders. Brent was also ordered to pay child support in the amount of $290.13 per month, and provisions for visitation and insurance were designated. Brent's objections to the magistrate's decision were overruled and the trial court adopted and incorporated the magistrate's decision in its September 7, 2010 Judgment Entry.

(¶5} Brent appealed the juvenile court's decision. See Pahl v. Haugh, 3d Dist. No. 5-10-27, 2011-Ohio-1302 (" Paul v. Haugh I "). In that first appeal, Brent asserted that the trial court erred when it failed to designate him as the residential parent. He claimed that the trial court overlooked the fact that he was Vaeda's primary caretaker during her first year of life and he also alleged that testimony before the trial court demonstrated that Elizabeth had a history of depression and alcohol abuse which made her an unsuitable choice to be named Vaeda's residential parent and legal custodian. Id. at ¶ 11. Brent also raised errors concerning the amount of parenting time he was given and with the child support calculations. Id. at ¶ 10.

(¶6} Upon review, this Court found that the record contained competent, credible evidence to support the juvenile court's decision. Id. at ¶ 24. Our review of the testimony and evidence in the record at that time indicated the following.

Of particular importance to the magistrate was consideration of the parent more likely to honor and facilitate court-approved parenting time rights or visitation or companionship rights. Upon observing the demeanor and attitude of both parties in court, as well as each party's express statements regarding the other's parenting abilities, the magistrate concluded that of the two, Elizabeth would be more likely to honor and facilitate visitation rights approved by the court. Specifically, the magistrate noted that from "[Brent's] affect in Court it should be found that he has anger issues." * * *
With regard to the allocation of parental rights, the testimony demonstrated that Brent was initially steadfast in his position that Elizabeth should have no contact with Vaeda and that he would discourage Vaeda's relationship with Elizabeth until she was at least no longer an infant. However, after being further questioned on this issue, Brent begrudgingly conceded that he would permit Elizabeth to have contact with Vaeda, if he was ordered to by the court.
* * * Brent made allegations that Vaeda was not safe in Elizabeth's care. However, Brent admitted that he had no contact with Elizabeth since she moved out of his house months earlier due to the parties' use of Elizabeth's grandmother as the go-between for exchanging custody of Vaeda, which also served to alleviate the necessity of having to interact with one another. Accordingly, Brent acknowledged that he had no personal knowledge of Vaeda's situation under Elizabeth's care since the separation—i.e. whether her new home was safe or whether Vaeda's needs were adequately being met by Elizabeth. * * *
To the contrary, Elizabeth's testimony demonstrated that, even though she had no contact with Brent, she believed it would be in Vaeda's best interest to have both parents involved in her life. Elizabeth admitted that she believed Brent is a good father to Vaeda, however, her primary concern with Brent as a parent were his "states of rage" and "anger issues."

Id. at ¶¶ 15-19.

(¶7} In Paul v. Haugh I, Brent criticized Elizabeth regarding what he characterized as her "infidelities" and "belligerent" behavior, which he attributed to her alleged chronic alcohol abuse. Id. at ¶ 16. However, Elizabeth denied having a drinking problem and being unfaithful to Brent. Id. At that time, we found that "the record is devoid of any credible evidence substantiating Brent's allegations" and we affirmed the decision of the juvenile court naming Elizabeth as the custodial and residential parent. Id.

(¶8} Subsequently, on May 20, 2011, Brent filed a pro se motion to change custody, visitation, and support, alleging that Elizabeth was in the Hancock County jail "pending trial and conviction of seven charges since the last custody hearing."[1] After several continuances, a three-day hearing on all pending motions was held on December 20, 2011, January 18, 2012, and January 26, 2012.

(¶9} At trial, Brent offered exhibits and the testimony of numerous witnesses to demonstrate that there had been a significant change of circumstances and that it would be in the child's best interest for Brent to be named the residential parent. The testimony showed that since the trial court's last decision in September 2010, the following had occurred: Elizabeth had voluntarily quit her previous job (paying $14.13/hour) and now worked at Sears (for $7.40 per hour); she had moved three or four times and was currently living with her boyfriend, Steve Wellman; that the police had been called numerous times for incidents involving domestic violence and intoxication; that Elizabeth had been convicted of three OVI offenses and one count of child endangerment; that she had continued to drive after her license had been suspended; that she had been ordered to attend rehabilitation and had been sentenced to jail; and that she had repeatedly violated the terms of her probation.

(¶10} At the hearings, four police officers testified that they had responded to calls of domestic violence, intoxication, theft, and other issues involving Elizabeth and her boyfriend, Steven Wellman ("Wellman" or "boyfriend"). Since the last magistrate's decision was issued in this case, on March 24, 2010, there was evidence in the record that Elizabeth had contact with law enforcement officers on June 27, 2010, July 31, 2010, August 1, 2010, November 25, 2010, December 11, 2010, December 28, 2010, April 10, 2011, April 28, 2011, July 28, 2011, August 22, 2011, and September 22, 2011. The four officers provided testimony concerning the many of the incidents, including the following.

(¶11} Officer Shane Leeth testified that on July 31, 2010, Wellman told him that Elizabeth had taken his vehicle without permission, and that she was intoxicated. Tr. 19-23. The police report indicated Elizabeth was currently under an Administrative License Suspension ("ALS"). Pl. Ex. A. Elizabeth told the officer that Wellman had struck her in the back while the two of them were in a vehicle. Id.

(¶12} Officer Marsha Hill testified that on November 25, 2010, Elizabeth's mother called law enforcement because she was worried about Elizabeth's safety as a result of concerns over alleged suicide threats. Tr. 89. The officer took Elizabeth to Blanchard Valley Hospital for prescreening to check her mental state. Tr. 95-97.

(¶13} Deputy Shane Heckman testified that on April 28, 2011, Wellman called the police because Elizabeth had arrived at his house at 7:45 a.m., extremely intoxicated and refused to leave his home (they weren't living together at that time).[2] Pl. Ex. B. Wellman reported that when he attempted to speak with her, she became irate and started screaming at him and attempted to punch and kick him. Id. The officer observed Elizabeth screaming at Wellman and his friend, and observed that Elizabeth was intoxicated and very irate and "appeared to have a hard time standing up and fell back to the couch several times." Id. Elizabeth reported that Wellman grabbed her by the hair and ripped her off the couch. The officer also observed that Elizabeth's face was swollen, which she said was from a prior incident with Wellman. Id. Elizabeth denied she had been drinking even though she "was very belligerent throughout the conversation speaking in a loud slurred speech." Id. The police officer's report further indicated that, at the time of this incident, Elizabeth was on house arrest at her own residence, and that she was under orders to not consume alcoholic beverages. Id

(¶14} Deputy Barry Turner testified that on August 22, 2011, police responded to a 9-1-1 hang-up at Wellman's residence. Elizabeth stated that she had moved into his residence about two months ago, and over the past month the two had been having verbal arguments. She reported that she was trying to finish painting a bedroom upstairs for her children because "she has to go to jail for sixty days soon from a past incident and her children will be staying with [Wellman]." Pl. Ex. D. Elizabeth said that nothing "physical" happened between the two of them, "just the normal pushing that always happens between the two of them." Id. When the police officer inquired whether she was sure she wanted to stay with Wellman, "she stated that she has to because she will be going to jail soon and her children need to stay ...

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