Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga
IN RE: Z.P. A Minor Child Appeal by B.J., Father
Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas
Juvenile Division Case No. CU 14106384
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT David Bartos Bartos & Bartos,
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES For A.P., Grandmother James C.
Lanigan Hahn, Loeser & Parks, L.L.P.
L.P., Mother L.P., pro se.
Guardian Ad Litem Linda M. Julian.
BEFORE: Jones, J., McCormack, P.J., and Laster Mays, J.
JOURNAL ENTRY AND OPINION
A. JONES, SR., J.
Appellant, Father, appeals the juvenile court's decision
to grant legal custody of Z.P. to appellee, maternal
grandmother ("Grandmother"). For the reasons that
follow, we reverse and remand for a new trial.
The record and transcript reflect the following. Z.P. was
born on January 1, 2013. In May 2014, Father filed an
application to determine custody and a motion for temporary
custody. The same month, Grandmother, who had been caring for
Z.P. since birth, filed a motion for custody and a motion to
intervene in the case. Grandmother subsequently filed a
second motion to intervene and a motion for temporary
custody. The court granted Grandmother's motion to
intervene. The parties initially agreed that Grandmother
would have temporary custody of the child.
Z.P. lived with her two half-siblings and Grandmother in a
house owned by A.B., who had previously dated Mother, but was
not the biological father of any of her children. Mother
occasionally lived in the house. Grandmother and A.B. had
cared for Z.P. since birth, except for two six-week periods
during which Mother took her three children to stay somewhere
else. A.B. provided basic needs for Z.P. and her siblings.
When Mother was not living with the family, she lived in
several different places and Grandmother had concerns about
Mother's stability, mental health, and ability to provide
for Z.P.'s basic needs. Prior to obtaining temporary
custody, Grandmother had a difficult time receiving
permission from Mother to take Z.P. to the doctor. Z.P. has
Father was the biological father of Z.P., but not of
Mother's other children. He visited with Z.P. often,
including overnight and weekend visitation and would take
Z.P. to his mother's house, where he lived. His mother
was supportive of his relationship with Z.P. but could not
provide a permanent home for Z.P. because she lived in senior
housing and the child was not allowed to live there long
term. During one seven-month period, Father estimated he had
Z.P. 43 percent of the time. A.B. agreed that Father took
care of Z.P. about that amount of time. After the court
awarded temporary custody of Z.P. to Grandmother, Father had
weekly visitation from Friday through Monday.
In March 2015, the guardian ad litem ("GAL") filed
her report and recommendation, recommending that the court
award legal custody of Z.P. to Father. The matter proceeded
to trial before a magistrate at which the parties proceeded
pro se. The magistrate awarded legal custody of Z.P.'s
half-siblings to Grandmother; the decision was uncontested.
Grandmother testified that Z.P. was 28 months old at the time
of trial. Grandmother did not believe Father was suitable to
have custody of the child because although Father claimed to
have just moved into his own place, Grandmother did not think
the house had working utilities and she did not know where
the child would sleep or if the father had food for the
child. Grandmother believed Father still lived with his
Mother testified that she wanted Grandmother to have custody
of Z.P. to keep her children living together. Mother claimed
Father had mental health problems, was "unstable, "
did not support the child, did not have stable housing, and
had a temper. Mother testified she was "okay" if
visitation between Father and Z.P. continued.
Father testified he had stable housing. According to Father,
"the lights are on, " but the gas was not yet
hooked up because he had just moved in to his new place.
Father testified that he had an appointment with a local
agency and the gas should be on in a few days. Father
testified he was employed, did not have a criminal history,
and had not been treated for mental health issues. ...