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Okoye v. Okoye

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Ninth District, Summit

January 10, 2018

BRIDGET I. OKOYE Appellee
v.
IKE J. OKOYE Appellant

         APPEAL FROM JUDGMENT ENTERED IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS COUNTY OF SUMMIT, OHIO CASE No. 2013-09-2546

          ROBERT C. ALDRIDGE, Attorney at Law, for Appellant.

          TODD ANTHONY MAZZOLA and SARAH E. HEID, Attorneys at Law, for Appellee.

          DECISION AND JOURNAL ENTRY

          THOMAS A. TEODOSIO, Judge.

         {¶1} Ike J. Okoye appeals the decree of divorce entered by the Summit County Court of Common Pleas Domestic Relations Division on March 2, 2016. We affirm.

         I.

         {¶2} Mr. Okoye and Bridget I. Okoye were married in 2001 and adopted two Nigerian children together in 2008. At that time, the parties did not report any marital discord. However, in 2011, Mr. Okoye was alleged to have pushed Ms. Okoye to the ground, resulting in injury to her and his arrest for domestic violence. Mr. Okoye contends she fell of her own accord. Ms. Okoye subsequently asked to withdraw her complaint and the case was dismissed after the couple attended counselling sessions. Despite the dismissal of the case, Ms. Okoye continued to maintain that she was pushed by Mr. Okoye.

         {¶3} In 2013, the Okoyes began to have issues with regard to the discipline of their children, with each side accusing the other of inappropriate behavior. This led to Mr. Okoye installing motion-sensing cameras around the house. On August 8, 2013, an incident was recorded where the children had been fighting, and in response, Ms. Okoye spanked one of the children with a wooden spoon while the other child jumped on her back, presumably in an attempt to stop her. Mr. Okoye filed a civil protection order on August 22, 2013, resulting in Ms. Okoye being removed from the marital residence.

         {¶4} Ms. Okoye filed for a divorce in September 2013, and a temporary order was entered setting forth supervised parenting time for Ms. Okoye. When this arrangement proved to be unsuccessful, an emergency hearing before a magistrate took place in January 2014, with the court ordering supervised parenting time for Ms. Okoye. These visits took place at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant, but were eventually discontinued after the children became unwilling to participate. In September 2014, by an agreed order, the parties were referred to Minority Behavioral Health Group for family counseling.

         {¶5} The matter came before the trial court for trial in March and June of 2015, with the trial court entering a decree of divorce on March 2, 2016. In pertinent part, the entry allocated sole parental rights and responsibilities of the minor children to Ms. Okoye and granted supervised visitation with Mr. Okoye once a week for two hours. The trial court also ordered Mr. Okoye to pay spousal support in the amount of $1, 254.00 per month for a period of 37 consecutive months, effective March 9, 2016.

         {¶6} The trial court further addressed the issue of financial misconduct by Mr. Okoye, finding that he had transferred nearly all of his 401(K) account balance to an Ameriprise account. Mr. Okoye failed to list the account as property as required at the initiation of the divorce case and made withdrawals from the account in violation a restraining order entered by the trial court. Mr. Okoye contended the money in the account belonged to a Nigerian organization called ADTU as payment for a debt he owed to the organization. Mr. Okoye alleges he acquired a loan from ADTU in order to pay for Ms. Okoye's medical issues and for adoption expenses. In the decree of divorce, the trial court found the balance of Mr. Okoye's Ameriprise account to be marital property and further found that the funds owed to ADTU were not proven to be a marital debt. Mr. Okoye now appeals, raising four assignments of error.

         II.

         ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR ONE

         THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN ALLOCATING SOLE PARENTAL RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES TO PLAINTIFF MOTHER CONTRARY TO THE EVIDENCE AND THE PROVISIONS OF [R.C] 3109.04.

         {¶7} Mr. Okoye argues the trial court's decision to allocate parental rights and responsibilities primarily to Ms. Okoye was against the weight of the evidence and that a careful weighing of the factors provided for by R.C. 3109.04(F)(1) favored a determination that allocation of parental rights and responsibilities primarily to Mr. Okoye would have been in the best interest of the children. We disagree.

         {¶8} "When allocating parental rights and responsibilities, the court must take into account the best interest of the children." Bentley v. Rojas, 9th Dist. Lorain No. 10CA009776, 2010-Ohio-6243, ¶ 19, citing R.C. 3109.04(B)(1). In determining the best interest of the children for purposes of allocating parental rights and responsibilities, a court must consider the factors listed in R.C. 3109.04(F)(1). Patton v. HicklingPatton, 9th Dist. Medina No. 13CA0071-M, 2014-Ohio-2862, ¶ 8. Those factors include: (1) the wishes of the children's parents; (2) the wishes of the children, if the court interviews the children; (3) the children's interaction and interrelationship with their parents, siblings, and anyone else who may significantly affect their best interest; (4) the children's adjustment to home, school, and community; (5) the mental and physical health of all persons involved; (6) the parent more likely to honor and facilitate court-approved parenting time rights; (7) whether either parent has failed to make child support payments; (8) whether either parent or any household member previously has been convicted of or pleaded guilty to any criminal offense involving any act that resulted in a child being an abused child or a neglected child; (9) whether one of the parents has continuously and willfully denied the other's right to parenting time; and (10) whether either parent has established a residence, or is planning to establish a residence, outside Ohio. R.C. 3109.04(F)(1)(a)-(j).

         {¶9} "A trial court possesses broad discretion with respect to its determination of the allocation of parental rights and responsibilities, and its decision will not be overturned absent an abuse of discretion." Kokoski v. Kokoski, 9th Dist. Lorain No. 12CA010202, 2013-Ohio-3567, ¶ 26. An abuse of discretion means more than an error of law or judgment; it implies that the trial court's attitude was unreasonable, arbitrary, or unconscionable. Blakemore v. Blakemore, 5 Ohio St.3d 217, 219 (1983). When applying the abuse of discretion standard, a reviewing court is precluded from simply substituting its own judgment for that of the trial court. Pons v. Ohio State Med. Bd, 66 Ohio St.3d 619, 621 (1993).

         {¶10} Although we recognize the concerns expressed in the separate concurring opinion, this Court is required to apply the following standards of review. "[A]bsent an argument that the trial court reached an incorrect factual determination on one or more of the best interest prongs, this Court will review a trial court's best interest analysis under an abuse of discretion standard of review." Walsh-Stewart v. Stewart, 9th Dist. Wayne No. 12CA0031, 2012-Ohio-5927, ¶ 20. While a trial court's decision regarding allocation of parental rights will not be overturned absent an abuse of discretion, an appellate court reviews the trial court's factual findings under a manifest weight of the evidence standard. See Wallace v. Wallace, 195 Ohio App.3d 314, 2011- Ohio-4487, ¶ 10 (9th Dist.). "[B]efore an appellate court will reverse a judgment as against the manifest weight of the evidence in a civil context, the court must determine whether the trier of fact, in resolving evidentiary conflicts and making credibility determinations, clearly lost its way and created a manifest miscarriage of justice. Only in the exceptional case, where the evidence presented weighs heavily in favor of the party seeking reversal, will the appellate court reverse." Boreman v. Boreman, 9th Dist. Wayne No. 01CA0034, 2002-Ohio-2320, ¶ 10. Manifest weight of the evidence pertains to the burden of persuasion. Eastley v. Volkman, 132 Ohio St.3d 328, 2012-Ohio-2179, ¶ 19. "In weighing the evidence, the court of appeals must always be mindful of the presumption in favor of the finder of fact." Id. at ¶ 21.

         {¶11} We will consider each of the factors provided under R.C. 3109.04(F)(1) below.

         {¶12} The wishes of the children's parents.

         Both Mr. Okoye and Ms. Okoye wished to be named the sole residential parent. Ms. Okoye requested that visitation with Mr. Okoye be supervised. Mr. Okoye requested visitation with Ms. Okoye take place only "once [the children] feel comfortable * * *."

         {¶13} The wishes of the children.

         Upon being interviewed by the trial court, the children requested to remain in the sole custody of Mr. Okoye.

         {¶14} The children's interaction and interrelationship with their parents, siblings, and anyone else who may significantly affect their best interest.

         The trial court found that both parents had a close relationship to the children prior to the divorce action. Ms. Okoye testified that the children had contact with her mother and sister, but no relationship with Mr. Okoye's relatives. The trial court found that Ms. Okoye had minimal contact with the children since the divorce action had been pending despite numerous attempts by the court to establish regular parenting time. The trial court noted the children had seen Ms. Okoye a total of fifteen times from August 22, 2013, through June 17, 2015, and that during those visits they had called their mother an "abuser" and confronted her about having Mr. Okoye arrested for domestic violence. In an interview conducted by the trial court, one of the children stated his father had not pushed his mother down, but that she had tripped over his brother. The children also reported being hit with a wooden spoon "particularly when they were doing something good" or for no reason at all. One child said his brother was hit with a frying pan, which the other brother denied, saying his mother had only threatened to do so. The children also reported their mother never wanted them, had wanted to kill them, and had poisoned their father.

         {¶15} The trial court further found that one child reported that when he visited with Ms. Okoye at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant, he did not want to be with her, did not want to play games with her, did not hug her, and did not draw a picture for her. These statements were contrary to what was reported by the social worker who supervised the visit. The children told the guardian ad litem that they did not wish to see their "so-called Mommy, " a term they did not use when they first began to meet with the guardian. With regard to the children's relationship with Mr. Okoye, the guardian ad litem reported "a close and loving relationship * * *." The trial court found "that [Mr. Okoye] had a substantial ongoing negative influence on the children's perception of their mother since they [had] been in his exclusive care."

         {¶16} Mr. Okoye contends that the children "consistently expressed their mistrust and fear of [Ms. Okoye] throughout the entire process." Specifically, Mr. Okoye points to the incident when Ms. Okoye spanked one of the children with a wooden spoon while the other child attempted to stop her. Mr. Okoye also points to the children's resistance to visiting with Ms. Okoye. He argues that "while the trial court squarely blames [his] behavior * * * [there was] little significant evidence that [he] was influencing this reaction."

         {¶17} The children's adjustment to home, school, and community.

         The children are reportedly well-adjusted to school, and no concerns were raised as to their adjustment.

         {¶18} The mental and physical health of all persons involved.

         Mr Okoye contends the trial court erred in questioning his mental health because the evidence does not support such a conclusion. Because Mr. Okoye thus argues the trial court reached an incorrect factual determination on this issue, we review the trial court's factual findings under a manifest weight of the evidence standard.

         {¶19} With regard to the issue of mental health, the guardian ad litem reported: "I am concerned about mental health issues as to both parties." Specifically, it was noted that Ms. Okoye lacked insight as to how her actions impacted her children. With regard to Mr. Okoye, she wrote:

[Mr. Okoye] is almost pathologically committed to sabotaging the boys' relationship with their [m]other. I believe that various authorities let the boys down when the initial wooden spoon video was presented, together with other issues. However, even if the Children Services Board had taken the children from [Ms. Okoye] and had given them to [Mr. Okoye], [Ms. Okoye] would have been visiting the children regularly for well over a year at this point. Likely they would have been visiting unsupervised by now. Father has thwarted any progress in this regard and I fear that this is a mental health issue in itself.

         The Family Court Services Evaluator reported that there had "not been any mental health issues reported * * * regarding [Ms. Okoye] or [Mr. Okoye]." She went on to note her concern regarding Mr. Okoye's "ongoing and willful stonewalling of [Ms. Okoye]'s relationship with the children even though it has not been evaluated professionally."

         {¶20} The trial court stated it "believes that each party has some mental health issues that are concerning to the court." With regard to Ms. Okoye, the Court found there to be occasions that displayed a lack of empathy and awareness for her children's feelings, but noted that she had "taken numerous steps to improve her parenting ability" and had "seriously worked to become a better parent." With regard to Mr. Okoye, the trial court stated that it had "concerns * * * about [Mr. Okoye]'s thought processes and what he shares with the children." The trial court pointed to Mr. Okoye's testimony that he feared his wife and mother-in-law were attempting to poison him, finding this testimony "not credible." The trial court further stated:

The fact that [Mr. Okoye] has concocted this "poisoning theory" and shared it with the children causes the court to question his overall mental health. The court also agrees with the guardian ad litem's statement that "Father is almost pathologically committed to sabotaging the boys' relationship with their Mother." The evidence presented at trial certainly supports this statement.

         {¶21} Mr. Okoye contends that "[t]he trial court questioned [his] mental health, but the evidence [did] not support this conclusion." We note the trial court makes no concrete determinations or diagnoses regarding Mr. Okoye or Ms. Okoye's mental health; rather, it expresses its concern for issues and behaviors that may fairly be considered as falling under the category of mental health. The evidence as recited above supports this expression of concern. We conclude the trial ...


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