BRIDGET I. OKOYE Appellee
IKE J. OKOYE Appellant
FROM JUDGMENT ENTERED IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS COUNTY OF
SUMMIT, OHIO CASE No. 2013-09-2546
C. ALDRIDGE, Attorney at Law, for Appellant.
ANTHONY MAZZOLA and SARAH E. HEID, Attorneys at Law, for
DECISION AND JOURNAL ENTRY
A. TEODOSIO, Judge.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
OF ERROR ONE
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.
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.
"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).
"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
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.
We will consider each of the factors provided under R.C.
The wishes of the children's parents.
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 * * *."
The wishes of the children.
being interviewed by the trial court, the children requested
to remain in the sole custody of Mr. Okoye.
The children's interaction and interrelationship with
their parents, siblings, and anyone else who
may significantly affect their best interest.
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
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."
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
The children's adjustment to home, school, and
children are reportedly well-adjusted to school, and no
concerns were raised as to their adjustment.
The mental and physical health of all persons
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.
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.
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
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.
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 ...