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Holbrook v. Holbrook

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Twelfth District, Warren

June 18, 2018

DALLAS HOLBROOK, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
MEGAN M. HOLBROOK, Defendant-Appellant.

          APPEAL FROM WARREN COUNTY COURT OF COMMON PLEAS DOMESTIC RELATIONS DIVISION Case No. 16DR38702

          Taft Stettinius & Hollister, LLP, Robert S. Fischer, for plaintiff-appellee

          Rollman, Handorf & Conyers LLC, Jeffrey M. Rollman, for defendant-appellant

          OPINION

          M. POWELL, J.

         {¶ 1} Defendant-appellant, Megan Holbrook ("Mother"), appeals a decision of the Warren County Court of Common Pleas, Domestic Relations Division, awarding custody of the parties' children to plaintiff-appellee, Dallas Holbrook ("Father").

         {¶ 2} The parties are the parents of two daughters, born in 2010 and 2012 respectively. On March 15, 2016, Father filed a complaint for divorce, requesting shared parenting, and a proposed shared parenting plan. At the time of the divorce complaint, the parties had equal parenting time with the children. On March 18, 2016, consistent with its local rules, the trial court issued an order requiring the parties to attend a parenting class for divorcing parents within 30 days of the filing of the court's order and advising them that "failure to attend the parenting class may result in a loss of your parenting time and/or dismissal of your case." A copy of the order was mailed to each parent. Less than a month later, Father completed attendance of the parenting class.[1] Mother did not comply with the trial court's order.

         {¶ 3} A final divorce hearing was held before the trial court in January 2017. Mother appeared without counsel. By decision filed on February 17, 2017, the trial court found that Father's proposed shared parenting plan was in the best interest of the children and ordered it adopted, provided Father made several modifications set forth in the court's decision. The trial court advised the parties that if Father failed to make the required modifications, the court would designate Mother as the sole residential parent. The trial court ordered Father's counsel to "prepare the appropriate divorce decree and shared parenting plan reflecting the terms of this decision. All documents shall be submitted for the court's signature by March 15, 2017."

         {¶ 4} On April 17, 2017, the trial court issued a final divorce decree, awarding custody of the children to Father rather than shared parenting as initially set forth in the trial court's February 17, 2017 decision ("Decision"). The trial court explained that it had sent a letter to Mother in March 2017, advising her that if she did not complete the required parenting class for divorcing parents by April 12, 2017, Father would be awarded custody of the children and Mother's parenting time would be suspended until she attended the class. The trial court noted that Mother had registered for a parenting class on April 11, 2017, but failed to attend. As a result of Mother's failure to attend the required parenting class, the trial court found it was in the children's best interest to grant custody to Father. By entry filed the same day as the divorce decree, the trial court suspended Mother's parenting time with the children pending her completion of the parenting class or providing the trial court with a satisfactory explanation of her failure to attend.[2] The trial court's March 2017 letter to Mother is not journalized and is otherwise absent from the record.

         {¶ 5} Mother now appeals, raising one assignment of error:

         {¶ 6} THE TRIAL COURT ERRED WHEN THE FINAL DECREE DID NOT ORDER SHARED PARENTING OR AWARDING MOTHER CUSTODY.

         {¶ 7} Mother argues that the trial court abused its discretion in granting custody of the children to Father rather than shared parenting as initially set forth in the trial court's Decision.[3] Mother generally asserts that because the trial court improperly modified its Decision through its March 2017 letter rather than through a court order journalized in an entry, and violated her due process rights by failing to comply with its own local rules, the divorce decree cannot stand and the matter must be remanded for the trial court to issue a divorce decree and shared parenting plan in conformity with the trial court's Decision.

         {¶ 8} A trial court's allocation of parental rights and responsibilities falls within the discretion of the trial court and will not be reversed on appeal absent an abuse of discretion. Albrecht v. Albrecht, 12th Dist. Butler Nos. CA2014-12-240 and CA2014-12-245, 2015-Ohio-4916, ¶ 21.

         {¶ 9} Under her second and third issues for review, Mother argues that the trial court's Decision could only be modified through another court order journalized in an entry, and that therefore, the trial court improperly modified its Decision through its March 2017 letter to Mother. Mother further notes that the final divorce hearing was held even though she had not completed the parenting class in violation of the Local Rules of the Warren County Court of Common Pleas, Domestic Relations Division ("LocR."), specifically Loc.R. 4.2.[4] Consequently, Mother asserts, the trial court must have known she had not attended the parenting class, must have waived the requirement, or must have determined it was not important as the court's Decision was not conditioned upon Mother taking the class.

         {¶ 10} Loc.R. 4.2 requires "all parents" of children under the age of 16 in a divorce action to "register for an educational seminar for separating parents * * * within thirty (30) days after the filing of the action or service of process. No action may proceed to final hearing until the custodial parent has attended the seminar. * * * This requirement may be waived by the court for good cause shown." Loc.R. 4.2 further states that failure of a parent "to ...


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