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9th District reverses Wayne County parental rights case

Legal News Reporter

Published: December 6, 2018

A Wayne County Juvenile Court improperly denied a father’s motion for a reallocation of parental rights and responsibilities, the 9th District Court of Appeals recently ruled.

It is undisputed that Mother and Father are the biological parents of B.I.W., who is now 11 years old. The couple was never married. Mother was designated as the primary residential parent in 2009, while Father received an order of companionship.

In 2017, Father filed a motion to reallocate parental rights and responsibilities. At the end of a hearing, the magistrate denied the motion. Father objected and Mother did not file a response. The juvenile court overruled Father’s objections, finding no error of law in the magistrate’s decision.

On appeal, Father argued the trial court erred erred in determining that Mother’s behavior with the minor, which included emotional and verbal abuse, presented “no evidence of a mental or physical health issue.”

In his majority opinion, appellate Judge Thomas A. Teodosio wrote that he agreed the juvenile court erred by refusing to modify the existing orders to serve the best interest of the child.

Judge Teodosio noted that the juvenile court appointed a guardian ad litem to represent the best interest of the child, and that the guardian “illuminated serious and substantiated concerns for the child’s well-being.” (The panel declined to elaborate on the guardian’s concerns to safeguard the child by not disclosing information sealed by the public).

In this case, the appellate court found the lower court used no independent analysis in overruling Father’s objections.

For instance, the juvenile court failed to take into account that the advantages of the change in the child’s environment outweigh any likely harm caused by the change, as stated in R.C. 3109.04(E)(1)(a)(iii).

In making its threshold determination regarding a change in circumstances, the juvenile court relied on a fact (Mother’s recent move to another home) which occurred after Father filed his motion for reallocation of parental rights and responsibilities.

“While asserting that it should not have considered the fact given the timing of its occurrence in relation to Father’s motion, the juvenile court nevertheless blithely decided to ‘proceed to the next step of analysis.’ Without deciding whether or not the juvenile court could consider facts that occurred after Father filed his motion, this court concludes that the juvenile court misapplied the law when it relied exclusively on a fact in support of a threshold issue, which the trial court expressly indicated it could not consider,” Judge Teodosio wrote. “To hold otherwise would be to sanction a trial court’s disregard of law and procedure and impugn the integrity of the American legal system.”

The panel added that the juvenile court “egregiously disregarded much of the evidence” supporting a modification of custody in the child’s best interest and applied an erroneous burden of proof.

“Moreover, it is unclear how the juvenile court found ‘no evidence’ to support Father’s motion to reallocate parental rights and responsibilities given the grave concerns expressed by the guardian ad litem,” the opinion stated. “… Under these circumstances, this court concludes that the juvenile court failed to conduct the required independent review of the record when ruling on Father’s objections.”

The judgment was reversed and remanded.

Appellate judges Julie Schafer and Lynne Callahan concurred.

The case is cited In re. B.I.W., 2018-Ohio-4545.