from the Fifth Judicial District Court for the Parish of
Richland, Louisiana Lower Court Case No. 44, 674 Honorable
James M. Stephens, Judge
HUNTER, JR. & ASSOCIATES By: James E. Calhoun Marcus L.
Hunter Counsel for Appellant
LAW FIRM, LLC By: Robert T. Knight Counsel for Appellee
BROWN, PITMAN, and COX, JJ.
and Appellee are the parents of Adalyn Freeman. Shortly after
the birth of their daughter in 2012, a considered decree was
entered in Natchitoches Parish. No domiciliary status was
awarded at the time.
later relocated to Richland Parish and sought modification of
the custody agreement and requested to be named the
domiciliary parent. The Appellee's request was granted
after a hearing officer conference was conducted, but the
Appellant opposed the hearing officer's recommendation
and the matter was set for trial. The trial court maintained
the order of the hearing officer, awarding domiciliary status
now appeals. For the following reasons, we affirm the
judgment of the trial court.
Freeman, Jr. ("Mr. Freeman") and Adrena Johnson
("Ms. Johnson") are the parents of Adalyn Freeman
("Addy"), born September 1, 2012. A Considered
Decree regarding custody of the minor child and child support
was entered on October 23, 2013, in Natchitoches Parish. The
decree awarded the parties joint custody of the minor child
and specified that there was no designation of a domiciliary
parent at the time. The decree stated that the parties would
alternate physical custody of the minor child on alternate
weeks, with the exchange taking place on Sunday at 4:00 p.m.
after the agreement, Mr. Freeman remarried and moved to
Richland Parish with his new wife. Ms. Johnson currently
lives in Baton Rouge.
August 17, 2015, Mr. Freeman sought to make the Natchitoches
Parish judgment executory in Richland Parish and requested
that it be modified to designate him as the domiciliary
parent, with the child to reside primarily with him. Mr.
Freeman also requested a finding of contempt against Ms.
response to his motion, Ms. Johnson filed an exception of
improper venue and motion for appropriate sanctions,
reasonable attorney's fees, and expenses. That exception
was denied. Additionally, Ms. Johnson brought a matter to the
Family Court in Baton Rouge, which ultimately ended with her
being sanctioned $5, 000.00. As of the date of Mr.
Freeman's brief filed with this Court, Ms. Johnson had
still not paid that amount.
Hearing Officer Conference was conducted on April 26, 2016.
The Hearing Officer recommended that the existing custody
order be modified and that the parties be awarded joint
custody of the minor child, with Mr. Freeman designated as
the domiciliary parent. On June 1, 2016, Ms. Johnson filed an
opposition to recommendation of hearing officer, and trial
was set for September 29, 2016.
trial, Mr. Freeman testified that he had lived in Rayville
for three years. He had been married to his current wife,
Laura Wood, for two years and shared a four-month-old
daughter with her named Laila. Laura Wood also has an
eleven-year-old daughter, Lalana, from a previous
relationship. Additionally, Mr. Freeman has a two-year-old
daughter, Aria, from a previous relationship. Mr. Freeman
testified that he and Aria's mother have a good
relationship. He stated that he pays child support, although
the two do not have a written custody agreement. Mr. Freeman
testified that he has a college fund set up for each of his
time of trial, Mr. Freeman had been employed at Hertz Rental
Car as the area manager for six years. He testified that his
wife was an independent contractor with State Farm Insurance
in Rayville. With their combined incomes, Mr. Freeman stated
that they have never had trouble paying their bills and have
always paid on time.
Freeman testified that his family attends Christ Church in
West Monroe. They live in a four bedroom home, where Addy has
her own bedroom with bunk beds, which she shares with Aria
when she comes to visit. Mr. Freeman introduced evidence
showing that his daughter was enrolled in tumbling classes.
Additionally, Mr. Freeman showed evidence that Addy was on
his insurance plan. Mr. Freeman stated that he found a doctor
and dentist for his daughter in the Rayville area, and upon
learning that his daughter needed glasses, he also found her
an eye doctor.
Freeman testified that he had enrolled Addy in Start
Elementary with his wife's oldest daughter, Lalana. He
testified that Addy loved the school and was doing well. He
also stated that she was involved in cheerleading at the
school. Mr. Freeman stated that he liked the school because
it allowed him to bring Addy every other week per the custody
arrangement at the time with Ms. Johnson.
Freeman testified that he began the Richland Parish
litigation after Ms. Johnson enrolled their daughter in a
school located in Baton Rouge. He stated that Ms. Johnson
never gave him any information about the school. He only
found out about the school because Ms. Johnson's tuition
check bounced, and the school called him asking for payment.
Upon confronting Ms. Johnson, Mr. Freeman testified that she
refused to return their daughter. Mr. Freeman stated that
after this conversation, he did not see his daughter for
three months. He did, however, continue to pay child support.
Freeman testified that he communicates with Ms. Johnson about
their daughter and also shares pictures with her. According
to Mr. Freeman, however, his wife and Ms. Johnson do not get
regard to Mr. Freeman's move to Rayville, he stated that
he notified Ms. Johnson of the move. No written documents
were exchanged, but he testified that Ms. Johnson agreed to
the move, and the two agreed on a new meeting place for the
exchange. Mr. Freeman stated they had been exchanging Addy at
the new location for roughly two years.
Freeman testified that he and Ms. Johnson agree on one thing
- their daughter needs to be with one parent primarily during
the school year. Mr. Freeman believed that he offered the
most stable environment to raise his daughter, as Ms. Johnson
had moved three times since living in Baton Rouge and had
also frequently changed jobs. Although Mr. Freeman does not
doubt that Ms. Johnson loves their daughter, he believed he
was in a better situation to take care of her at the time.
Freeman's wife and mother corroborated his testimony.
Johnson testified that she enrolled her daughter at the
school in Baton Rouge under the advice of her previous
attorney. She stated that this was the first time she had not