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Freeman v. Johnson

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

June 21, 2017

RANDY FREEMAN, JR., Plaintiff-Appellee
v.
ADRENA JOHNSON, Defendant-Appellant

         Appealed from the Fifth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Richland, Louisiana Lower Court Case No. 44, 674 Honorable James M. Stephens, Judge

          WILLIE HUNTER, JR. & ASSOCIATES By: James E. Calhoun Marcus L. Hunter Counsel for Appellant

          KNIGHT LAW FIRM, LLC By: Robert T. Knight Counsel for Appellee

          Before BROWN, PITMAN, and COX, JJ.

          COX, J.

         Appellant 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.

         Appellee 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 to Appellee.

         Appellant now appeals. For the following reasons, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         FACTS

         Randy 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.

         Sometime after the agreement, Mr. Freeman remarried and moved to Richland Parish with his new wife. Ms. Johnson currently lives in Baton Rouge.

         On 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. Johnson.

         In 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.

         A 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.

         At 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 four daughters.

         At the 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.

         Mr. 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.

         Mr. 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.

         Mr. 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.

         Mr. 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 along.

         With 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.

         Mr. 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.

         Mr. Freeman's wife and mother corroborated his testimony.

         Ms. 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 ...


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