APPEAL FROM THE TWENTY-FOURTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH
OF JEFFERSON, STATE OF LOUISIANA NO. 755-252, DIVISION
"B" HONORABLE CORNELIUS E. REGAN, JUDGE PRESIDING
COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE, JEANIQUE VASQUEZ LACOUR Gary
COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT, JEREMY LACOUR Barbara V.
Madere Jeffrey Hufft
composed of Judges Susan M. Chehardy, Fredericka Homberg
Wicker, and Stephen J. Windhorst
FREDERICKA HOMBERG WICKER JUDGE
seeks review of the trial court's denial of his rule to
relocate his minor child from Louisiana to California.
Because we find that the trial judge did not abuse his
discretion in determining that it is in the minor child's
best interest to remain in Louisiana and in denying the rule
to relocate, we affirm.
HISTORY AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND
Vasquez Lacour and Jeremy Lacour, both active duty members of
the United States Marine Corps, married in April 2011 in San
Diego, California. Prior to marriage, in March 2010, the
couple had one child, J.L. In April 2012, Jeremy received
orders from the military that he would be transferred from
California to Belle Chasse, Louisiana. Jeanique and J.L.
followed and moved to Belle Chasse, Louisiana in October
parties separated and were subsequently divorced pursuant to
a Texas divorce decree on October 30, 2013.  During the period
of time surrounding the divorce, Jeanique was deployed to
Afghanistan and was not present in Texas for the divorce
proceedings. The Texas decree granted Jeremy "the
exclusive right to designate the primary residence of the
child" and further ordered Jeanique to pay Jeremy
$364.00 per month in child support.
November 9, 2015, Jeanique filed a "Petition to Register
Out-of-State Child Custody Order pursuant to La. R.S. 13:1827
et seq. to Modify Custody Order, to Register Out-of-State
Child Support Order Pursuant to La. Ch.C. 1306 et. seq. and
to Modify Support Order" in the 24th Judicial
District Court for the Parish of Jefferson. On February 24,
2016, the parties appeared before the domestic hearing
officer and stipulated that (1) the Final Decree of Divorce
issued in Texas would be registered and recognized as a
Louisiana judgment; (2) the parties would share joint custody
of J.L.; and (3) Jeremy would be designated as the
16, 2016, Jeremy filed a "Rule to Relocate, "
asserting that he received military transfer orders requiring
him to relocate to California and that it would be in
J.L.'s best interest to relocate to California. In his
rule to relocate, Jeremy pointed to the Texas judgment,
granting him the exclusive right to choose J.L.'s primary
residence, and to the February 24, 2016 judgment registering
the Texas judgment as a Louisiana judgment and designating
him as the domiciliary parent. On June 21, 2016, the parties
appeared before the hearing officer on Jeremy's rule to
relocate. On that date, the hearing officer deferred a
recommendation on the rule to relocate. The parties
stipulated to undergo a relocation evaluation and further
that, pending the relocation evaluation, J.L. would visit
with Jeremy in California from July 2, 2016, through August
August 11, 2016, Jeremy filed a "Motion for Order
Granting Temporary Relocation of the Principal Residence of
the Minor Child and Request for Expedited Hearing, "
contending that due to circumstances beyond the parties
control, the relocation evaluation had not yet occurred.
Jeremy alleged in his motion that he enrolled the child into
school in California, had family support in California, and
that relocation pending evaluation would be in the
child's best interest. The motion was set for a hearing
before the hearing officer on August 17, 2016. On that date,
Jeremy filed a motion to continue the hearing officer
conference, which was denied, alleging that his military
supervisors denied his request for leave to attend the
hearing officer conference and he was thus, unable to attend.
The record reflects that Jeremy's counsel was physically
present and that Jeremy participated by telephone.
the August 17, 2016 hearing officer conference, the hearing
officer recommended that Jeremy's motion for temporary
relocation be denied; that Jeanique have primary physical
custody of J.L., who should be registered to attend school in
the Greater New Orleans area; that the rule to relocate be
deferred until October 3, 2016; and that Jeremy immediately
return the minor child to Louisiana and incur the related
travel expenses. The recommendations became the interim
judgment of the court on August 18, 2016. The trial court
appointed Martha Bujanda as a mental health expert pursuant
to La. R.S. 9:331 to complete the relocation evaluation prior
to the scheduled October 3, 2016 hearing officer conference.
August 26, 2016, Jeanique filed a motion for contempt against
Jeremy, alleging that he failed to return J.L. to Louisiana
as stipulated between the parties following the June 21, 2016
hearing officer conference and further as ordered in the
August 18, 2016 interim judgment. In her motion, Jeanique
further alleged that Jeremy, without her knowledge, withdrew
J.L.'s registration from her Louisiana school, Belle
Chasse Academy, and enrolled her into a school in California.
parties appeared before the hearing officer on October 3,
2016. On that date, the hearing officer recommended that
Jeremy be found in contempt of court for failing to return
the minor child to Louisiana; withdrawing the child from her
Louisiana school; enrolling the child in school in
California; and for failing to reimburse Jeanique for
one-half of the cost of the airline ticket she purchased to
return the child to Louisiana. The hearing officer further
recommended that Jeremy be ordered to return the minor child
to Louisiana no later than October 14, 2016, and that, should
Jeremy fail to return the child by that date, a civil warrant
should issue to allow law enforcement officers to retrieve
the child from California. The parties subsequently appeared
before the district court judge, who found, "[b]ut for
the fact that you were not given a copy of the signed interim
judgment ordering you to immediately return your daughter I
would put you in jail, but…I don't think I can
legally do that today." The trial judge warned that if
Jeremy failed to return the minor child to Louisiana by
October 14, 2016, he would find Jeremy in contempt and place
him in jail.
record reflects that Jeremy returned J.L. to Louisiana on
October 14, 2016. On November 15, 2016, the matter proceeded
to trial on Jeremy's rule to relocate.
testified at trial that she and J.L. live in a three bedroom
home with a backyard on the military base in Belle Chasse,
Louisiana, which she described as a community environment.
Jeanique does not have any family in Louisiana but considers
her military friends who live on base to be her family. She
explained that the military moms help each other in any way
they can and that one of her good friends is a military wife
and stay-at-home mother who helps frequently with J.L. and is
listed as an emergency contact with J.L.'s school. J.L.
attends elementary school on the military base at Belle
Chasse Academy. Jeanique testified that J.L. has a lot of
friends in Louisiana, is enrolled in soccer, and attends
testified that, although she does not fall within a
"non-deployable" classification according to the
military guidelines, her supervisor has informed her that she
will not be deployed again because her current job position
is not needed overseas. Jeanique further testified that she
intends to leave the military in 2019, upon completion of her
current term, and remain in the New Orleans area. She is
registered in online courses to complete her degree in
counseling by 2019. She testified that, if she remained in
the military and reenlisted in 2019, she would have the
option to relocate to California.
testified that she has nine brothers and three sisters who
primarily reside in New York and Florida. Jeanique was raised
by her grandmother and did not have a relationship with her
mother as a child, due to her mother's substance abuse
issues. She stated that she has recently started to
communicate with her mother and that her goal is "to
give my daughter everything I didn't have growing
up." Jeanique testified that she has been dating someone
for several months and hopes to be engaged within the
testified to her opinion that Jeremy attempted to make her a
"weekend mom." She explained that Jeremy
consistently withheld information about J.L., including not
informing her that he withdrew J.L.'s registration from
Belle Chasse Academy in May 2016, where she attended
Kindergarten the year before. She stated she did not learn of
Jeremy's actions until mid-August 2016, when she dropped
off J.L.'s school supplies and was informed by the school
office that J.L. was no longer a registered student.
testified at trial that he and Jeanique met while in the
military and dated approximately three to four months before
she became pregnant. For a period of time after J.L.'s
birth, Jeanique worked a civilian job at Capital One and
became a weekend reserve. Shortly thereafter, Jeanique
received orders that she would be deployed to Afghanistan.
Jeremy testified that he took care of J.L. during
Jeanique's nearly one-year deployment.
testified that, in his new position as a recruiter for the
Coast Guard, he is classified in the military as
non-deployable. Jeremy disagrees with Jeanique's opinion
that she is non-deployable, explaining that there are three
classifications of Marines that are non-deployable and that
Jeanique does not fit into any of those categories.
Jeremy's decision to withdraw J.L. from her Louisiana
school and enroll her into a school in California, Jeremy
testified that he was advised by his previous counsel that
because he had the right, under the Texas judgment, to
determine J.L.'s primary residence and, further, because
he was designated as domiciliary parent in the February 24,
2016 stipulations in Louisiana, the court proceedings for
relocation were simply "procedural." According to
Jeremy, his counsel advised him to begin the process to
relocate his daughter to California and to obtain "all
… documents" to support relocation, such as
having suitable housing and enrolling her into an acceptable
testified that J.L. adjusted very well during her time in
California. J.L. attended summer camp in California and, from
mid-August to October 2016, excelled academically. Jeremy
testified that he works Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m.
to 4:30 p.m. regularly and had no childcare issues while J.L.
lived with him in California. Additionally, he testified that
his mother visited him in California during that time to
visit and help with J.L. Jeremy testified that he has cousins
and three aunts who live in California, one who lives
approximately twenty-five minutes from his home.
his decision not to return J.L. to Louisiana until October
14, 2016, Jeremy testified that he was unable to attend the
August 17, 2016 hearing officer conference because his
supervisor did not approve his leave request and he was
advised by his attorney at that time that the trial court
would grant a 90-day continuance of the hearing officer
conference under the Service Members Civil Relief Act.
Concerning why he did not return J.L. to Louisiana when he
traveled to Louisiana for the October 3, 2016 hearing officer
conference, Jeremy testified that J.L. was participating in
state testing and he thought it was in J.L.'s best
interest to not be absent during the state-wide mandated
testing. The record reflects that Jeremy did not return J.L.
to Louisiana until the trial judge instructed him that he
would be placed in jail if he failed to return J.L. by
October 14, 2016.
trial, Jeremy expressed concern about J.L.'s care in
Louisiana. He testified that he has never met Jeanique's
boyfriend and does not have a way to contact him in case of
emergency. He further expressed concern that he,
being in California, doesn't know who is watching J.L.
when Jeanique goes out with her boyfriend or friends. He
testified that J.L. informed him that a man slept over at
Jeanique's house on two occasions, to which Jeanique
responded that a male sergeant-friend, who has a daughter
J.L.'s age, came over to let their daughters play, and
decided to let the girls have a sleepover. According to
Jeanique, the male friend slept on the couch.
record reflects that the parties had a volatile relationship.
Jeremy testified that he and Jeanique argued constantly when
they were together and Jeanique confirmed that the two had a
volatile relationship and that Jeremy "brought out [the]
worst" in her. Jeremy recalled one incident when he was
lying on the couch holding J.L. as a baby and the two began
arguing. He testified that Jeanique smacked him across the
face, knocking off and breaking his glasses. He testified
that J.L. was scared and began to cry. Jeanique admitted to
slapping Jeremy while he was holding J.L. during an argument
after she learned Jeremy had cheated on her with another
woman. Jeanique denied having any anger management issues,
except in her relationship with Jeremy.
Martha Bujanda, an expert in custody and relocation
evaluations, testified as the court-appointed mental health
expert at trial. Ms. Bujanda testified that both parents
are committed and attached to J.L. and have a major emotional
bond to the child and that J.L. is also attached to both
parents. Ms. Bujanda testified extensively concerning the
factors set forth in La. C.C. art. 134 as well as those
set forth in La. R.S. 9:355.14. Ms. Bujanda prepared a
written report, introduced into evidence at trial, which
ultimately recommended that J.L. remain in Louisiana with
Jeanique designated as the domiciliary parent.
Bujanda testified at trial that both parties are good parents
who are loving and devoted to J.L. and can equally provide
for her material needs. She placed significant emphasis on
the stability and continuity of the community where the child
has resided for more than three years. Although she
recognized that stability and continuity in a military family
is different than a civilian family, she found that J.L. has
resided in Louisiana since 2013 and has lived in the same
community and attended the same school since that time. Ms.
Bujanda also spoke with J.L.'s first-grade teacher at
Belle Chasse Academy by telephone, who advised that J.L.
appears happy and well-adjusted and is doing well
Bujanda emphasized that both Jeremy and Jeanique are capable
and loving parents. She testified that, if Jeanique were the
parent relocating, she would most certainly have recommended
that J.L. remain with Jeremy in Louisiana. She did however
find that there is "no substitute" for a
mother-daughter bond and placed emphasis on the
mother-daughter relationship. She stated that while Jeremy
claims that he is supportive of J.L.'s bond with
Jeanique, his actions in this regard are
"incongruent." She reported that Jeremy has an
"entitled ownership attitude" toward J.L. For
example, she testified that documents from Belle Chasse
Academy reflect that Jeremy withdrew J.L.'s registration
from Belle Chasse Academy and enrolled J.L. into a California
school prior to the court's determination on the issue of
relocation and without Jeanique's knowledge or consent.
She further discussed Jeremy's decision to disregard the
court order to return J.L. to Louisiana and testified to her
opinion that Jeremy "does not view Jeanique as a viable
parent figure, and if left to his own would not make the
child accessible to the mother."
Bujanda reported that J.L. stated a preference to move to
California and remain with her father. However, Ms. Bujanda
found that, at six years of age, J.L. cannot make that
decision. She further explained that, during one of the
visits with Jeremy and J.L., Jeremy began to cry and was
visibly upset when discussing whether J.L. would relocate to
California. She explained that J.L. certainly "feels the
conflict of the situation."
Bujanda acknowledged that Jeanique has a "quick
temper" and her written report recommended that Jeanique
attend counseling for co-parenting without anger. Ms. Bujanda
admonished Jeanique for slapping Jeremy while holding J.L.,
but explained that the incident occurred only once, while the
parties were married, and did not occur recently. Ms. Bujanda
did not contact anyone in Jeanique's family, but did
contact her military supervisor to inquire about any possible
anger issues in the workplace. Jeanique's supervisor
indicated that she has been a stable Marine with no outbursts
or temper issues in the workplace. Ms. Bujanda further
recommended that Jeanique seek counseling for family of
origin issues, so as to not repeat the cycle of substance
abuse and neglect as her mother.
her written report does not recommend any counseling for
Jeremy, Ms. Bujanda revised her report during her testimony
at trial to also recommend that Jeremy seek counseling for
co-parenting without anger. She described Jeremy as
"domineering" and testified that both parties would
benefit from counseling.
Ms. Bujanda recommended that J.L. remain in Louisiana to
preserve a sense of stability and continuity for J.L. She
recommended that the parents have joint custody of J.L., with
Jeanique designated as domiciliary parent. She recommended
that Jeremy visit J.L. at least once a month either in
Louisiana or in Dallas, Texas, where the paternal grandmother
resides. Also, she recommended that the parties alternate
holidays with J.L. and that J.L. spend the summer with
Jeremy, returning two weeks before the school-year begins.
conclusion of trial, the trial judge encouraged the parties
to reach a compromise concerning relocation and took the
matter under advisement. On December 13, 2016, the trial
judge issued a written judgment denying Jeremy's rule to
relocate and finding that relocation to California was not in
J.L.'s best interest.
appeal, Jeremy seeks review of the trial court's denial
of his rule to relocate. First, Jeremy contends that the
trial court erred in failing to consider the twelve
relocation factors under La. R.S. 9:355.14 and requests that
this Court conduct a de novo review. Second, Jeremy
contends that the trial court erred in finding that
relocation to California is not in J.L.'s best interest.
first address Jeremy's assignment of error relating to
the applicable standard of review in this case. In brief to
this Court, Jeremy contends that the trial judge erred in
failing to consider all of the relocation factors under La.
R.S. 9:355.14 and in failing to expressly provide oral or
written reasons for his determination that relocation is not
in J.L.'s best interest.
Louisiana Supreme Court has directly addressed this issue in
Gathen v. Gathen, 10-2312 (La. 5/10/11), 66 So.3d 1.
The Court in Gathen granted a writ "to
determine the appropriate standard of review of a trial
court's decision in a child relocation case, where the
trial court does not expressly analyze each factor under La.
R.S. 9:355.12 [now La. R.S. 9:355.14] in determining whether
relocation is in the best interest of the child."
Gathen, 66 So.3d at 2. Upon consideration, the
Gathen Court held that while the relocation statute
mandates that the trial judge consider all twelve relocation
factors, a trial judge need not expressly analyze each and
every factor in its oral or written reasons for judgment.
Id. at 9. Rather, the Court ultimately concluded
that if it can be "gleaned from the record as a whole
that the trial judge followed the law in reaching his
ultimate determination, " a de novo
review is not proper. Id. at 13. The Court
recognized that while oral or written reasons analyzing each
factor certainly "makes appellate review for abuse of
discretion somewhat difficult, " it is simply not
required. Id. at 10. The Court reasoned that the
legislature does not impose upon a trial court the
requirement to provide written or oral reasons under La. R.S.
9:355.12 and that, should the parties desire to have written
and express reasons for judgment, they have the right to
request written reasons pursuant to La. C.C.P. art. 1917.
Id. at 9.
case, neither party filed a request for written reasons in
the trial court. A thorough review of the record before us is
replete with discussion and reference to each and every
relocation factor provided in La. R.S.
9:355.14. Accordingly, we review the trial
court's judgment in this case under the abuse ...