FROM THE FIFTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF
VERMILION, NO. 99997 HONORABLE CHARLES G. FITZGERALD,
Moss Attorney for Appellant/Defendant Carroll F. Thomas, II
Jessica Langley Thomas, In Proper Person Appellee/Plaintiff
composed of Chief Judge Ulyssess Gene Thibodeaux, and Sylvia
R. Cooks and Marc T. Amy, Judges.
R. COOKS JUDGE
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Langley Thomas (Jessica) and Carroll F. Thomas, II (Carroll)
entered into a covenant marriage in 1998. They are the
parents of three minor children. Jessica filed for Divorce
alleging grounds under La.Civ.Code art. 102. The couple was
awarded joint legal custody of the three children and Jessica
was made the domiciliary parent with Carroll enjoying
visitation. Following a hearing officer conference in 2015
the hearing officer made recommendations, neither party
objected, and the recommendations became the judgment of the
court duly signed by the trial court. In 2017 Jessica filed a
rule for modification of child support asserting a change of
circumstances occurred since the previous support order,
namely, that the cost of private schooling for the children
was not included in the prior child support order. The
parties agree that the issue of private school tuition was
not previously addressed because they represented to the
hearing officer the cost had already been paid prior to the
hearing. The parties subsequently learned there was actually
a balance due on the tuition costs.
alleged in her current motion that Carroll agreed to pay his
portion of the children's tuition costs but failed to
honor his agreement. She also alleged arrearages were owed to
the school and sought recovery of Carroll's share of
arrearages. A hearing officer conference was held. After
receiving evidence and testimony from both parties the
hearing officer made a written "Recommendation"
based on his enumerated findings of fact. That
"Recommendation" is dated July 11, 2017. The
hearing officer determined that "neither party has the
ability to show a change in circumstances of the other party
from the incomes attributed at the time of the prior order.
As such the modifications sought herein should be made using
those prior assessed incomes." The hearing officer also
expressly found the following set forth in the "HEARING
OFFICER FINDINGS OF FACT:"
(x) At the time of the prior order the minor children were
attending private school, however, the costs of that private
schooling were not included in the prior order as it was
determined that the tuition for that current year had been
In fact, the tuition for that year had not been fully paid
and the petitioner now seeks to have the private school
tuition costs included in the calculation of child support. .
When the parties were living together the minor children
attended LeBlanc Elementary until such time as they
transitioned at which time they began attending Harvest Time.
The father asserts that an award of co-domiciliary status
would allow the children to attend school in the North
Vermilion School District-an A rated school district. No
petition for modification of custody has been filed.
(x) The gross monthly income of Plaintiff, JESSICA LANGLEY
THOMAS, is determined to be $1256.00 30%
(x) The gross monthly income of Defendant, CARROLL F. THOMAS
II, is determined to be $3000.00 70%
(x) Child support worksheet attached.
(x) Finding that the non-domiciliary party's child
support obligation equals or exceeds fifty percent of the
total child support obligation, that no arrearages are owed
and that the right to claim the dependency deduction(s) would
substantially benefit the non-domiciliary party without
significantly harming the domiciliary party, the tax
dependency deductions are awarded to the non-domiciliary
party as set forth in the attached Recommendations.
FINDINGS OF LAW BASED ON THE PLEADINGS AND
Should the court determine that the private school tuition
costs should be included in the child support obligation for
the two minor children now attending Harvest Time Christian
Academy, then: The non-custodial parent, Carroll Thomas, II,
be ordered to pay child support of $1319.18 per month,
payable ½ by the 1st day of each month and
½ by the 15th day of each month, commencing
on the 1st day of July, 2017.
Should the court determine that the private school tuition
costs should not be included in the child support
obligation for the two minor children now attending Harvest
Time Christian Academy, then the child support obligation
should remain as previously ordered ($893.33)
(x) That court costs be cast as follows: Deferred to the
hearing on this matter.
party filed any objection to the hearing officer
recommendation within the delay period provided. The trial
judge signed the Judgment on July 21, 2017, making the
hearing officer's recommendation the "lawful order
of the Court." The judgment also provided that court
costs would be "deferred to hearing." Notice of
judgment was mailed to both parties on July 24, 2017. The
remaining issue to "determine whether private school
tuition should be included in the parties' child support
calculation" was set for a rule to show cause hearing on
August 1, 2017.
minutes reflect that on August 1, 2017, the parties appeared,
unrepresented by counsel. Following a pre-trial conference,
the trial court on its own motion continued and re-fixed the
matter for trial on August 29, 2017. The court minutes also
show that the rule scheduled for hearing was a:
RULE FOR CHILD SUPPORT MODIFICATION/FOR INCREASE; TO PAY FOR
COSTS OF PRIVATE SCHOOL AND/OR PAY PROPORTIONATE SHARE OF
COSTS; TO PAY ARREARAGE OWED TO SCHOOL FOR PASTDUE TUITION
COSTS TO BE ALLOCATED BETWEEN THE PARTIES IN ACCORDANCE WITH
THEIR PROPORTIONATESHARE OF INCOME; AND FOR ALL COSTS
minutes also include the representation that "both
parties mutually agreed" that the matter be re-fixed and
[T]he plaintiff is to exchange all documents with the
defendant regarding tuition payments, tuition payment
schedules, and professional opinions/letters issued by
Stephanie Leleux, Michelle Rupert, and Jackie Braxton, who
will be subpoenaed & called as witnesses by the
plaintiff; and that both parties will waive formal notice of
fixing in this matter. Court costs [are] deferred.
minutes dated October 10, 2017 indicate a hearing was held on
the rule concerning payment of costs for tuition. Both
parties were again unrepresented by counsel. Plaintiff called
three witnesses; Michelle Rupert, Lucia Viator and Holly
Dotson. The trial judge questioned the witnesses extensively.
Jessica did not question the witnesses, expressing her
satisfaction with the judge's interrogation of the
witnesses. The matter was again continued to October 17, 2017
for day two of the hearing. The court minutes reflect that on
this date the parties appeared with Jessica representing
herself and attorney Rachel Moss (Moss) representing Carroll.
The court heard Jessica's testimony and engaged in
discussions on the record with both Jessica and Carroll. The
trial court rescinded "any and all stipulations [by both
parties]" and continued the matter for day three of the
hearing to be set for November 28, 2017.
court minutes dated November 28, 2017 state that the hearing
continued with Jessica recalling herself to the stand for
additional direct testimony. Again, Jessica represented
herself and Carroll was represented by attorney Moss. Defense
counsel objected to any further direct testimony by Jessica.
The court "denied" the objection. During her
testimony, Jessica introduced exhibits which she labeled as
PL-Jessica-1 and 2. These exhibits included:
"Jessica's 2016 W-2 Wage and Tax Statement from Blue
Agave & Brothers, LLC" and "her 2016 1099
Miscellaneous Income Statement from Ascension Driving Academy
d/b/a Lagniappe Lunches." Jessica then called Carroll on
cross examination and following this testimony she rested her
case. Defense counsel informed the court she had no further
evidence or testimony to present and defense rested. The
trial court recessed for about ...