Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Bernard v. Bernard

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

February 12, 2019

STEFANIE NELSON BERNARD
v.
MATTHEW SCOTT BERNARD LINDA ALLEN
v.
STEFANIE NELSON BERNARD AND MATTHEW SCOTT BERNARD

          On Appeal from the Twenty-First Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of Livingston State of Louisiana No. 126, 773 c/w 153, 163, Honorable Jeffrey T. Oglesbee, Judge Presiding

          Dede Sabagh Ferrara Walker, LA Counsel for Appellant, Matthew Scott Bernard

          Sherman Q. Mack C. Glenn Westmoreland Emily Guidry Jones Albany, LA Counsel for Appellee, Linda Allen

          BEFORE: WHIPPLE, C.J., McCLENDON, HIGGINBOTHAM, JJ.

          McCLENDON, J.

         In this custody dispute, the father seeks reversal of the trial court's judgment that granted sole custody of his biological child to the child's maternal grandmother. For the reasons that follow, we reverse the portion of the judgment that awards sole custody of the child to the child's maternal grandmother and vacate the remainder of the judgment which sets forth the visitation schedule. We award joint custody to the father and maternal grandmother, with the grandmother to be domiciliary custodian, and remand to the trial court to establish a joint custody visitation schedule.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The child, S.M.B., was born in October 2009 during the marriage of Matthew Scott Bernard and Stefanie Nelson Bernard. The couple separated and subsequently divorced when S.M.B. was very young. Stefanie was awarded sole custody of S.M.B. in a considered decree rendered on March 29, 2010. Although Matthew was awarded reasonable visitation, it is undisputed that he did not have a significant role in S.M.B.'s life until December 2015. This is, at least in part, due to Matthew's incarceration.[1]Since his release in December 2015, Matthew has maintained regular contact and visitation with S.M.B. The record reveals that Matthew has turned his life around and has become a productive, law-abiding member of society.

         S.M.B., who was nearly eight years old at the time of the instant custody proceeding in September 2017, has lived most of his life with his maternal grandmother, Linda Allen.[2] For the majority of that time, S.M.B. lived in Linda's home with his mother, Stefanie. However, Stefanie became addicted to drugs after S.M.B. was born and, in March 2016, six-year-old S.M.B. found his mother unconscious on the bathroom floor of Linda's home, with needles in close proximity. Linda testified that prior to this she was unaware that Stefanie was using drugs in her home. As a result of her drug use, Stefanie has not lived in Linda's home with S.M.B. since March 2016. Instead, Stefanie has been in and out of drug rehabilitation and/or sober living facilities.

         Due to Stefanie's addiction, Matthew filed a petition to modify custody in September 2016, naming Stefanie as a defendant. In his first amending and supplemental petition to modify custody and rule for contempt, Matthew clarified that he was seeking sole custody of S.M.B.[3] In response to Matthew's petition, Linda filed a petition for child custody against Stefanie and Matthew in which she sought sole custody of S.M.B. with Stefanie and Matthew to enjoy supervised visitation. The matters were consolidated for purposes of determining custody.

         The initial custody trial took place in February 2017. After hearing testimony from Linda, Stefanie, Matthew, and witnesses on Matthew's behalf, the trial court entered an interim order granting sole custody to Linda Allen with reasonable custodial periods in favor of Matthew.[4] Specifically, the trial court awarded visitation to Matthew on alternating weekends and on Wednesdays following his weekend visitation. Linda was ordered to keep Matthew and Stefanie informed of all medical and educational issues concerning S.M.B. and to include them as authorized persons to receive information from third parties concerning S.M.B.'s school and educational issues. The trial court acknowledged Matthew's significant transformation but expressed concern that removing S.M.B. from Linda's home, the only stable home he has ever known, was not in S.M.B.'s best interest. The trial court awarded custody on an interim basis to enable Matthew to accept more parental responsibility before custody was determined on a permanent basis. At the close of the February 2017 proceeding, the court stated that it intended to reunite S.M.B. with his parents if they continued to make improvements.

         The hearing to review custody and to establish a permanent custody plan took place on September 28, 2017. The trial court again heard testimony from Linda, Matthew, and witnesses on Matthew's behalf concerning S.M.B.'s welfare and his relationship with Matthew since the February 2017 interim order. At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court awarded sole custody to Linda, with Matthew to enjoy liberal visitation on alternating weekends, Wednesdays, holidays, and during the first and third weeks of June and July. A detailed visitation schedule was set forth in the judgment. Stefanie was awarded visitation as mutually agreed upon by Stefanie and Linda. Linda was again ordered to keep Matthew and Stefanie informed of all medical and educational issues concerning S.M.B. and to include them as authorized persons to receive information from third parties concerning S.M.B.'s school and educational issues.

         A judgment was signed on November 6, 2017. Matthew timely filed a motion for new trial, which was denied in January 2018. Following this, Matthew filed the instant appeal, assigning the following as error:

The trial court erred in awarding custody of the minor child to Linda Allen because she failed to prove that an award of custody to the father would result ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.