Appealed from the Fourth Judicial District Court for the
Parish of Ouachita, Louisiana Trial Court No. 2017-2618
(Civil) Honorable Alvin R. Sharp, Judge
JUSTICE CENTER Counsel for Appellant
Dixon Brown MICHAEL ABRAMS In Proper Person
WILLIAMS, MOORE, and COX, JJ.
Turner, a single mother residing in New Orleans, appeals a
judgment that awarded her and her former partner joint
custody of their two boys; however, the court named the
father, Michael Abrams, who resides in Monroe, the
domiciliary parent with primary custody of the boys during
the school year. Ms. Turner alleges that the trial court
clearly abused its discretion and argues that the weight of
the evidence favored making her the domiciliary parent under
La. C.C. art. 134.
following reasons, we affirm the trial court judgment.
Abrams filed a petition against Brittany Turner for sole
custody of their two minor male children, Jayden and Amir,
ages 10 and 5 years, respectively, alleging that Brittany had
abandoned the children by dropping them off at her
father's house in Shreveport and did not return to get
them. Brittany answered denying that she abandoned her
children, and filed a reconventional demand seeking sole
custody of them on grounds that they have lived most of their
lives with her with very little assistance from Michael.
Hearing Officer Conference ("HOC") was held on
October 16, 2017, after which the hearing officer filed a
report recommending that both parents share joint custody of
the two children, but that Michael be designated the
domiciliary parent. Brittany objected to the HOC report and
its recommendations, and requested a trial on the matter.
Pending trial, the court temporarily adopted the HOC joint
custody implementation plan giving Michael primary custody
and Brittany biweekly visitation. However, she did not
exercise her visitation the seven months prior to
trial of the matter, July 9-11, 2018, both parents and two
witnesses testified, and the court kept the record open until
it held a Watermeir inquiry with the oldest child,
Jayden, who by then was 11 years old. There was no interview
with the younger boy, six-year-old Amir.
August 14, 2018, the court filed a judgment finding that of
the factors listed in La. C.C. art. 134, factors (1), (6),
(7), (10) and (11) were equal, but factors (2), (3), (4),
(5), (8) and (9) weighed in favor of the father, and factor
(12) favored the mother. Based in part on these findings, it
awarded the parents joint custody of the children and named
Michael, who lives in Monroe, the domiciliary parent, subject
to reasonable visitation for Brittany. Michael was ordered to
submit a visitation plan within 15 days. Neither party
appeared at a subsequent hearing, set for September 14, 2018;
correspondence in the record indicates that neither Michael
nor Brittany's counsel received the judgment allegedly
mailed on August 15, 2018. Michael notified the clerk's
office on August 17, 2018, two days after the judgment was
mailed, of a change of address and counsel notified the
clerk's office that it did not receive the judgment.
Subsequently, Michael submitted a proposed visitation plan on
September 10, 2018, that lacked a determinate visitation
Turner and Michael Abrams began dating in the fall of 2006,
while she was living and working as a medical coder in
Houston, Texas. Although she is from New Orleans, Brittany
moved to Houston in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Michael works as a barber and instructor at Delta Community
College in Monroe.
children were born from the relationship. The first, Jayden,
now age 12, was born on August 16, 2007, in Houston; the
second, Amir, was born on November 13, 2012, in Monroe, and
is now 6.
testified that Brittany called him in Monroe when the baby
was six months old and told him he was the
father. He said he immediately went to Houston,
accepted that he was the father, and began giving financial
support to Brittany. Eventually Michael adopted the child and
the boy's name was changed to Jayden Michael Abrams. For
the next year and a half, the long-distance relationship
continued with Brittany in Houston and Michael in Monroe.
moved to Monroe in 2009 when Jayden was two years old. By
2011, the couple moved in together. She testified that she
and Michael lived together a total of three years over the
entirety of their relationship – from 2011 to 2013, and
the year of 2016. She testified that Michael did not provide
her with consistent support, and particularly he gave no
financial support – only contributions of clothing and
shoes and other items for the children.
contrast, Michael testified that between 2009 and 2014, when
Brittany moved back to Houston, they lived together most of
the time, but they occasionally split up temporarily over
disagreements. He estimated they lived together four years
out of that five-year period. He testified that he gave
Brittany financial support.
main complaints regarding the rocky relationship with Michael
were lack of financial support and Michael's very
controlling and overbearing character. She said he would
treat her kindly or help her financially only when she
followed his rules. Toward the end of their relationship, she
said that he harassed her at work with telephone calls
belittling her and restricting her to her apartment. She said
he referred to her as a "clown."
admitted that he has a lot of rules when he answered the
court's questions regarding why he thought it would be
advantageous for Jayden to live with him rather than
Brittany. Contrary to Brittany's testimony, he said that
when they lived together in Monroe, he paid the larger
monthly bills and she paid the smaller bills.
2014, Brittany went back to Houston, ostensibly to interview
for a job at a medical billing facility. She testified that
she and Michael discussed the job and interview before she
left. Conversely, Michael testified that there was no
discussion; he woke up and she was gone, leaving only a note
on her pillow with an ultimatum that either they take the
next step and get married or, presumably, it was over between
them. She did not take the children with her.
few weeks, she came back to Monroe to get Jayden, but left
Amir with Michael. Both parents decided that Amir should stay
in Monroe because he was so young. She also testified that
for the next year and a half, she drove to Monroe once or
twice a month. Once for a two-week period she kept Amir with
her in Houston. She said that Michael drove to Houston to see
the children only "about two times." Michael agreed
that Brittany did most of the driving between Houston and
Monroe, but he said that he had Amir with him almost the
entire time except for the two-week visit in which he let her
take Amir back with her. He confirmed that he and Brittany
agreed that they would separate the kids during that period.
in 2016, Brittany apparently became unemployed and returned
to Monroe. By this time, Michael was in a new relationship
with another woman. Apparently both children lived with
Brittany at this time, and she came to Monroe without the
means to get a place of her own. They moved into the home of
a friend from the church she attended. This arrangement was
short-lived for unspecified reasons. From there, she moved
with the children into the home of another friend from the
church. Finally, on June 1, 2016, Michael signed a lease for
a duplex apartment for her, but he testified that Brittany
paid the deposit. There is disputed testimony as to how much
he assisted her with the rent or whether she paid it all
herself. She testified that he helped her with the rent for
two months, while he testified he helped her for four or five
months and said he had checks to prove it.
with this arrangement, their troubles continued. Brittany
testified that during the one-year period from June of 2016
to June of 2017, when she moved out of the apartment, Michael
came and went from the apartment unannounced, letting himself
in while she was gone even though he did not live there. She
said that he became controlling and ...