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Dumas v. Woods

January 11, 2007

WENDY DUMAS, APPELLANT
v.
ISAIAH WOODS, JR., APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia DRB-3267-04 (Hon. Jerry S. Byrd, Trial Judge) .

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thompson, Associate Judge

Submitted December 12, 2006

Before FISHER and THOMPSON, Associate Judges, and FERREN, Senior Judge.

Appellant Wendy Dumas appeals from a Superior Court order granting legal and physical custody of her son J.D. solely to the child's father, appellee Woods, and effectively denying the parties' request for joint legal custody. We find that the trial court's brief written order contains insufficient analysis to permit us to assess whether the court considered all of the relevant factors and whether it correctly applied the statutory presumption favoring joint custody, which applies with particular force when the parents have agreed to joint custody. Accordingly, we vacate the custody order and remand the case to the trial court to articulate findings of fact and conclusions of law (that reflect the situation as it exists following the remand) and to 2 fashion an order that is consistent with the requirements of D.C. Code § 16-914.

I.

On November 29, 2004, appellee Woods, who is J.D.'s biological father, filed a petition to obtain joint legal and physical custody of J.D. On December 1, 2004, appellant Dumas, who had custody at that time, filed her contested answer and counterclaim for custody. The case was set for a hearing but the hearing was continued pending the parties' attempt at mediation. On July 11, 2005, the court ordered a home survey of both parties' residences.

On September 19, 2005, the court held a custody hearing. Both parties proceeded pro se. The parties informed the court that J.D., who was thirteen years old at the time of the hearing, had lived with appellant all of his life and was having behavioral problems. Woods asserted that Dumas was unable to control J.D., that J.D. disrespected her, and that he (Woods) wanted to "take control of" and have more input into J.D's life, and wanted to be able to mold him. Dumas acknowledged that the schools near Woods' home might be better for J.D. than the schools near Dumas's home. The following colloquy occurred at the hearing:

The Court: . . .we could do joint, legal custody and let him -- and physical custody with [Mr. Woods], and therefore -- and a visitation, a reasonable visitation with Ms. Dumas.

Mr. Woods: That would be more than acceptable. The Court: And then, therefore, any, you know, she -- you won't be -- you can see him; you still have, under legal concept -- you see, it's basically joint custody. It's just [J.D. is] living with his father.

Ms. Dumas: Okay.

The trial judge informed the parties that he would review the home survey, which he had received but not read, and would "make a decision based on that." The docket entry documenting the September 19, 2005 hearing states, "HEARING HELD JOINT CUSTODY AWARDED TO PARTIES, WITH PSYICAL [sic] CUSTODY AWARDED TO PLAINTIFF," i.e., that joint custody was awarded to the parties with physical custody awarded to Woods.

After completing the home survey that the court had ordered, the Superior Court Social Services Division Domestic Relations Officer recommended, in a report dated September 16, 2005, that joint legal custody of J.D. be granted to Dumas and Woods and that primary physical custody remain with Dumas.

On the day following the September 19 hearing, the court issued a one-page "Permanent Order of Custody of Minor Child," concluding that: "[b]ased upon the pleadings, the Home Survey, the representations of the parties made in open court, and the consent of [Dumas], the court concludes that it is in the best interest of the minor child to be in the custody and care of [Woods] and that [Woods] is a fit and proper person to have legal and physical custody of the minor child, with liberal visitation rights reserved to [Dumas]."

The court made no other findings of fact or conclusions of law and did not discuss the contents ...


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