Submitted October 2, 2013.
Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (DRB-2942-09). (Hon. Alfred S. Irving, Jr., Trial Judge).
Michelle R. Bonner for appellant.
Alicia Wimbish and Keeshea Turner-Roberts, Neighborhood Legal Services Program, for appellee.
Before BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY and MCLEESE, Associate Judges, and KING, Senior Judge.
Blackburne-Rigsby, Associate Judge :
Appellant Frederick Renee Ruffin challenges a Consent Custody Order awarding sole legal and physical custody of her biological son, A.R., to the child's biological father, appellee Antoine Maurice Roberts. Ruffin claims that the trial court issued the order without her consent. Alternatively, she argues that the trial court erred in determining that it did not have authority to order third-party visitation. We affirm.
I. Factual Background
Ruffin and Roberts were married in the District of Columbia and had A.R. in 2009. In 2010, Ruffin and Roberts legally separated and reached a temporary custody agreement, whereby Roberts was awarded physical custody of the child and Ruffin was accorded visitation rights. On January 7, 2011, Ruffin's maternal aunt, Vanessa Ruffin-Colbert, filed a motion to intervene as a third party, seeking visitation with the child. Roberts filed an opposition. Upon review, the trial court denied Ruffin-Colbert's motion and ordered the appointment of a guardian ad litem . In October 2011, Ruffin was convicted of arson and ordered to stay away from Roberts, who was the complainant in that criminal case. Ruffin will likely remain incarcerated in Danbury, Connecticut, until September 2014. Roberts subsequently filed for divorce, and a status hearing was scheduled for August 23, 2012, to address the issues of divorce and child custody.
At the status hearing, Ruffin's trial counsel noted that both parties agreed to an absolute divorce. Ruffin's counsel also stated that " [w]ith regards to [the] custody, [Ruffin] does not object to [Roberts] having sole physical and legal custody of the child." Roberts' counsel concurred: " [r]egarding the issues of visitation and custody, we don't disagree with [Roberts] taking [on] sole legal and physical custody." Ruffin's counsel then raised the issue of third-party visitation, requesting that the child have contact and communication with Ruffin's maternal aunts, Vanessa Ruffin-Colbert and Sheila Ruffin. Roberts opposed the request as to Ruffin's maternal aunts, but stated that he would agree to visitation with Ruffin's sister and mother. After counsel for both parties outlined their respective positions, the guardians ad litem addressed the court, expressing concern that " having visitation with either [Ruffin's sister or mother] [but] not with [her maternal aunts] would be, sort of, the
equivalent of not really having contact with her side of the family[.]" In light of the parties' incongruent positions and the opinion held by the guardians ad litem, the court requested that each party submit a brief on the issue of visitation.
On October 19, 2012, after reviewing the briefs and arguments, the trial court issued the Consent Custody Order awarding sole legal and physical custody of A.R. to Roberts, based on the consent of both parties to this agreement. Additionally, the court denied Ruffin's request for A.R. to have third-party visitation with her maternal aunts after concluding that it did not have the authority to order such visitation over the objection of the custodial parent. Further, the court rejected Ruffin's assertion that her choice of third-party visitors be given " weighty consideration," noting that a non-custodial parent cannot override the sole legal custodian's right to make decisions in the minor child's best interest. The court likewise rejected Ruffin's contention that the Military Parents' Child Custody and Visitation Rights ...