APPEAL FROM THE COLUMBIA COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. NO. DR-12-306. HONORABLE HAMILTON H. SINGLETON, JUDGE.
Ronald L. Griggs, for appellant.
Lloyd H. Smith, Jr., for appellee.
DAVID M. GLOVER, Judge. HARRISON and WYNNE, JJ., agree.
DAVID M. GLOVER, Judge
Appellant, Stuart Deaton, and appellee, Alyssa Morgan, are the unmarried parents of a minor female child, M.D. Stuart appeals from the October 24, 2013 order granting custody of the child to Alyssa. He contends that the trial court erred 1) in considering evidence presented by Alyssa for any purpose other than Stuart's fitness to have custody, and 2) in placing custody with Alyssa. We affirm.
On November 9, 2012, when M.D. was approximately four months old, Stuart filed a motion for ex parte temporary custody. He also filed a petition to establish paternity, which Alyssa acknowledged. At the December 12, 2012 hearing on Stuart's motion, Stuart appeared with his counsel. Alyssa appeared pro se, having never been served but waiving service of summons on the record. She also acknowledged that she and Stuart had reached a temporary accord, and she approved a temporary order (which was not actually entered until April 10, 2013) by which Stuart would have temporary custody of M.D. and Alyssa would have supervised visitation. The order provided that this " arrangement shall continue until this matter is further heard by the Court." On March 26, 2013, Alyssa's counsel entered his appearance. Following a hearing on April 10, 2013, the trial court entered its May 6, 2013 order, which established a visitation schedule for Alyssa, eliminated the requirement that visitation be supervised, provided that the temporary custody and visitation was without prejudice, and made clear that a full hearing on the merits would be set by the trial court to establish what was in the child's best interest and that an attorney ad litem would be appointed.
The full hearing on the merits took place August 2, 2013. The parties and M.D. were each represented by counsel at the hearing, and posthearing briefs were submitted. By order entered October 24, 2013, the trial court stated that " [t]his matter came on for hearing Friday, August 2, 2013, on the issue of the custody of [M.D.]," and determined that it was in the child's best interest for custody to be with Alyssa. Stuart was awarded reasonable
visitation and ordered to pay child support and the balance of the appointed ad litem's fee.
In this order, the trial court further recounted the unusual procedural history of the case, noting that it had earlier placed temporary custody with Stuart " without prejudice" to be followed by a full hearing on the merits. The order then explained in part:
6. That on the 2nd day of August 2013, a full hearing on the merits was held. Petitioner appeared with his new/substituted attorney, Mr. Ronald Griggs. Respondent appeared with her attorney, Mr. Lloyd Smith and Ms. Amy Freedman appeared on behalf of the minor child, . .., as the child's attorney ad litem.
After petitioner rested his case in chief he moved to prohibit any witnesses who may be called by respondent to testify because there had been no pleadings seeking affirmative relief. This motion was denied by the Court with the comment that ...