Halford v. Halford

Decision Date31 August 2009
Docket NumberNo. SD 29354.,SD 29354.
Citation292 S.W.3d 536
PartiesIn re the Marriage of: Brent Scott HALFORD, Petitioner-Respondent, v. Beverly Kay HALFORD, Respondent-Appellant.
CourtMissouri Court of Appeals

James R. Sharp, Springfield, MO, Attorney for Appellant.

Roy E. Williams Jr., West Plains, MO, Attorney for Respondent.

DON E. BURRELL, Presiding Judge.

Beverly Halford ("Mother") appeals from the judgment that dissolved her marriage to Brent Halford ("Father"). Mother asserts two points of trial court error: 1) that the physical custody award was not supported by substantial evidence; and 2) that the legal custody award is not compatible with the statutory definition of "joint legal custody" and the court's parenting plan lacks certain provisions mandated by statute. Finding an ambiguity in the trial court's physical custody award and Mother's second point to have merit, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand with directions.

Mother and Father had been married for twenty years when Father filed his dissolution petition. The parties have two minor children, B.D.H., a daughter, and B.S.H, a son. In their respective attempts to gain custody of the children, Father alleged that Mother had participated in extra-marital affairs and engaged in various incidents of fraudulent behavior, while Mother accused Father of having a violent temper and of choking her in front of B.S.H. The trial court dissolved the marriage on February 26, 2008. The portion of the trial court's dissolution decree ordering relief purported to grant the parties joint legal custody of their children with Father to receive "actual physical custody" and Mother to receive "visitation."1

We will affirm the trial court's judgment "unless it is not supported by substantial evidence, is against the weight of the evidence, or misapplies or erroneously declares the law." In re Marriage of Wood, 262 S.W.3d 267, 270 (Mo.App. S.D.2008). "Substantial evidence" simply means "competent evidence from which the trial court could reasonably decide the case." Bauer v. Bauer, 38 S.W.3d 449, 455 (Mo.App. W.D.2001). "[W]e defer to the trial court's credibility determinations" and it is free to believe or disbelieve all, part, or none of the testimony of any witness. In re Marriage of Dolence, 231 S.W.3d 331, 333-34 (Mo.App. S.D.2007). We view the evidence and all inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the judgment and ignore all contrary evidence and inferences. Id. at 334. "The trial court has broad discretion in [custody] matters and we presume that the court awarded custody in accordance with the child[ren]'s best interest." L.J.S. v. F.R.S., 247 S.W.3d 921, 925 (Mo.App. S.D.2008). We will, therefore, uphold the trial court's decision "unless we are firmly convinced that the welfare and best interests of the child[ren] require otherwise." Id

Section 452.375.2 requires a trial court to base its custody award on the best interests of the children and sets forth eight non-exclusive factors the court must consider in making that determination.2 Mother asserts that five separate findings made by the trial court in addressing these factors were not supported by substantial evidence.

First, although Mother admitted to having engaged in various extra-marital affairs, she alleges that no evidence was presented that indicated these relationships had any sort of negative impact upon the children and that the trial court's decision to award Father their "actual physical custody" improperly "punished" Mother for these past relationships.

Mother testified that she was involved in a ten-year extra-marital affair with Dr. Shoults ("Shoults") from 1994 to 2003. Shoults testified that he was "under the impression" that B.S.H. was his son and he had been voluntarily paying Mother monetary support for B.S.H. for three years.3 Mother also admitted that she had an affair with Brandon Schlitz ("Schlitz"), that their relationship began after Father filed for divorce but before the parties' marriage was dissolved, and that she, the children, Schlitz, and Schlitz's daughter all lived together in the same house for at least two weeks.

The trial court's findings on these matters were that:

[Mother] has knowingly, intentionally and willfully placed the minor children in the presence of one or more male paramours and has specifically misrepresented facts or circumstances regarding the relationship of at least one paramour to the minor children, specifically Dr. Nicholas Shoults, with whom [Mother] carried on an open, continuous and ongoing relationship, representing to both Mr. Shoults and the minor children that Mr. Shoults was the natural, biological father of [B.S.H.]. Further, [Mother] has engaged in a continuous, ongoing and open relationship with a male paramour, in the presence of the minor children during the pendency of these proceedings.

While Mother is correct that no direct evidence was presented that showed the children had been negatively affected by Mother's extra-marital affairs, none was required. As this court has previously stated, "[a] trial court may properly consider moral fitness in determining child custody issues," and a party's "conduct of affairs with the knowledge of children and while they are present in the house has been held to be a critical factor in denying [that party] custody." Jones v. Jones, 937 S.W.2d 352, 356 (Mo.App. S.D.1996).

Second, Mother alleges there was no evidence indicating that she had intentionally interfered with Father's relationship with the children. The record does not support that claim. From December until the end of January, Mother and Father arranged to meet at the local police station to exchange custody of the children. Father was supposed to pick the children up at 3:30 p.m. Father testified that on approximately six or seven occasions, Mother was late for these exchanges and did not show up until around 5:00 p.m. Two other witnesses also testified that Mother had interfered with Father's relationship with the children. Bridget Williams ("Williams"), the Superintendent of Mountain Grove School, testified that she had observed a situation after a volleyball game in which B.S.H. appeared to want to have a conversation with his Father. Williams was then asked, "Based on your observations did [Mother] interfere with that?" Williams responded, "[B.S.H] never went to see his dad." Jake Blayton, whose daughter participates in sports and extracurricular activities with B.D.H., testified that he witnessed conduct by Mother that he believed kept Father from having contact with the children. Specifically, Blayton testified that he saw Mother call the children to her and leave the ballgame before they could talk to Father.

During the time the dissolution case was pending, Mother had also filed two separate petitions against Father that sought the issuance of an adult order of protection. The first petition was apparently dismissed by the agreement of the parties. The second was dismissed by the court after an evidentiary hearing.

In regard to these matters, the court's findings were:

The Court finds that during the pendency of these proceedings, [Mother] has filed at least two separate Petitions for Adult Protection, one of which was voluntarily dismissed, and the other one of which was dismissed by the court after an evidentiary hearing. In both proceedings, [Mother] requested custody of the minor children and, during the pendency of those proceedings, interfered with [Father]'s custodial rights and privileges. Further, and despite having no legitimate purpose or basis therefore, [Mother] interfered with [Father]'s ability to have contact with the minor children during the pendency of this proceeding, by frustrating the exchange of the parties' minor children, when other appropriate alternatives existed.

Third, Mother points out that there was considerable evidence that the children had seen Father display an uncontrolled temper that had once resulted in his physically assaulting her in their presence. Father admitted that on one occasion he had "grabbed [Mother] by the neck." This incident occurred after he had confronted Mother about her making sixty-two phone calls in a single month to James Ryan Allen ("Allen"), the coach of B.S.H.'s traveling baseball team. Father testified that he let go of Mother when he noticed that his son was watching. Father also admitted that he smashed a computer in the driveway after he caught Mother communicating with Schlitz via the internet. Father also testified that he struck a light pole at a baseball game with his hand because Mother was talking to Schlitz on the phone and punched a hole in the wall when he found out that she had been having an affair with yet another man.

The other incidents Mother refers to were not admitted by Father and the court was not required to believe that they had occurred. There was also testimony from an unlikely source that Father's temper was not out of the ordinary. When Allen was asked whether he thought Father had a hot temper, he testified, "No, not any more than me or anybody else."

The trial court's findings in regard to Father's temper were as follows:

The Court finds that there was evidence in this case of [Father]'s temper and physical conduct and behavior by [Father] toward [Mother], occurring on at least one occasion in the presence of the parties [sic] minor children. However, the court finds that [sic] incidents were isolated in nature, not directed toward the minor children and occurred in the wake of emotionally charged circumstances between [Father] and [Mother].

While we do not condone Father's admitted behavior, when viewed in the light most favorable to the judgment, the evidence supported the trial court's finding that these incidents were isolated in nature and had all occurred after Father had discovered or suspected that Mother was involved in a relationship with another man. The trial...

To continue reading

Request your trial
5 cases
  • Young v. Pitts
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • 15 Febrero 2011
    ...she was prejudiced as a result of the failure to provide her with access to the DSS investigative records. See Halford v. Halford, 292 S.W.3d 536, 543 n. 4 (Mo.App. S.D.2009) (“We should not reverse the trial court unless both error and prejudice are demonstrated.”). As noted above, Mother ......
  • Moore v. Moore
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • 17 Mayo 2022
    ...ability to make joint decisions in the best interests of their children. See, e.g. , Reno , 489 S.W.3d at 903 ; Halford v. Halford , 292 S.W.3d 536, 545-46 (Mo. App. S.D. 2009) ; Kroeger-Eberhart v. Eberhart , 254 S.W.3d 38, 49 (Mo. App. E.D. 2007) ; Marriage of Sutton , 233 S.W.3d 786, 791......
  • J.D. v. L.D.
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • 15 Diciembre 2015
    ...the trial court is not required to follow it. In re Marriage of Harris, 446 S.W.3d 320, 330 (Mo.App.S.D.2014). See also Halford v. Halford, 292 S.W.3d 536, 543–544 (affirming custody determination where GAL recommendation absent from record). Thus, we cannot say that the trial court legally......
  • Reno v. Gonzales
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • 10 Mayo 2016
    ...was unjustified. Given the trial court's factual findings, the award of joint legal custody must be reversed. Halford v. Halford, 292 S.W.3d 536, 545 (Mo.App.S.D. 2009) (reversing award of joint legal custody where judgment contained similar factual findings).Reno did not file a brief in th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT