Moore v. Moore

Decision Date17 May 2022
Docket NumberWD 84782
Citation645 S.W.3d 705
Parties Jennifer Robin MOORE, Appellant, v. Jared MOORE, Respondent.
CourtMissouri Court of Appeals

Audara Lutjen, Clinton, for appellant.

James C. Johns, Clinton, for respondent.

Before Division One: Lisa White Hardwick, P.J., and Alok Ahuja and Mark D. Pfeiffer, JJ.

Alok Ahuja, Judge

Jennifer Moore ("Mother") appeals from the judgment of the Circuit Court of Henry County, which dissolved her marriage to Jared Moore ("Father"). Mother contends that the provision of the judgment awarding Father sole legal custody of the parties’ two children is against the weight of the evidence. We affirm.

Factual Background

Mother and Father married in 2016, and separated in May of 2019. They had two children during their marriage. Mother filed a petition for dissolution of the marriage in June 2019. The dissolution proceeding was tried to the court in three hearings between January and April 2021.

Father and Mother filed several parenting plans. Although the parenting plans differed concerning the parties’ respective parenting time, and concerning child support arrangements, all of the parties’ proposed parenting plans requested that they be awarded joint physical and joint legal custody of the children. Mother's proposed parenting plan specified that the children would be homeschooled, and left unvaccinated, while Father's proposal provided that the children would attend public school in his residential district, and receive all required vaccinations.

Lauren Knuth served as an occupational therapist for one of the children, who had been diagnosed with autism. Knuth recommended that the child attend a public school to access special education programs in the district. Knuth also testified that the child would benefit from social interactions in the classroom.

Mother hired Rocky Lee as a private investigator to investigate Father "on and off for a six-week period." Lee testified that he placed surveillance cameras to watch Father's residence.

During his testimony, Father admitted that he had made "bad choices" with alcohol in the past, but he claimed that he did not currently have an alcohol problem. Father testified that he never drank around the children, and that he was never intoxicated during his video calls with the children while they were in Mother's custody. Father testified that Mother told him that she could get him fired from his job, and afterwards he was laid off from his job because someone wrongfully reported to his employer that Father had lost his driver's license. During two exchanges of the children, Mother called the police to report Father driving without a license, with the intent of having him arrested. During both incidents, Father waited for police to arrive, and only left with the children after proving to the responding officers that he did indeed have valid driving privileges, or a licensed driver available to transport him.

Mother testified that she believed Father was lying to her about who he had watching the children, that the children came back from his house with medical and psychological problems, and that Father was an alcoholic with an angry and depressed demeanor while drinking. Mother stated that she had found child pornography on Father's computer. Mother told the court that Father had been abusive to the children in the past, although she did not report it. Mother admitted that she does not believe what Father tells her, and that she hired the investigator Lee to prove that Father was lying. Mother testified that she worries for the children's safety while they are staying with Father. Despite this, Mother acknowledged that she does not call or have videoconferences with the children while they are in Father's custody, even though she is entitled to that communication.

Mother testified to three separate occasions in which she took the children to the hospital immediately following a custody exchange, once for bruised fingers, another time for a 101-degree fever, and a third time when one of the children was purportedly unresponsive. On each of these occasions, Mother blamed Father, and did not communicate about the medical visits to Father. During one of the hospital visits, Mother told medical personnel that she was not going to call Father because "I do not trust him, and he will lie anyways."

Mother submitted as an exhibit a text conversation between herself and Father, which reflected that Father was identified as "Narc Asshole" in her phone. Mother admitted telling Father's boss and his employer that she believed Father was going to lose his driver's license – an exercise which the circuit court found was an attempt to have Father fired. Mother also acknowledged that she had made several posts on Facebook calling Father "filth," accusing Father of cheating on her during the marriage, and stating that she was contemplating taking out a billboard near Father's girlfriend's work place, accusing her publicly of having participated in an adulterous relationship with Father.

During her testimony, Mother was confronted with a text message exchange in which she told Father that she had secured alternative health insurance for the children, and he therefore did not need to pay the premium for insurance he had obtained. Despite this text exchange, she later filed a motion for contempt against Father, in which she contended that he had cancelled the children's insurance without her knowledge. Mother claimed she had forgotten about the exchange of text messages when she filed her contempt motion.

When she was asked during trial whether she believed it would be in the children's best interest to have Father's home designated as the children's residence for educational and mailing purposes, Mother responded, "absolutely not." She explained:

Because [Father] will not be honest with me about who's caring for the children. He's leaving them with random people. They're having a lot of issues. They're spending a week at his house. They're having medical issues, they're having psychological issues. He lives right next to a main highway with no fence.

The following colloquy occurred during Mother's testimony, concerning whether she believed she could co-parent with Father:

Q. Do you think you'll ever be able to trust [Father] enough to co-parent with him and communicate with him on a regular basis about your kids?
A. I would love to be able to do that. I would love to be able to do that, if he could be honest with me about what's going on with them.
Q. When has he lied to you about what's going on with them, about – with the kids?
A. Hehe lies – he lies about the – every – he lies about who's watching them, he lies about whether he's going to work and leaving them at home, he lies about, you know, their injuries.

When asked whether she trusted Father "to protect [her] children in his own way," Mother responded that, "I don't trust him to make good decisions."

The guardian ad litem recommended joint legal and joint physical custody, with Father's home designated as the children's address for mailing and educational purposes. The guardian ad litem testified about his concerns regarding Mother's refusal to communicate the children's medical visits to Father, Mother's willingness to take the children on the road and away from Father, and Mother's lack of video or phone contact with the children while they were in Father's care, despite her accusations that he was neglecting or abusing them. The guardian ad litem admitted that he believed the "co-parenting relationship between these parents is damaged mostly because, in my opinion as it relates to best interest of the kids, mother's inability to co-parent with the father because of prior history." In regards to Father's consumption of alcohol, the guardian ad litem testified that he did not hear "any credible evidence" that Father's consumption was a current concern; the guardian ad litem also noted that Father had been exercising shared custody of the children for an extended period of time without problems. The guardian ad litem expressed concerns about Mother's desire to leave the children unvaccinated, and have them homeschooled, despite professional recommendations to do otherwise.

On May 13, 2021, the trial court entered its Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage granting the parties joint physical custody, but awarding Father sole legal custody of the children. In discussing which parent was more likely to permit the children to have frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with the other parent, the judgment makes the following findings:

During the pendency of this matter, Mother has acted in such a fashion as to attempt to limit the amount of time Father has with the children. She has called law enforcement to child custody exchanges claiming that Father did not have a valid driver's license, but on both occasions, it was found that Father was able to drive or had a licensed driver and was able to leave with the children. She has attempted to get Father fired from his employment by contacting his employer. She has taken the children to the hospital after child custody exchanges attempting to find something to allow her to withhold visitation from Father. Furthermore, she hired a private investigator to track Father in an attempt to find something that he did wrong.
Mother actually submitted into evidence her Exhibit 8 wherein she has him saved in her contacts as "Narc Asshole". This behavior is concerning to the Court that Mother will continue in the future to limit the contact the children have with Father.
Mother testified that she had concerns for the children while in Father's custody, but fails to utilize her ability to video chat with the children while they are in Father's care. It would appear to the Court that if Mother actually had reasonable concerns about the children's safety, then she would utilize every opportunity to check in on the children. This would include video chatting with the children when sh

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1 books & journal articles
  • Review of Law in 50 the States in 2022: U.S. Supreme Court Shakes Up Family Law Policy
    • United States
    • ABA General Library Family Law Quarterly No. 56-4, December 2022
    • December 1, 2022
    ...Sargent v. Faber, 978 N.W.2d 652, 657–68 (N.D. 2022). 89. Moore v. Prater, 342 So. 3d 994, 1000 (La. Ct. App. 2022). 90. Moore v. Moore, 645 S.W.3d 705 (Mo. Ct. App. 2022). See also Mary AA. v. Lonnie BB., 167 N.Y.S.3d 230 (App. Div. 2022) (joint custody was inappropriate where the parties ......

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