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COA Reasons that Trial Court’s Specific Findings of Inability to Communicate & Cooperate

In re: the Paternity of E.P. HELD: Trial court erred when it awarded the parties joint legal custody of Child after making specific findings that the parties have an inability to cooperate and agree on Child’s best interests, that they have hostile and turbulent confrontations in front of Child, and that they are unable to communicate in a constructive fashion. FACTS & PROCEDURAL HISTORY: Child was born to Mother and Father in 2019. Before Child’s birth, Mother sought and obtained a protective order against Father based upon allegations of aggressive behavior by Father. Disputes about parenting time followed Child’s birth, after which Father filed a motion to establish parenting time and for joint legal custody. Following a series of six hearings conducted by the trial court, Father requested joint legal and physical custody. Mother requested sole legal custody and primary physical custody. The trial court’s order followed. Neither party requested findings, but the trial court made some findings sua sponte. Those findings included that the parties “have demonstrated an inability to cooperate and agree on what is in [Child’s] best interests,” that the parties’ confrontations in front of Child have been “turbulent and even hostile,” and that the parties “are currently unable to communicate with each other in a constructive fashion.” Nevertheless, the trial court ordered joint legal and physical custody of Child. Following an unsuccessful motion to correct errors, Mother appealed. Mother argued that the trial court’s findings did not support its judgment, and the Court of Appeals agreed. The Court reasoned that the trial court’s specific findings of inability to communicate and cooperate between the parties precluded an award of joint legal custody. The joint legal custody award was reversed and remanded to the trial court “to enter an award of sole legal custody for either Father or Mother.” The trial court’s order was reversed and remanded.


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