An Overview Of The Child Custody Case Timothy Cantrell v. Erica Trinkle (2011-CA-17)
The Juvenile Court of Clark County, Ohio awarded custody of the minor child (“CC”) to the paternal grandparents. Mother appealed the decision.
Court of Appeals Holding:
The Juvenile Court’s finding that the Mother was an “unsuitable parent” was against the manifest weight of the evidence.
Parties to the action:
Timothy Cantrell: Father of CC.
Erica Trinkle: Mother of CC.
Tracy and Randy Wood: Paternal grandparents of CC.
Facts of the child custody case:
Timothy Cantrell (“Father”) and Erica Trinkle (“Mother”) had a child, CC, out of wedlock in September 2007. In March 2008, Mother’s Father was providing child care for CC while Mother was working. An automobile accident occurred and the child was not injured. Allegations were made that the maternal Grandfather was intoxicated at the time of the accident. That allegation was not substantiated. Following the automobile accident, a referral was made to the Clark County Children’s Services Board (“CSB”). Neither Father nor Mother complied with the voluntary case plan with CSB and the case was “closed” in December 2008.
In June 2008, Mother and Father ended their relationship with one another. Mother and CC moved in with Mother’s Aunt. Later, on June 27, 2008, Father filed a Complaint for Custody of CC alleging the following:
- Mother used illicit drugs.
- Mother left CC with unsuitable persons.
- Mother failed to take CC to health appointments.
Although Father was granted an Ex Parte Order of Temporary Custody of CC, that Ex Parte Order was dismissed on July 16, 2008 and child custody of CC was returned to Mother.
In August 2008, Mother moved into subsidized housing with CC. Later, in October 2008, Mother and Father reconciled. Father moved back to his parents’ home and Mother and CC would spend time in that home on a regular basis. On February 27, 2009, the parties entered into an Agreed Order that named Mother as the residential parent and custodial parent of CC. Father was given parenting rights.
In April 2009, Mother and Father again separated from one another. Mother and CC lived in Mother’s place of residence from April 2009 until September 3, 2010.
On September 3, 2010, Father’s parents filed a Motion to Join as Parties in the Juvenile Court proceeding and they sought an Ex Parte Order of Custody of CC. The paternal Grandparents made the following allegations against Mother:
- She leaves the minor child with persons without Father’s agreement/consent.
- She failed to renew the health insurance for CC.
- She is using marijuana and partying when she should be caring for the minor child.
- The paternal Grandparents also asked the Court for both parties to submit to hair follicle drug testing. The results of the drug testing revealed that Father tested positive for cocaine while Mother had negative results. The Court granted child custody of CC to the paternal Grandparents and Mother objected to same.
There were five (5) hearings in the Juvenile Court between December 15, 2010 and February 11, 2011. The appointed Guardian ad Litem (“GAL”) recommended that temporary child custody of CC remain with the paternal Grandparents for six (6) months to permit Mother to demonstrate that she was serious about regaining child custody of CC. Despite the recommendation of the GAL, the Trial Court awarded child custody of CC to the paternal Grandparents on the basis that Mother is an “unsuitable” parent and because awarding custody to Mother would be detrimental to the child. Mother appealed the Judgment of the Trial Court.
Mother’s counsel argued as follows: The Decision of the Trial Court was an “abuse of discretion” and “against the manifest weight of the evidence”. In reversing the Decision of the Trial Court, the appellate judges upon a thorough review of the Court’s records and transcripts of the proceedings held as follows:
- With regard to leaving the child with unsuitable persons, there is nothing in the record to establish that Mother was prohibited from leaving the child with either of her parents.
- With regard to the allegations of Mother’s “partying” behaviors, the record did not reflect that anyone had ever observed Mother in an “intoxicated” or “stoned” condition. The record established that Mother enjoyed having dinner and drinks with her friends and that she obtained child care for CC when she chose to socialize and be with her friends. There was no evidence that Mother ever drank alcohol or smoked marijuana in the presence of CC.
- With regard to the allegation that Mother failed to renew the Molina Health Insurance covering CC, there is nothing in the record that showed that CC suffered any negative health consequences due to the lapse in coverage. And, the evidence demonstrated that Mother quickly took steps to resume the health insurance coverage when she became aware of the lapse in coverage.
In its Decision, the appellate panel clearly found: “We conclude that the record before us fails to demonstrate that permitting Mother to retain custody of her child will result in detriment to the child. Thus, we conclude that the finding that Mother is an “unsuitable” parent is without adequate foundation in the record and is against the manifest weight of the evidence.”
In child custody battles between parents and grandparents, the law requires a grandparent to prove much more than it would be in the child’s best interest for them to be awarded child custody. It is not a balancing test to determine where the child would have a better life. They must show actual harm to the child, clear neglect and/or that the parent is unfit. This high burden of proof level can be difficult to establish in Court. Finding witnesses who observed the harmful behavior (and will appear in Court) is often impossible.
The appellate panel in this case was clearly looking for credible evidence to substantiate that Mother was an “unfit” parent, but that evidence was lacking. Custody of a child will not be taken away from a parent absent proof of what is generally categorized as “unfitness”. In this matter, the paternal Grandparents were trying to gain custody of their young grandchild. While their gaining child custody of her might be in her best interest, that is not the standard. Be mindful of this elevated threshold of proof that is required if you are trying to obtain custody of a child from his or her parent.
Read the full court case here: Ohio Child Custody: Timothy Cantrell v. Erica Trinkle.
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Anne Shale is of counsel to Dayton, Ohio, law firm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues. She is a former registered nurse and concentrates her practice in Family Law and Divorce cases.