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Mother correctly awarded sole custody

Where mother was awarded sole custody of the parties’ children, appellant father’s assignments of error lack merit.

JDR court

“Father argues that the JDR court judge was biased and did not comply with the Canons of Judicial Conduct. The Court of Appeals, however, is not a court of general jurisdiction. …

“Code § 17.1-405(3) states, in pertinent part, that ‘any aggrieved party may appeal to the Court of Appeals from … any final judgment, order, or decree of a circuit court in a civil matter[.]’ … (Emphasis added.)

“Although this matter was initially heard before the JDR court, father appealed the case to the circuit court for a trial – de novo – an entirely new trial conducted without reliance on the rulings of the JDR court. …

“The circuit court’s rulings and analysis were completely independent of what the JDR court did or decided. Consequently, because the circuit court conducted a trial de novo (and because this Court does not have the jurisdiction to review the rulings of a juvenile and domestic relations district court directly), we do not consider father’s arguments regarding the JDR court judge.”

Guardian ad litem

“Father argues that the circuit court erred by ‘disregarding serious concerns’ about the GAL’s ‘performance while representing the children.’ Specifically, he suggests that the GAL’s investigation was not sufficiently thorough. …

“As the circuit court correctly advised father, the GAL’s role was to represent the best interests of the children, not to present his evidence for him.

“The circuit court heard evidence concerning the scope of the GAL’s investigation. The GAL met with the children, spoke individually with mother and father, reviewed materials father sent to her, and spoke with the children’s counselor.

“The GAL’s report was part of the trial evidence; however, the circuit court clearly based its decision on the factors delineated in Code § 20-124.3. We find no error in the circuit court’s consideration of the GAL’s testimony and report.”

No conflict

“Father also argues that the GAL had a conflict of interest because she hired the JDR court judge’s wife after the JDR court ruled on custody and visitation. Father asserted that the GAL was ‘in a position of conflict’ at the time of the circuit court hearing because of that hiring decision.

“The GAL proffered that her employee started working with the GAL on October 4, 2021, and that they did not discuss employment before the final JDR court hearing, held on August 10, 2021. Although the GAL had met the JDR court judge’s wife in 2016, the GAL stated that they ‘had not interacted personally for close to five years.’

“The GAL argued that once father appealed the JDR court ruling, the case was removed from the JDR court and placed on the circuit court’s docket, and ‘there was no conflict’ with the GAL’s employment of the JDR court judge’s wife in the circuit court.

“Father responded by arguing that before the JDR court hearing occurred, the GAL should have notified the parties that she knew the JDR court judge’s wife. …

“The circuit court held that the GAL had no conflict of interest. The circuit court found that the GAL’s employment decisions were made after the parties’ hearing in the JDR court.

“The circuit court further found that … ‘when the case was decided,’ the GAL had ‘no relationship’ with the JDR court judge’s wife and they had had ‘no contact for five years.’

“The circuit court emphasized, ‘Merely knowing someone … doesn’t create a conflict’ of interest. … Considering the totality of the circumstances in the record, we find no error in the circuit court’s denial of father’s motion to remove the GAL.”

Custody and visitation

“Father asserts that the circuit court made an erroneous decision to award sole custody to mother. He also argues that the circuit court erred by limiting his contact with the children and ordering supervised visitation. …

“The record here demonstrates that the circuit court considered each of the statutory factors. It expressly noted the children’s ages, their health, and the fact that they were in counseling.

“The circuit court also considered mother’s and father’s health, including that father was participating in counseling and ‘taking a fairly significant amount of medication’ and had a caregiver living in his home.

“The circuit court noted that father was seeking disability because of his PTSD diagnosis and that he had ‘issues regarding trust.’

“In addition, the circuit court found that father’s most recent visit with the children had been ‘traumatic’ for them. The circuit court found that mother and father were unable to ‘get along’ well enough to cooperate with visitation, much less be able to make decisions for the children together.

“The circuit court stated that it hoped that the parents would continue to play a role in the children’s future because the children would benefit from having both parents involved in their lives.

“The circuit court commended father for moving to Virginia after mother and the children moved so ‘at least there’s the prospect of a better relationship with the children.’

“After considering all the statutory factors and the lack of consistent visitation, the circuit court found that ‘the relationship between the father and the children ha[d] been broken.’ …

“The circuit court clearly considered the children’s best interests in determining custody and visitation. … Accordingly, we find that the circuit court did not err in awarding sole legal and physical custody to mother and supervised visitation to father.”


Hill v. Hill, Record No. 0062-22-3, Feb. 7, 2023, 2022. CAV unpublished opinion (per curiam). From the Circuit Court of Amherst County (Garratt). Christopher Hill, pro se. Ashley E. Hedrick for appellee. Heather H. Goodwin, Guardian ad litem for the minor children. VLW 023-7-074, 14 pp.

VLW 023-7-074

Virginia Lawyers Weekly