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Sigafoose v. Cobb

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Third Division

May 18, 2018

SIGAFOOSE
v.
COBB.

          ELLINGTON, P. J., BETHEL, J., and SENIOR APPELLATE JUDGE PHIPPS

          Bethel, Judge.

         Herbert Rhett Cobb and Amber Elizabeth Sigafoose are the parents of a minor child. Cobb, who resides in North Carolina, filed a complaint for legitimation and child custody in Gwinnett County Superior Court against Sigafoose.[1] Sigafoose answered the complaint and also filed a counterclaim requesting that she maintain sole physical and legal custody to the child. After a hearing, the trial court entered a temporary order granting physical custody of the child to Cobb, pending a psychological evaluation of Sigafoose.[2] Following that evaluation and a second hearing, the trial court issued a final order in which it granted the parties joint legal custody of the child, awarded Cobb primary physical custody, afforded Sigafoose visitation rights, [3] and ordered Sigafoose to pay attorney fees. Sigafoose claims on appeal that the custody award and the award of attorney fees were erroneous. For the reasons set forth below, we disagree and affirm.

         1. Sigafoose first argues that the trial court abused its discretion in issuing its custody award. We disagree.

Where the trial court has exercised its discretion and awarded custody of children to one fit parent over the other fit parent, this Court will not interfere with that decision unless the evidence shows the trial court clearly abused its discretion. Where there is any evidence to support the decision of the trial court, this Court cannot say there was an abuse of discretion.

Simmons v. Wilson, 343 Ga.App. 857, 858 (806 S.E.2d 267) (2017) (citation and punctuation omitted). "When reviewing a child custody decision, this [C]ourt views the evidence presented in the light most favorable to upholding the trial court's order." Mitcham v. Spry, 300 Ga.App. 386, 386 (685 S.E.2d 374) (2009) (footnote omitted).

         So viewed, testimony at an initial hearing held for this case showed that Cobb and Sigafoose originally met through an online dating website and began a dating relationship. At the time, they resided in neighboring towns in Florida. They went on several dates together and soon became engaged to be married. They planned to marry five months later. During their engagement, Sigafoose became pregnant. The relationship between Sigafoose and Cobb thereafter deteriorated.

         During that time, Sigafoose began receiving calls from a man in Atlanta with whom she had a previous relationship that included cohabitation. She left Florida and moved in with him at his home in the Atlanta area. Sigafoose was physically and verbally abused by this man on several occasions (including in their prior relationship), and she had previously returned to live with her parents at their home in Florida on multiple occasions before returning to Atlanta to live with him again.

         Sigafoose's mother and father testified at the initial hearing. Both testified that they believed Cobb would be a good father, noting the close ties he maintained with his own parents.

         Sigafoose's parents also testified that they were concerned about the child's well-being if left in Sigafoose's care because of the abusive relationship Sigafoose had with the man she lived with in Atlanta. Sigafoose's mother testified that in text conversations she had with the man, he had said "inappropriate" things to her and told her to stay away from Sigafoose. The man had also threatened to harm Sigafoose's parents if they tried to visit them in Atlanta. Sigafoose had also told her parents not to contact her, and, as of the time of the initial hearing, they had not had any contact with her for over a year and a half and had never met the child. Sigafoose had also foregone contact with Cobb's parents, neither of whom had met the child as of the time of the hearing.

         The record also established that Cobb maintained employment as a restaurant manager. He maintained a clean home, which included a furnished room for the child, and he made arrangements for the child to attend a local daycare. Cobb testified that he made his own schedule, which afforded him flexibility. He noted that he had taken court-recommended parenting classes in preparation for his efforts to obtain custody of the child.

         Cobb also testified that he had never seen the child in person, having only seen Facebook pictures of her since her birth. Sigafoose confirmed that Cobb never met the child prior to the initial hearing in this case. Cobb testified that Sigafoose had misled him about her whereabouts after she left Florida. Cobb was not present at the birth of the child, and he testified that Sigafoose had refused to tell him which hospital she would be admitted to for the delivery In her testimony at the initial hearing, Sigafoose indicated that she did not want the child to have a relationship with Cobb or with her own parents.

         After the initial hearing, Cobb was awarded physical custody of the child on a temporary basis. Sigafoose was granted a right to regular supervised visitation, and she was ordered to submit to a psychological evaluation.

         Six months later, the trial court held a final hearing in the case. Cobb testified that after he was awarded custody under the temporary order, he moved from Florida to North Carolina, which allowed him to be closer to his parents and to shorten the distance Sigafoose would have to travel for visitation with the child. He testified that the child had her own bedroom in the new residence. He also testified that he maintained his position with the restaurant company that employed him, overseeing a ...


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