Appeal from Lauderdale Circuit Court. (DR-92-343.01). Ned Michael Suttle, TRIAL JUDGE.
Rehearing Overruled February 3, 1995, . Certiorari Granted August 11, 1995. Released for Publication March 13, 1996.
Sam A. Beatty, Retired Justice. Robertson, P.j., and Yates, J., concur. Thigpen, J., concurs in the result.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Beatty
Lisa Murphy appeals from an order modifying the child custody provisions of a divorce judgment.
Richard O. Murphy, Jr. ("the father"), and Lisa Murphy ("the mother") were divorced on June 12, 1992. In its judgment the trial court ratified an agreement of the parties whereby they would have joint custody of their only child, with the mother having physical custody of the child and the father having liberal and reasonable rights of visitation.
On January 19, 1994, the father filed a petition to modify the custody provisions, alleging that the mother was moving to Texas and taking the child, then three years old, with her. The trial court issued an ex parte temporary restraining order prohibiting the mother's action and setting a date for a hearing. Following discovery and an amendment to the father's petition, by which amendment he alleged "emotional and psychological instability" on the part of the mother, the court heard ore tenus evidence. The trial court entered an order awarding custody of the minor child to the father, effective May 19, 1994. The court later extended this order by allowing the mother, who by then had remarried, to have continued custody until May 31, 1994. After each party submitted proposed visitation schedules, the trial court established a schedule on July 21, 1994, and gave its reasons for the modification:
"The Court stresses that it is not doing this to discourage or encourage the mother from moving to Texas with her new husband. The mother's decision to move to Texas was only one of many factors that the Court considered in changing the custody of the child." *fn1
The trial court, however, did not particularize those factors. This appeal ensued.
Although he adduced some evidence of sexual misconduct by the mother during their marriage, it is clear from the record that the father based this custodial change on the charge that the mother is unfit because of a "long history of mental instability and depression." It does not appear that any such condition entered into his 1992 agreement that led to the judgment vesting physical custody of the infant child in the mother. Nevertheless, the father testified that he had had serious doubts about the mother's mental stability as early as December 1992, even though he acknowledged that the mother and her new husband would be good parents.
The mother married Jeff Grosso, a West Point graduate and second lieutenant in the United States Army, on April 8, 1994. Lt. Grosso is stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, and the couple has purchased a home in Texas. Lt. Grosso and the child have a good relationship; indeed, the child has visited Texas and enjoyed his visit. Neither the mother nor her parents believe that the move to Texas will have an adverse effect upon the child.
The father's evidence focuses primarily upon counselling that the mother herself voluntarily undertook during and after her marriage to the father. During 1992 both of them obtained marriage counselling from their pastor, Robert Hendron. After six sessions, Hendron testified, he "felt" that the mother had a problem with "approval or love addiction," but he acknowledged that such a condition was very common and, moreover, that it did not render a parent incapable of being a good one. Mr. Hendron performed no psychological profile testing, nor is he a child psychologist. In fact, he did not testify that this condition had any present effect on the minor child. Furthermore, because Mr. Hendron has had no opportunity to observe the mother or the minor child together since April 1992, he could not give an opinion of the mother's present parental skills.
The mother's counselling sessions apparently occurred following some life crisis. During her first marriage, to one Philip Marks, she met with a psychologist who specialized in dealing with people who had been adopted and who were seeking their biological parents. Another counselling session followed her divorce from Mr. Murphy, and another took place when she and a man with whom she had had an affair sought counselling to ascertain whether their "relationship could work." In none of these sessions was any diagnosis of mental instability or severe depression ...