Deborah M. RAMER
Matthew C. RAMER.
from Covington Circuit Court (DR-13-101.02)
Barbara H. Agricola of Agricola Law, LLC, Opelika, for
Riley Powell IV and Thomas A. Hughes, Jr., of The Powell Law
Firm, P.C., Gulf Shores, for appellee.
an appeal from a custody-modification judgment entered by the
Covington Circuit Court ("the trial court").
Deborah M. Ramer ("the mother") and Matthew C.
Ramer ("the father") had one child ("the
child") during their marriage. The mother also had a
child ("the son") from a previous marriage, who
resided with the parties throughout their marriage. At the
time of this opinion, the child is 8 years old and the son is
16 years old (the child and the son are hereinafter referred
to collectively as "the children").
record demonstrates that the parties divorced on December 14,
2014. The 2014 divorce judgment entered by the trial court is
not contained in the record on
appeal. After the divorce judgment was
entered, the father filed a petition in the trial court
seeking to modify custody. On November 19, 2015, the trial
court entered a judgment noting that the father had sought to
"change custody from the Plaintiff/Mother to the
Defendant/Father." At that time, the trial court found,
the father, who had been working in North Dakota, had changed
jobs and had begun working "in the family business in
the local area." The trial court found that the
father's "decision to change jobs [would] have a
positive effect on both of the minor children." However,
the trial court stated, simply being more available to parent
the children did "not meet the standard required under
the law to change custody." Accordingly, the trial court
did not modify the custody arrangement at that time, although
it did increase the amount of visitation to which the father
was entitled, awarding him "liberal visitation"
with both children. The mother did not appeal from that
record in the current action indicates that, in both the 2014
divorce judgment and the 2015 modification judgment, the
trial court included a provision prohibiting the children
from having contact with the mother's boyfriend, J.W. The
provision ("the J.W. injunction") stated:
"[J.W.]: The [mother] is temporarily enjoined from
having [the child] and [the son] (hereinafter sometimes
referred to as `the children') in the presence of [J.W.].
The term `in the presence' is defined for the purposes of
this order as follows: The [mother] shall refrain from taking
the children to [J.W.]'s place of business, his home, or
any other place that the [mother] should reasonably believe
[J.W.] to currently be located. The [mother] shall further
refrain from allowing [J.W.] to visit her home when the
children are present, to include the home itself, as well as
the yard, driveway, and street in front of the home. In
short, it is the intention of this Court that these children
have no contact with [J.W.]. This injunction shall
remain in place until further Order of the Court."
(Emphasis in the original.)
22, 2017, the father filed a second petition in which he
requested "a change of primary physical custody of the
minor children from the Plaintiff/mother to the
Defendant/father." He also asked that the mother be held
in contempt for violating the previous court orders. In
seeking the change of custody and the order of contempt
against the mother, the father alleged that the mother had
violated the J.W. injunction. The father asserted that the
mother had allowed the children to be around "a
convicted felon" in violation of the previous court
orders and that, in doing so, the mother's conduct
constituted a material change in circumstances warranting a
change in custody. In addition to his claim that the
mother had violated the J.W. injunction, the father also
asserted in his petition that the mother had left the
children alone "in the middle of the night"
without adult supervision and had created an unsafe and
unhealthy environment for the children.
trial court heard three days' of testimony over a period
of several months. On September 29, 2017, two days after the
first day of the trial, the trial court entered a
"temporary order" in which it found that the mother
had willfully violated the J.W. injunction and awarded the
father "temporary physical custody" of the children
subject to the mother's visitation, which was limited to
Sundays. The trial court also explicitly left the J.W.
injunction in place. The trial court stated that the
temporary order was entered because the trial had not yet
concluded. The mother did not seek to have this court review
the "temporary order."
trial, the son testified that J.W. had been to the
mother's house "maybe three times" while he was
there and that J.W. had come to check on him at the
mother's house after the son had had shoulder surgery.
The son also said that J.W. had never spent the night at the
mother's house while the son was there. According to the
son, the mother had told him J.W. was not to be around the
children, but, he said, regarding the times J.W. had visited
the house while the son was present, the mother had invited
J.W. The son also testified that the mother had told him not
to let the father know he had seen J.W. "because she
would get in trouble." The son ...