With a population of 21,000 people, Marquette Michigan may be considered a small town, however for the parties in Lessard v. Londo, Michigan Court of Appeals Docket No. 336156, the small town was home to a big problem involving the best interest of the child, age 16 months.
Mr. Lessard met Ms. Londo on the internet where they engaged in a brief romantic relationship. Mr. Lessard was stationed for training in the United States National Guard and Ms. Londo was a stripper.
After the baby was born, Ms. Londo refused to name Mr. Lessard as the father on the birth certificate as she simply did not want him to have contact with the baby. Mr. Lessard sued for custody.
At the trial court, Mr. Lessard presented evidence regarding Ms. Londo’s checkered past. Ms. Londo was a stripper and pornographic model with a prior history of cocaine abuse. Although a licensed phlebotomist, she did not work in the field. Ms. Londo conceded she had been on a bad path, but insisted the pregnancy saved her life.
Mr. Lessard presented evidence that his is a full-time National Guard member, after spending five years in the Army as a sniper with multiple decorations from prior tours in Iraq.
At issue was custody of the baby. The trial court examined the following Best interest of the Child factors in favor of the mother, Ms. Londo.
- Best interest of the child factor (a): The love, affection, and other emotional ties existing between the parties involved and the child;
The trial court examined the following best interest of the child factors equally.
- Best interest of the child factor (b): The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to give love, affection, guidance, and continuation of the educating and raising the child in its religion or creed, if any;
- Best interest of the child factor (c): The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to provide the child with food, clothing, medical and other remedial care; and
- Best interest of the child factor (d): The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment, and the desirability of maintaining continuity;
The trial court found either did not make a finding or found the remaining factors irrelevant except for the catchall best interest of the child factor (l): Any other factor considered by the court to be relevant to a particular child custody dispute and denied Mr. Lessard’s attempt to change custody of the baby granting him supervised parenting time which transitioned to unsupervised.
Mr. Lessard appealed the trial court’s ruling as to its underlying findings on best interest of the child factors
Remarkably, the trial court found the parties equal on Best interest of the child factor (c): The capacity and disposition of the parties involved to provide the child with food, clothing, medical and other remedial care, which seemed counter-intuitive as Ms. Londo is an unemployed stripper and Mr. Lessard a decorated member of the armed services. The Michigan Court of Appeals noting: “Factor (c) looks to the future, not with which party earned more money at the time of trial, or which party historically has been the family’s main source of income.”, citing Berger v. Berger, 277 Mich. App. 700 (2008), deciding as a licensed phlebotomist living with her parents she had the ability to earn in the future which supported the equal finding.
The trial court did not examine best interest of the child factor (f), the moral fitness of the parties. On appeal, the Court of Appeals noted that “factor (f) relates to a person’s fitness as a parent” and relied on the trial court who was in a “superior position” to evaluate first hand that she had completely changed her life since becoming pregnant.
In sum, the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s determination that a change in custody was not in the best interest of the child. Whether rooted in “result driven analysis or supported by the best interest of the child, we can only hope the right decision was made. In the case of the stripper vs. the National Guard member, the stripper, won.
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By: Daniel Findling