Father wins appeal in custody of son

By Ed Runyan



The 11th District Court of Appeals has overturned a Trumbull County magistrate’s decision that awarded permanent custody of a 2-year-old boy to Trumbull County Children Services.

The court said the decision, entered in July 2011, was unfair to the boy’s father, whose right to ever regain custody of the boy was severed primarily because he lived with his mother and didn’t have a job, according to court documents.

The ruling, written by Judges Cynthia Wescott Rice, Diane Grendell and Mary Jane Trapp, says the ruling by a magistrate at the Trumbull County Juvenile Court last July wasn’t supported by the facts of the case.

A call to Trumbull County Juvenile Court asking to identify the magistrate was not returned.

The boy was born in February 2009 to Ryan Williamson and Shailaunda Folmar, who cared for the boy and Folmar’s two other children until March 2009, when all three children were placed in foster care, according to the appeals court.

Folmar surrendered temporary custody of the children to Children Services, and Williamson was not considered a viable placement option because he had not been determined to be the boy’s father.

Williamson was determined to be the youngest boy’s father in June 2009, but a Children Services case plan for the boy said Williamson was not suitable to care for the boy because of his lack of independent housing and a stable income.

A laid-off former forklift and press operator, Williamson had attended Kent State University at Trumbull since about January 2009 and is expected to complete his degree in business management sometime in 2012, the court said.

Earlier this year, the magistrate ruled that though Williamson had established a bond with the boy through visitations and had a stable home that would accommodate the child, the boy’s strongest bonds were with his foster-to-adopt family.

The magistrate recommended that Williamson’s parental rights “be permanently and forever severed and terminated.” Williamson appealed.

The appeals court said one problem with the magistrate’s ruling is that Williamson eliminated one of the biggest obstacles to gaining custody of the boy in 2009 when he established that he was the boy’s biological father.

“A biological father, just as a biological mother, has a fundamental right to care for his child. The trial court’s failure to acknowledge, comment on, or consider the fact that Mr. Williamson quickly addressed the issue of paternity, the only ostensible reason [the boy] was not initially placed in his custody, is highly troublesome.”

Further, the court’s finding that Williamson didn’t have the ability to provide for the boy “was not supported by clear and convincing evidence,” the appeals court said.

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