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Chapman v. Hopkins

Court of Appeals of Arizona, First Division

October 12, 2017

GIA CHAPMAN, Petitioner,
v.
THE HONORABLE STEPHEN M. HOPKINS, Judge of the SUPERIOR COURT OF THE STATE OF ARIZONA, in and for the County of MARICOPA, Respondent Judge, RONALD PRITCHARD and CLAUDIA PRITCHARD, Real Parties in Interest.

         Petition for Special Action from the Superior Court in Maricopa County No. FC 2017-090244 The Honorable Stephen M. Hopkins, Judge

          Berkshire Law Office, PLLC, Phoenix By Keith Berkshire, Erica L. Gadberry Counsel for Petitioner

          Woodnick Law, PLLC, Phoenix By Gregg R. Woodnick, Kaci Y. Bowman, Markus W. Risinger Counsel for Real Parties in Interest

          Presiding Judge Randall M. Howe delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Judge Peter B. Swann and Judge Michael J. Brown joined.

          OPINION

          HOWE, Judge

         ¶1 In this special action proceeding, Gia Chapman ("Mother") challenges the family court's ruling affirming ex-parte temporary orders giving her parents ("Grandparents") sole legal decision-making authority and sole parenting time for Mother's minor children. Mother argues that the court lacked jurisdiction to enter the ruling and that it incorrectly applied a best interests standard.

         ¶2 We previously issued an order accepting jurisdiction. Because the temporary orders are merely preparatory to a later trial, Mother does not have an "equally plain, speedy and adequate remedy by appeal." Ariz. R. Spec. Act. 1(a); Villares v. Pineda, 217 Ariz. 623, 624-25 ¶ 10 (App. 2008). Moreover, the circumstances under which the family court may award a third party legal decision-making authority and parenting time and the standard used to make that determination are issues of first impression and statewide importance. In our order, we also denied relief with an opinion to follow. This is that opinion.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶3 Mother, who became a widow in 2015, has six children: three minor daughters, two minor sons, and one 18-year-old son. In 2016, Mother met Yves LaJoie through an online dating site. LaJoie, who lived in California, came to Arizona to meet Mother and Grandparents in person in early September of that year. From the outset, Mother's father and LaJoie had significant disagreements. The most significant disagreement was about religion and their respective religious beliefs. LaJoie did not believe in established religions or entering church buildings, while Grandparents -and Mother before meeting LaJoie-were members of a Christian church.

         ¶4 In October, Mother traveled with her three young daughters to California to visit LaJoie for a week. LaJoie returned to Arizona with them and moved into Mother's home with her six children and LaJoie's own teenage son. Mother and LaJoie considered themselves to be married in the "eyes of God, " which was the only form of marriage important to them because they "don't do world's traditions." Instead, LaJoie and Mother participated in and hosted a "home church" and implemented "rules" in Mother's household consistent with their beliefs. These rules included prohibiting the family from celebrating holidays or birthdays and requiring the family to end relationships with other family members and friends.

         ¶5 Soon after their return, between 20 and 30 of Mother's friends and family, including Grandparents and Mother's three sons, held an "intervention" concerning Mother's new religious practices. Mother, LaJoie, LaJoie's friend Rob Ogden, and the children were present. The group questioned Mother about her new beliefs and relationship, and called her "demon-possessed." They also commented that she was vulnerable and that LaJoie had brainwashed and controlled her. They asked her to "listen to [her] sons, " who did not like the decisions Mother was making for her life and for the household. Mother told her sons that if they did not approve of her choices, did not want to follow her rules, and thought they would be happier living with Grandparents, then they "had decisions to make" because she "wasn't going to allow any more chaos."

         ¶6 The following day, Mother's three sons went to live with Grandparents. After leaving the house, Mother and her sons did not have much of a relationship and any conversations they did have grew increasingly hostile. LaJoie prohibited the oldest son from speaking with Mother unless LaJoie was present. Another son told her that he would "absolutely never come home" as long as LaJoie lived there.

         ¶7 Although Mother's sons now lived with Grandparents, Mother's three daughters still lived with her and were not allowed to see Grandparents often. In January 2017, Grandparents petitioned for visitation rights to the three daughters under A.R.S. § 25-409(C). In their petition, Grandparents alleged that they had a healthy relationship with the children and had helped raise them since their births. They further stated that they planned to use their visitation time to "just love them as we always have, " do activities together or just spend time together because the time Mother permitted them to see the daughters "isn't much time."

         ¶8 In February 2017, while that petition was pending, one of the daughters went to school with a red mark under her eye. Fearing that the daughter had been the victim of sexual abuse, the school called police to investigate. The daughter told the police officer that she received the mark from LaJoie's friend Ogden while playing a wrestling game. The daughter said that while they were wrestling, Ogden placed his mouth over her eye and "sucked" on it. The daughter also stated that Ogden had pinched her sister on the buttocks. The sister subsequently denied that she had been pinched, but during an interview with the officer, changed her descriptions of the event and seemed "uncomfortable" with talking about it. The officer was unable to reach Mother but spoke with LaJoie, who represented himself as the girls' father. LaJoie denied the allegations, stated that he knew of the injury and that ...


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