Texas Supreme Court allows dad to regain custody of son

By Steve Korris | Aug 23, 2011

AUSTIN � Ron LaFond, a father who lost parental privileges in a Jefferson County divorce 10 years ago, regained custody of a teenage son with Texas Supreme Court approval.

On Aug. 19, the Justices denied a petition from mother Stephanie Pearson to review an order Jefferson County District Judge Larry Thorne signed in LaFond's favor.

Ninth District appellate judges in Beaumont had affirmed Thorne in March.

They found the son studied more and fought less when he lived with his father.

LaFond and Pearson carried on the legal contest personally, acting without lawyers.

They divorced in 2001, with Pearson obtaining monthly support payments and an exclusive right to choose the son's primary residence.

Lafond moved to modify the divorce order in 2009, pleading that Pearson voluntarily relinquished the son to him.

Pearson denied that she did, and she moved for summary judgment.

She asked Thorne to hold LaFond in contempt for not sending her son back.

At a hearing, LaFond testified his son had attended 10 different schools. He said Pearson told him their son wore red and threw gang signs. He said he saw gang grafiiti on her house.

He also showed Thorne three Converse police reports on fights involving his son.

He said he and Pearson agreed that the son should live with him in Norway, where he served in the military. He said the military paid to send his son to a private school.

LaFond showed Thorne a letter from a teacher describing him and his current wife as a couple committed to building strong-minded, responsible citizens. Another teacher wrote that the son grew in leaps and bounds.

He said his son has traveled to England, the Netherlands, Spain and Germany.

Pearson testified that after the fights, she moved to a very nice neighborhood. She said her son would be happy living with her. She said he would be a good example to her other two children who missed him.

She said she agreed to let him live with his father only a year.

Thorne gave LaFond the exclusive right to determine his son's residence, and he found no obligation for either parent to pay child support.

On appeal, Ninth District judges found Thorne didn't abuse his discretion.

"The trial court has wide latitude in determining the child's best interest," Justice David Gaultney wrote.

He wrote that Pearson sent her son to live with LaFond because the change was in her son's best interests since she admitted he made better grades while he lived with his father.

He wrote that Thorne heard conflicting evidence as to whether they agreed that their son would live with his father only a year.

"Judges have wide discretion in whether to find contempt," he wrote.

Justices Charles Kreger and Hollis Horton agreed.

Pearson petitioned for Supreme Court review in June, but didn't get it.

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