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Published: Friday, 6/20/2014

Court: Teen had no right to sit at visitation hearing

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — The decision came too late for her now that she’s turned 18, but the Ohio Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a girl whose divorced parents took turns whisking her away to places like Russia and Costa Rica to escape the other did not have a constitutional right to a seat at the table as her fate was decided.

In a 5-2 decision, the high court found that an Ottawa County Juvenile Court did not abuse its discretion when it denied her a seat alongside her attorney in the courtroom during visitation proceedings.

“Members of this court can debate whether the trial court’s ultimate decision to exclude A.G., then 13 years old, was eminently reasonable or a close call,” Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor wrote. “But we cannot honestly debate whether the juvenile court abused its discretion in ordering A.G. out of the courtroom and into the classroom. It did not.

“We likewise decline A.G.’s invitation to announce an algorithm for determining whether a child who is the subject of the litigation should be excluded from custody proceedings,” she wrote.

Amelia Garmyn, identified only as A.G. in court documents, has dual Russian and American citizenship. Her parents divorced in 2001 when she was 5. While those proceedings were pending at the time in Henry County, her Russian mother, Lolita, took her to Moscow, but eventually returned to the United States.

Then her American father, Patrick, fled with her to multiple states, using false entities and at one point took her to Costa Rica. He pleaded guilty in 1999 to a charge of attempted interference with custody.

After the divorce, her mother took Amelia back to Moscow where the girl was abducted from her grandmother’s home and taken from Russia via Ukraine to Paris to be reunited with her father. Once all returned to the United States, the girl was returned to her mother.

Her father later had supervised visitation rights, but in 2009 asked the court, by then in Ottawa County, to approve unsupervised visitation in his North Carolina home. Amelia countered with her own motion to end all visitation and asked the court for a seat at the table when a decision was made.

Since the case was argued, Amelia has graduated from high school and is planning to attend college, according to her Port Clinton attorney, Howard Whitcomb. Her father had dropped his request before the case reached the Supreme Court, making the case more about similar cases in the future.

“It’s about choice,” Mr. Whitcomb said. “Do you have the right of choice? If a child wants to participate…and chooses to do that, we believe the Constitution protects that choice.”

Justices William O’Neill and Paul Pfeifer dissented on the ruling.

“At the time of the hearing, she was 15, and her history of suffering as a result of her parents’ dispute is well documented in the record,” Justice O’Neill wrote. “The trial court made no attempt to justify its ruling that A.G. could not attend the custody hearing—a hearing being held, ironically, on her own motion.”

Timothy Hallett, Patrick Garmyn’s Wauseon attorney, said Amelia’s rights were safeguarded.

“I don’t think it should be common practice as a constitutional right to have a child obtain an attorney and become a primary party in their parents’ divorce,” he said. “Sometimes these things are blown a little out of proportion on what the grounds may be…If the child was present to hear all that, it may have ongoing effect on the child’s relationships with both parents.”

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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