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Bedell v. Price

Court of Appeals of Virginia

June 11, 2019

RYAN BEDELL
v.
CHRISTINA PRICE AND WALTER RYAN MATZUK

          FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF HENRICO COUNTY John Marshall, Judge

          Michael P. Tittermary (Brice E. Lambert, Guardian ad litem for the minor child; The Witmeyer Law Firm, PLC; Lambert & Associates, on brief), for appellant.

          Taylor B. Stone (Janus & Stone, P.C., on brief), for appellee Christina Price. [1]

          Misty D. Whitehead (Kelly B. St. Clair; Kelly B. St. Clair, PLLC, on brief), for appellee Walter Ryan Matzuk.

          Present: Judges Russell, Malveaux and Senior Judge Clements Argued at Richmond, Virginia

          OPINION

          WESLEY G. RUSSELL, JR., JUDGE

         Ryan Bedell appeals an order of the circuit court awarding primary physical custody of a minor child to appellee Christina Price, the child's mother; joint legal custody of the child to all three parties; and visitation to appellee Walter Matzuk. Bedell specifically challenges the circuit court's finding that Matzuk is a parent of the child and its awarding legal custody and visitation to Matzuk on that basis.[2] For the reasons that follow, we reverse the judgment of the circuit court and remand for further proceedings.

         BACKGROUND

         "On appeal, we view the evidence 'in the light most favorable to the prevailing party below and its evidence is afforded all reasonable inferences fairly deducible therefrom.'" Bristol Dep't of Soc. Servs. v. Welch, 64 Va.App. 34, 40 (2014) (quoting Logan v. Fairfax Cnty. Dep't of Human Dev., 13 Va.App. 123, 128 (1991)).

         Price gave birth to a child on April 11, 2012. In the time period surrounding the child's conception, Price was engaging in sexual relations with both Bedell and Matzuk. She informed each of them that there was a chance he was the father. With all parties knowing that either Bedell or Matzuk could be the biological father, Matzuk agreed to be the child's father. Matzuk signed an acknowledgement of paternity pursuant to Code § 20-49.1(B)(2), and the child was given Matzuk's name. In signing the acknowledgement, Matzuk attested that he was the biological father of the child. Bedell testified that he did not seek a DNA test at the time because he did not have access to the child and "once I saw [Price and Matzuk] back together, I figured that there [had been] a test."

         Price moved in with Matzuk when she was about six months pregnant and, after the child was born, Matzuk was involved in the care of the child. Price and Matzuk had a falling out in 2013, and Price moved out for several months, but returned. She permanently left the residence in 2014, but continued to see Matzuk and allow the child to spend time with him. When Price left in 2013, she filed petitions to determine custody and visitation, but withdrew them. In November 2014, Price filed new petitions, commencing the instant proceedings.

         While the petitions were pending, Price and Matzuk created their own custody and visitation schedule, splitting time "50/50" and sharing parenting responsibilities. The child remained on Matzuk's insurance, and Matzuk's mother was actively engaged in raising the child. Matzuk continued to contribute financial support for the child, and the child continued to call Matzuk "daddy."

         After an argument in early 2015, Price decided she wanted to know for certain who was the father of her child, so she resumed contact with Bedell, who had never met the child, to have a DNA test performed. The test revealed that Bedell was the child's biological father, and thereafter "[Bedell] was pretty much over [at Price's] house every time" she had custody of the child. Price and Bedell started living together in early summer 2016. By the time of trial, the child was referring to Bedell as "Bedell," "daddy Bedell" or also just "dad."

         Without consulting Matzuk, Price, based on the DNA test results, sought to have the Division of Vital Records issue a new birth certificate for the child that named Bedell as the father. Such a certificate was issued on May 9, 2016.[3]

         When asked at trial about Matzuk's role going forward, Price testified, "I believe [my child] and Mr. Matzuk keeping a relationship would be best with visitation . . . just enough time for them to keep a relationship." She stated that she was unaware of how Matzuk parents the child and asserted her belief that the child and Matzuk's mother "ha[d] a strong relationship." When he testified, Bedell "acknowledge[d] that there is a connection, a bond there[, ]" between the child and Matzuk and suggested that visitation "every other weekend or maybe one weekend every three weeks" might ...


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