Friday, July 18, 2008

Summary 2008 WY 81

Summary of Decision issued July 15, 2008

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Summaries are prepared by Law Librarians and are not official statements of the Wyoming Supreme Court

Case Name: Inman v. Williams

Citation: 2008 WY 81

Docket Number: S-07-0064

Appeal from the District Court of Lincoln County, Honorable Nancy J. Guthrie, Judge

Representing Appellant (Plaintiff): John D. Bowers of Bowers Law Firm, Afton, Wyoming

Representing Appellee (Defendant): William L. Combs of Combs Law Office, Evanston, Wyoming

Date of Decision: July 15, 2008

Issues: Whether the district court's order restricting Appellant's rights in caring for his children was not supported by the evidence and/or a violation of his fundamental rights to associate [with] and raise his children

Facts: This appeal brings into focus a non-custodial parent's long-standing effort to secure visitation with her two children which the district court, pursuant to the parents' stipulation, ordered nearly eight years ago. Appellant father, the custodial parent, appeals a district court's order which found that he was not in contempt for failing to follow an earlier order since the failure was neither willful or intentional but also reiterated a number of the same directives made to Father and Mother regarding the children that were contained in that earlier order and made some changes to others. In the appeal, Father asserts that the district court's order with specific directives violates his fundamental rights to associate with and raise his children and is not supported by evidence. While Mother disagrees with Father's assertions, she also raises the issue whether the district court's order is an appealable order as required by W.R.A.P. 1.05 so that this Court has jurisdiction to entertain this appeal.

Holdings: The father and mother are natural guardians of the persons of their minor children. Parents enjoy a constitutionally protected fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children.. This fundamental right has been recognized as a liberty interest protected under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and is also found in Wyo. Const. art. 1, § 6. In the present actions, Appellant Father claims that his right to raise his children and make those decisions is affected by the order's amended directives.

Responding to Father's claims, Mother asserts (1) the order originates from a contempt proceeding in which the court did not hold Father in contempt and, therefore, is interlocutory in nature, not final, and not appealable; (2) the order does not affect Father's substantial rights; (3) the order does not determine the merits of the controversy between Father and Mother; and (4) the order does not resolve all the outstanding issues.

After careful consideration of the parties' respective contentions, the court found that Appellee Mother's arguments were more persuasive. The true thrust of the court's order is to provide therapeutic counseling to the parties' children so that eventually Mother's long-delayed visitation with her children can be determined and established. Until the children's therapeutic counseling has reached the point at which Mother's visitation can be determined and established, the terms of that visitation have not been fixed. Because the order does not hold Father in contempt and does not fix the terms of Mother's visitation, the order does not determine the action.

Although the order contains language that the children's therapeutic counselor, in consultation with the guardian ad litem, shall determine the terms of Mother's visitation when the children have been prepared for that visitation, in the exercise of this Court's supervisory authority, the therapeutic counselor and the guardian ad litem are directed to recommend such terms to the district court and that court shall establish, with all deliberate speed, the appropriate terms of visitation as provided by statute.

Appeal dismissed.

J. Golden delivered the opinion for the court.

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