Monday, November 17, 2008

Summary 2008 WY 135

Summary of Decision issued November 14, 2008

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

Case Name: Buttle v. Buttle

Citation: 2008 WY 135

Docket Number: S-08-0090

Appeal from the District Court of Laramie County, the Honorable Peter G. Arnold, Judge.

Representing Appellant Amy: Dameione S. Cameron and Dean R. Winegar of Parsons & Cameron, PC, Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Representing Appellee Joshua: Donald A. Cole of Cole & Cole Law Firm, Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Facts/Discussion: In divorce proceedings between Amy Jean Buttle (Mother) and Joshua John Buttle (Father) the district court ordered that Mother should have primary physical custody for decision making purposes but then determined the parties should share physical custody of their four-year-old son.

Evidence of Spousal Abuse: Considering the evidence presented in the action below and the district court’s statements in their entirety, the Court held the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to base its custody determination on the evidence of abuse. While there was no question from the evidence that the parties fought, their fights involved physical confrontations and such confrontations were contrary to the best interest of the child, the Court concluded the district court could have reasonably determined from the totality of the evidence that Mother should have primary legal custody subject to liberal visitation by Father. In determining custody in the best interest of a child, evidence of spousal abuse is only one of the factors district courts are required to consider. The Court noted that the district court is in the best position to weigh the testimony and assess the witnesses’ credibility.
Shared Custody:
When a district court’s exercise of discretion in custody matters involves splitting custody of children between parents or other unconventional approaches, it must provide an explanation of its reasoning and place its findings on the record so that, upon review, the Court can be sure that a comprehensive evaluation of all relevant factors occurred prior to determining custody. The decree shed no light on the district court’s reasoning for its findings. The Court’s review of the district court’s order is limited to deciding whether it abused its discretion in ordering shared custody. The Court decides whether the arrangement imposed will promote stability in the child’s environment, which is of the utmost importance to his well-being. The shared custody arrangement in the instant case required the child to spend at least three hours every fourth day traveling between Saratoga and LaGrange, attend two different daycare centers and to be separated from his primary caretaker every fourth day for a four-day period. There was nothing in the record supporting the shared custody arrangement. Mother and Father have no history of effective communication or cooperative decision making. These skills would be necessary to facilitating such a shared custody arrangement. In addition, the district court left undetermined how custody would work when the child begins to attend school in 2009. The shared custody arrangement imposed did not provide the framework that best served the child. The district court abused its discretion in ordering shared custody.

Holding: Neither party appealed the district court’s order granting Mother primary physical custody for final decision-making authority. Consequently, that order will remain in effect. The Court reversed the district court’s shared custody order and remanded with directions to enter an order awarding Mother primary physical custody and Father reasonable visitation taking into consideration the geographic distance between the parties. In addition, the district court will re-calculate the presumptive child support obligation on the basis of the new custody arrangement.

Reversed and remanded.

J. Kite delivered the decision.

Link: .

[SPECIAL NOTE: This opinion uses the "Universal Citation." It was given an "official" citation when it was issued. You should use this citation whenever you cite the opinion, with a P.3d parallel citation. Please note when you look at the opinion that all of the paragraphs are numbered. When you pinpoint cite to a quote, you should cite to this paragraph number rather than to any page number. If you need assistance in putting together a citation using the Universal Citation form, please contact the Wyoming State Law Library.]

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