Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Summary 2012 WY 167

Summary of Decision December 28, 2012

Justice Burke delivered the opinion for the Court. Reversed and remanded.


Docket Number: S‑12-0089


Appeal from the District Court of Teton County, Honorable Timothy C. Day, Judge

Representing Appellant (Plaintiff/Defendant): Leah K. Corrigan and James K. Lubing, Lubing & Corrigan, LLC, Jackson, Wyoming.

Representing Appellee (Plaintiff/Defendant): Anne B. Ashley, Anne B. Ashley, LLC, Jackson, Wyoming.

Guardian Ad Litem: Steven R. Dwyer, The Law Office of Steven R. Dwyer, LLC, Jackson,Wyoming.

Date of Decision: December 28, 2012

Facts: Appellant, Jeffrey Arnott (Father), challenged the district court’s order denying his petition for modification of the parties’ divorce decree, which granted primary physical custody of the parties’ two daughters to Appellee, Paula (“Polly”) Arnott (Mother). Father sought modification of custody after Mother gave notice of her intention to relocate to Virginia with the children. Relying on this Court’s decision in Watt v. Watt, 971 P.2d 608, 614 (Wyo. 1999), the district court applied a “strong presumption in favor of the right of a custodial parent to relocate with her children” and determined that Father had failed to establish a material change in circumstances warranting an analysis of whether modification would be in the best interests of the children. On appeal, Father contended that our decision in Watt should be overturned. He asserted that application of that precedent undermines his constitutionally protected parenting rights and the state’s interest in promoting the best interests of the children.

Issues: Father presented the following issues for our consideration:

1. Did the District Court err when it determined that this Court’s holdings in Watt and Resor foreclosed a determination that an interstate relocation can give rise to a substantial change in circumstances sufficient to consider a custody modification?

2. In the alternative, and as a matter of first impression, did the District Court’s application of Watt and Love violate the Father’s fundamental constitutional right to raise his children?

3. Also in the alternative, to the extent the District Court did not err in its interpretation of Watt, and the Watt standard is retained as constitutional, did the District Court exceed the bounds of reason in deciding that the Mother’s move of 2,140 miles still allows for reasonable visitation for Father?

Mother stated the issues as follows:

1. Was the District Court correct in determining that an interstate relocation by the primary custodial parent, standing alone, does not constitute a material and substantial change in circumstances sufficient to modify custody under Wyoming law?

2. Did the District Court correctly determine that the custodial parent’s motives for relocating were legitimate, sincere and in good faith?

3. Did the District Court correctly determine that reasonable visitation is still available to the non custodial parent after relocation?

Holdings: The Court agreed and held that application of a presumption favoring the relocating custodial parent should not be applied in determining whether there has been a material change in circumstances. To the extent that our decision in Watt mandates application of such a presumption, it is hereby overturned. Because the district court applied this presumption in determining that Father had failed to meet his burden of proving a material change in circumstances, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

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

[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. You will also note when you look at the opinion that all of the paragraphs are numbered. When you need to provide a pinpoint citation to a quote the universal portion of the citation will use that paragraph number. The pinpoint citation in the P.3d portion will need to have the reporter page number. If you need assistance in putting together a citation from this, or any future opinion using the Universal Citation form, please contact the Wyoming State Law Library and we will provide any needed assistance]

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