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In re ARF

Supreme Court of Wyoming

August 13, 2013

In the Matter of ARF, a minor child.
v.
AHF, Appellee (Respondent). JKS, Appellant (Petitioner),

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 854

Representing Appellant: Keith R. Nachbar, Keith R. Nachbar, PC, Casper, Wyoming.

Representing Appellee: Richard H. Peek, Attorney at Law, Casper, Wyoming.

Before KITE, C.J., and HILL, VOIGT, BURKE, and DAVIS, JJ.

BURKE, Justice.

[¶ 1] In this paternity proceeding, Father, JKS, appeals the district court's decision to grant custody of their eight-year-old daughter, ARF, to Mother, AHF. He also challenges the district court's calculation of child support arrearages and its imposition of time limits on the parties' trial presentations. We will affirm the district court's decisions with respect to custody and the time limits. However, because the district court's order does not comply with the statutory mandate to set forth the presumptive child support amount, we must reverse and remand the district court's child support decision.

ISSUES

[¶ 2] We have rephrased and reordered the issues presented by Father as follows:

1. Did the district court abuse its discretion in awarding custody to Mother?
2. Did the district court commit reversible error in its calculation of child support arrears?
3. Did the district court abuse its discretion in imposing a 160-minute limitation on each party's trial presentation?

FACTS

[¶ 3] In 2012, Father filed suit to establish his paternity of ARF, who was born in 2004. He sought custody of ARF, and asked the district court to order Mother to pay child support. Mother admitted Father's paternity, but asserted that she should have custody and Father should pay child support. Factual details relating directly to each issue will be reviewed in our discussion below.

[¶ 4] After a one-day hearing, the district court granted custody to Mother and established visitation for Father. The district court ordered Father to pay $465 per month in child support. It found that Father owed an additional $24,482 in child support for previous years, and ordered Father to pay $100 per month against this arrearage. Father appealed the district court's decision.

DISCUSSION

I. CUSTODY OF ARF

[¶ 5] Child custody is a question committed to the sound discretion of the district court. Arnott v. Arnott, 2012 WY 167, ¶ 11, 293 P.3d 440, 444 (Wyo.2012). Accordingly, we review the district court's child custody decision for abuse of discretion.

We will not interfere with the district court's custody determination absent procedural error or a clear abuse of discretion. In determining whether an abuse of discretion has occurred, our primary consideration is the reasonableness of the district court's decision in light of the evidence presented. We view the evidence in the light most favorable to the district court's determination, affording every favorable inference to the prevailing party and omitting from our consideration the conflicting evidence.

Durfee v. Durfee, 2009 WY 7, ¶ 6, 199 P.3d 1087, 1089 (Wyo.2009) (internal citations omitted).

[¶ 6] Father contends that the district court abused its discretion in granting custody to Mother. His contention stems from the fact that Mother's live-in fiancé was convicted in 2000 on one charge of third degree sexual assault and two counts of sexual exploitation of a child. The victims were girls aged thirteen and fourteen. Father argues, in summary, that he is a good and loving father with strong family support from his wife and his parents, and can offer a safe and stable home for ARF. In contrast, he claims that evidence of the fiancé 's criminal history demonstrates that placing custody with Mother " seriously endangers the safety" of ARF. The district court abused its discretion, according to Father, when it ignored this evidence of endangerment.

Page 855

[¶ 7] The district court explained its child custody decision in oral remarks near the end of trial. It specifically noted that " neither parent is a bad parent." It observed that ARF had been living with Mother for the past eight years, and indicated that the basic question was whether it was in ARF's best interest to remain in Mother's home, or to be removed and placed with Father. Based on " the facts that have been presented," the district court concluded that it was in ARF's best interests for Mother to retain custody.

[¶ 8] As we review the record to determine whether there is evidence to support the district court's decision, the applicable standard of review requires us to consider the evidence " in the light most favorable to the district court's determination, affording every favorable inference to the prevailing party and omitting from our consideration the conflicting evidence." Durfee, ¶ 6, 199 P.3d at 1089. Viewed in this light, there is ample evidence in the record to support the district court's decision.

[¶ 9] Mother has always had custody, although ARF has spent substantial amounts of time with Father, his wife, and his parents, particularly during the earliest years of her life. Mother testified " that what would be best for [ARF] is for her to remain in my home, because that is what she has known for the last eight years. And I— I will not refuse any visitations to [Father]." Mother thought it would be detrimental to ARF to remove her from Mother's home and place her with Father. A child and adolescent psychiatric nurse who had evaluated the relationship between Mother and ARF testified " That [ARF] very much enjoyed spending time with her mom; that she looked to her mom ...


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