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JCLK v. ZHB

Supreme Court of Wyoming

July 20, 2015

JCLK k/n/a JCLS, Appellant (Respondent),
v.
ZHB, Appellee (Petitioner)

Appeal from the District Court of Laramie County. The Honorable Steven K. Sharpe, Judge.

For Appellant: John C. Schumacher, White & White, P.C., Riverton, Wyoming.

For Appellee: No appearance.

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

OPINION

Page 721

BURKE, Chief Justice.

[¶1] In this paternity action, JCLK (Mother) appeals the district court's decision to award primary custody of four-year-old BHB to ZHB (Father). Our review convinces us that the district court did not abuse its discretion. We will affirm.

ISSUE

[¶2] Mother raises two issues, which we have consolidated for the sake of clarity:

Did the district court abuse its discretion in awarding primary custody of BHB to Father?

FACTS

[¶3] BHB was born in May 2010, in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Although Mother and Father were never married, it is undisputed that Father is BHB's biological parent. In October 2010, Father filed a petition in the district court seeking to establish paternity, custody, visitation, and child support for BHB. A few days later, Father filed a motion for a mutual restraining order providing that BHB could not be removed from Laramie or Albany Counties during the pendency of the litigation. The district court entered the order.

[¶4] Aside from an occasional motion or stipulation for temporary visitation and a few standard district court orders concerning mediation and parenting classes, the district court's pleading file indicates that nothing happened in the matter until July 2013, when the district court issued a " Notice of Imminent Dismissal" due to inactivity in the case. Father responded with a request for a trial setting. Trial was held on August 28, 2014.

[¶5] Specific details of the evidence will be discussed as they relate to the issues below. A general outline will be set forth here. BHB was four at the time of the trial. He had lived with Mother since his birth. Mother had married, and was living in Shoshoni, Wyoming, at the time of trial. Also living in the household were Mother's husband, a seven-month-old half-sibling who is the biological child of Mother and her husband, and two half-siblings aged 5 and 6 who are the biological children of Mother and another man. Contrary to the restraining order prohibiting BHB's removal from Laramie or Albany Counties, Mother had lived with BHB in Guernsey, Wheatland, and Chugwater, all in Platte County, and in Shoshoni, in Fremont County.

[¶6] Father lived in Cheyenne at the time of trial, where his parents and other family members also resided. He had a steady job with an electric company, and was also serving in the Wyoming National Guard. He tried to have visitation with BHB " every couple of months," and tried to call to check up on him " every couple of weeks." Although Mother portrayed the contacts between Father and BHB as less frequent, she acknowledged that BHB appeared attached to Father. It was undisputed that Father had never provided significant financial support for BHB.

[¶7] Mother appeared pro se at trial. Father was represented by counsel. The witnesses at trial were Mother, Mother's husband, Father, and Father's mother. Both Mother and Father sought primary custody of BHB. The district court decided in favor of ...


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