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IC v. DW

Supreme Court of Wyoming

October 7, 2015

IC, Appellant (Petitioner),
v.
DW, Appellee (Respondent).

Appeal from the District Court of Teton County The Honorable James L. Radda, Judge

Representing Appellant: James K. Lubing and Leah K. Corrigan of Lubing & Corrigan, LLC, Jackson, Wyoming

Representing Appellee: Richard J. Mulligan of Mulligan Law Office, Jackson, Wyoming; Heather Noble, Attorney at Law, Jackson, Wyoming

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

DAVIS, Justice.

[¶1] Appellant Father challenges a decree awarding Mother primary physical custody of their son in a paternity case. He contends that the district court abused its discretion in several ways by determining custody as it did. Father also complains that the visitation schedule is not sufficiently detailed. We affirm the district court's award of primary physical custody to Mother, but remand for further proceedings so that the district court can enter a decree that provides additional detail with regard to visitation.

ISSUES

[¶2] 1. Is the district court's Decree Establishing Custody, Visitation, Child Support & Name Change, which awarded primary physical custody to Mother, an abuse of discretion that does not serve the child's best interests?

2. Does the decree fail to set forth a visitation plan in sufficient detail to promote understanding and compliance, in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 20-2-202(a)(i) (LexisNexis 2015)?

FACTS

[¶3] In February of 2013, the parties had a sexual encounter in Portland, Oregon. Mother was attending college there, and Father was visiting from Washington, where he also attended college. Mother became pregnant as a result of the encounter. Thereafter, the parties attempted unsuccessfully to develop a romantic relationship while both were still living in the Pacific Northwest. However, that effort did not work out, and their relationship became acrimonious. Mother returned to her hometown of Jackson, Wyoming in July 2013, while Father remained in Washington. Their child was born in Jackson in 2013.

[¶4] This case began just before the child was born, when Father filed a petition to establish paternity, custody and support, along with a myriad of related pleadings. After the birth, Father filed additional pleadings raising issues culminating in a trial before the district court[1] on July 22-23, 2014, concerning, inter alia, custody and visitation.

[¶5] The court heard testimony from Father, Mother, family members, friends and Father's two experts, a clinical neuropsychologist and a pediatrician. It then entered a 21-page Decree Establishing Custody, Visitation, Child Support & Name Change. The court made detailed and extensive findings of fact and conclusions of law, granted the parties joint legal custody, and awarded primary physical custody to Mother. Father was awarded visitation as more fully discussed below.

[¶6] Father timely perfected this appeal.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶7] Decisions that involve custody, visitation and child support are committed to the sound discretion of the district court. Wright v. Wright, 2015 WY 37, ¶ 16, 344 P.3d 267, 272 (Wyo. 2015). We have explained:

It has been our consistent principle that in custody matters, the welfare and needs of the children are to be given paramount consideration. The determination of the best interests of the child is a question for the trier of fact. We do not overturn the decision of the trial court unless we are persuaded of an abuse of discretion or the presence of a violation of some legal principle.
A court does not abuse its discretion unless it acts in a manner which exceeds the bounds of reason under the circumstances. Our review entails evaluation of the sufficiency of the evidence to support the district court's decision, and we afford the prevailing party every favorable inference while omitting any consideration of evidence presented by the unsuccessful party. Findings of fact not supported by the evidence, contrary to the evidence, or against the great weight of the evidence cannot be sustained. Similarly, an abuse of discretion is present when a material factor deserving significant weight is ignored.

Stevens v. Stevens, 2014 WY 23, ¶ 8, 318 P.3d 802, 805-06 (Wyo. 2014) (citations and internal ...


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