from the District Court of Teton County. The Honorable
Timothy C. Day, Judge.
Appellant: Melissa M. Owens of Owens Law Office, PC, Jackson,
WY and Heather Noble, Jackson, WY.
Appellee: PLeah K. Corrigan of Western Wyoming Law, LLC,
BURKE, C.J., and HILL, DAVIS, FOX, and KAUTZ, JJ.
[¶1] Appellant (Mother) challenges a
district court's order awarding Appellee (Father) primary
custody of the parties' children. We will affirm the
[¶2] Mother presents one issue, with three
subsections, for our review:
1. The district court abused its discretion in awarding
custody to Father.
a. The district court erred in failing to consider -- but
apparently overruling the minor children's preference --
particularly as the district court did not have sufficient
basis for assessing how much weight to give that preference.
b. The district court had an insufficient basis for deviating
from the recommendation
of the Guardian Ad Litem.
c. The district court had an insufficient basis for granting
residential custody to Father after the minor children had
been living in Mother's temporary custody in Bozeman for
[¶3] Mother and Father were never married
but they dated and were living together when their two
children were born in 2004 and 2006. Their relationship ended
in 2008, but for the most part they shared custody of their
[¶4] This matter began in September of 2013,
when Father filed a petition to establish paternity, custody,
visitation, and support, after he learned that Mother planned
to move from Jackson, Wyoming to Bozeman, Montana with the
children. A temporary custody hearing was held on November 1,
2013, after which the court awarded the parties joint legal
custody with temporary residential custody being awarded to
Mother. Accordingly, Mother and the two children moved to
Bozeman in December of 2013, and Father remained in Jackson.
[¶5] Almost one year later, in October of
2014, the court held a bench trial to determine custody. The
children did not testify and were not interviewed. The court
heard testimony from both parties. Testimony also included
that from a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL). Ultimately, the GAL
recommended that Mother have primary custody. Despite that
recommendation, the court awarded Father primary residential
custody, subject to Mother's visitation.
[¶6] This Court reviews district court
decisions affecting child custody and visitation for an abuse
of discretion. Demers v. Nicks, 2016 WY 13, 366 P.3d
977 (Wyo. 2016). About custody matters we have further said:
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.
IC v. DW, 2015 WY 135, ¶ 7, 360 P.3d 999, 1001
(Wyo. 2015) (quoting Stevens v. Stevens, 2014 WY 23,
¶ 8, 318 P.3d 802, 805-06 (Wyo. 2014)).
[¶7] In Mother's only issue she argues
that the district court abused its discretion when it awarded
Father primary residential custody. Mother more specifically
argues that the court did not consider the children's
preferences, that the court did not have a sufficient basis
for its deviation from the GAL's recommendation, and that
the court lacked a basis for granting custody to Father after
the children had lived with Mother in Bozeman for 18 months.
[¶8] The district court detailed its
reasoning for granting Father primary custody in a 25-page
order. Part of its reasoning reads as follows:
39. The testimony in this case, particularly Mother's own
testimony, causes the Court serious concerns about the
destructive effect of Mother's attitudes towards Father
and his parenting. Her communication of those attitudes to
the children, however true ...