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Paden v. Paden

Supreme Court of Wyoming

October 4, 2017

BELLE CAROLINE PADEN, k/n/a BELLE CAROLINE ADAMS, Appellant (Plaintiff),
v.
CHAD JOSEPH PADEN, Appellee (Defendant).

         Appeal from the District Court of Campbell County The Honorable John R. Perry, Judge

          Representing Appellant: Matthew R. Sorenson, Daly & Sorenson, LLC, Gillette, Wyoming.

          Representing Appellee: DaNece Day, Lubnau Law Office, PC, Gillette, Wyoming.

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

          FOX, Justice.

         [¶1] Belle Caroline Adams (Mother) and Chad Joseph Paden (Father) divorced and, while they both lived in or near Gillette, Wyoming, shared custody of their daughter, PKP. Mother remarried and announced her intent to relocate to southern Colorado. Father petitioned to modify custody, and both parties sought primary physical custody. The district court found that PKP's best interests were served by Father having primary custody. Mother appealed, contending that the district court abused its discretion. We affirm.

         ISSUES

         [¶2] We adopt Mother's statement of the issues:

         1. Did the district court abuse its discretion when it awarded primary physical custody to Father?

         2. Did the district court err in admitting TS's letters into evidence?

         FACTS

         [¶3] The parties were married on April 16, 2011. At the time of their marriage, Mother had two children from previous relationships, one of whom, TS, then eight years old, resided with Mother and Father. During their marriage, the couple had one child, PKP, who was born in December of 2011. Mother and Father divorced on May 28, 2014, and, under their stipulated divorce decree, shared custody of PKP. Mother had PKP on the days when Father worked, and Father had her when he was not working. Father works a rotating schedule of eight days on and six days off, which resulted in a nearly even split of PKP's time between Mother and Father. By all accounts this arrangement was successful.

         [¶4] Mother married Don Adams in July of 2014. Mr. Adams has a son, RA, from a previous relationship, who resides with him part time. In addition, Mother and Mr. Adams had an infant son. Mother has an inconsistent relationship with her family, including PKP's maternal grandparents, who were not invited to her wedding or to visit her home. Father is the parent who makes sure PKP's maternal and paternal grandparents are included in her life and are invited to events such as birthday parties. Father was PKP's primary caregiver when she was an infant and Mother underwent breast cancer treatment.

         [¶5] On October 22, 2014, Mother filed a notice of change of address, announcing her intent to relocate with TS, PKP, her new husband, and their baby to Mr. Adams' childhood home of Pleasant View, Colorado, an eleven-hour drive from Father's home near Gillette. Shortly thereafter, Father filed a petition to modify custody and support. Mother filed a counterclaim, also seeking modification of custody. The district court held a hearing on July 27, 2016, and subsequently modified custody, giving Father primary physical custody, subject to Mother's reasonable visitation. Mother appeals.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         [¶6] We "review orders modifying custody, visitation and child support for an abuse of discretion . . . ." Greer v. Greer, 2017 WY 35, ¶ 19, 391 P.3d 1127, 1133 (Wyo. 2017) (quoting Tracy v. Tracy, 2017 WY 17, ¶ 46, 388 P.3d 1257, 1267 (Wyo. 2017)). Judicial discretion is composed "of many things, among which are conclusions drawn from objective criteria" and "means exercising sound judgment with regard to what is right under the circumstances and without doing so arbitrarily and capriciously." Aragon v. Aragon, 2005 WY 5, ¶ 7, 104 P.3d 756, 759 (Wyo. 2005). We "will not disturb an order regarding custody or visitation so long as the court could reasonably conclude as it did." Greer, 2017 WY 35, ¶ 19, 391 P.3d at 1133. "We evaluate the reasonableness of a decision in relation to the evidence presented, viewing it in the light most favorable to the district court's determination, affording every favorable inference to the prevailing party, and ignoring any conflicting evidence." Id. (citations omitted).

         [¶7] We also review a district court's decision on the admissibility of evidence for an abuse of discretion. In re Paternity of HLG, 2016 WY 35, ¶ 7, 368 P.3d 902, 904 (Wyo. 2016). We accord district courts' rulings on the admissibility of evidence considerable deference and will not disturb such rulings on appeal if there is a legitimate basis for the ruling. Id. (citing Wise v. Ludlow, 2015 WY 43, ¶ 42, 346 P.3d 1, 12 (Wyo. 2015)); Aragon, 2005 WY 5, ¶ 21, 104 P.3d at 762.

         DISCUSSION

         I.Did the district court abuse its discretion when it awarded primary ...


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