from the District Court of Campbell County The Honorable
Michael N. Deegan, Judge.
Representing Appellant: Seth Shumaker, Sheridan, Wyoming.
Representing Appellee: Jason Edward Ochs, Casper, Wyoming.
BURKE, C.J., and HILL, DAVIS, FOX, and KAUTZ, JJ.
Willard Donald Bishop (Father) appeals from the district
court's order modifying the divorce decree by
transferring primary physical custody of the parties' son
(the Child) to Jorja Anna Bishop, n/k/a Jorja Anna Manolis
(Mother). Father claims the district court abused its
discretion when it concluded (a) that Mother had proven a
material change in circumstances affecting the Child had
occurred since entry of the divorce decree, and (b) that it
was in the Child's best interests to modify the custody
provision of the decree.
Father presents three issues on appeal that we rephrase and
consolidate into two:
1. Whether the district court abused its discretion by
finding that there had been a material change in
circumstances affecting the welfare of the Child since entry
of the decree.
2. Whether the district court abused its discretion by
concluding that it was in the Child's best interests to
presents similar issues for our review.
Mother and Father divorced in Gillette, Wyoming, in August
2014. The district court awarded primary custody of the
Child, who was born in 2011, to Father, subject to
Mother's reasonable and liberal visitation rights.
Beginning in April 2015, the parties filed various motions
for orders to show cause alleging the other had violated the
terms of the divorce decree. The district court held a
hearing on the contempt motions on July 1, 2015. It found
Mother in contempt of court for denying Father his right to
have the Child on Father's Day weekend and Father in
contempt of court for: 1) refusing to allow Mother to begin
her weekend visitation with the Child on Thursday nights as
required by the decree; 2) denying Mother visitation on
Easter weekend and Mother's Day weekend; 3) failing to
have the Child developmentally screened; 4) failing to notify
the court and Mother of changes in his employment and medical
insurance; and 5) failing to transfer money to Mother from
his retirement account as required by the property division
provision in the decree. The district court entered judgment
against Father for the amount due on the retirement funds
plus interest and ordered him to pay Mother's attorney
Soon thereafter, Mother filed a petition to modify custody,
visitation and child support. She also filed several more
motions for orders to show cause claiming Father was in
violation of the visitation and "obligation to
cooperate" provisions of the decree.
The district court held a hearing on the contempt motions on
May 10, 2016. By that time, Father had refused Mother
visitation with the Child for approximately seven months.
Father apparently defended his actions by asserting the Child
was not safe while visiting Mother because she was living
with her boyfriend who was a sex offender. Mother stated that
she lived alone and would not place the Child in harm's
way. The district court heard testimony from Mother's
boyfriend and concluded the Child was not in danger because
there was no unsupervised contact between the two and
"there is no evidence that [the boyfriend] ha[d] ever
engaged in any inappropriate conduct with prepubescent
children." The court further found that if Father feared
for the Child's safety "the proper procedure was to
petition the Court, not to deny visitation
unilaterally." The district court again ordered Father
to pay Mother's attorney fees.
After the hearing, the disputes between the parties
continued. Father claimed that Mother had violated the
divorce decree by failing to notify him when she sought
medical treatment for the child and of her changes in
employment and address, cooperate with him about visitation
schedules, and pay her share of the Child's medical
bills. Mother claimed that Father violated the decree by
denying her visitation and access to the Child on his
birthday. The district court heard the contempt motions on
November 29, 2016, right before the hearing on Mother's
petition to modify custody. It concluded Mother was in
contempt of court for failing to pay her share of certain
The district court granted Mother's petition to modify
custody, visitation and support. It concluded Mother had
demonstrated that a material change in circumstances had
occurred since entry of the decree and it was in the
Child's best interests to modify the decree and award
custody to her. Father filed a timely notice of appeal from
the modification order.
We review a district court's order on a petition to
modify child custody for an abuse of discretion.
"We will not interfere with the district court's
decision regarding modification of custody absent a
procedural error or a clear abuse of discretion. In
determining whether the district court has abused its
discretion, we must decide whether it could reasonably
conclude as it did. Judicial discretion is a composite of
many things, among which are conclusions drawn from objective
criteria; it means exercising sound judgment with regard to
what is right under the circumstances and without doing so
arbitrarily or capriciously."
Gjertsen v. Haar, 2015 WY 56, ¶ 11, 347 P.3d
1117, 1122 (Wyo. 2015), quoting Gray v. Pavey, 2007
WY 84, ¶ 8, 158 P.3d 667, 668 (Wyo. 2007). We consider
the evidence in the light most favorable to the district
court's decision, "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). See also Walker v. Walker, 2013 WY 132,
¶ 22, 311 P.3d 170, 176 (Wyo. 2013).
Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 20-2-204 (LexisNexis 2017) sets out
the statutory requirements for modification of custody and
(a) Either parent may petition to enforce or modify any court
order regarding custody and visitation. . . . .
(c) A court having jurisdiction may modify an order
concerning the care, custody and visitation of the children
if there is a showing by either parent of a material change
in circumstances since the entry of the order in question and
that the modification would be in the best interests of the
children pursuant to W.S. 20-2-201(a). In any proceeding in
which a parent seeks to modify an order concerning child
custody or visitation, proof of repeated, unreasonable
failure by the custodial parent to allow visitation to the
other parent in violation of an order may be considered as
evidence of a material change of circumstances. . . .
Under § 20-2-204(c), the district court conducts a
two-step inquiry to determine whether modification of a