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Ransom v. Ransom

Supreme Court of Wyoming

November 14, 2017

CHRISSY LYNN RANSOM, Appellant (Defendant),
v.
CHRISTOPHER RYAN RANSOM, Appellee (Plaintiff).

         Appeal from the District Court of Albany County The Honorable Jeffrey A. Donnell, Judge

          Representing Appellant: Rennie Phillips Polidora of Jacobs·Polidora, LLC, Laramie, Wyoming

          Representing Appellee: Erik J. Oblasser of Corthell and King, P.C., Laramie, Wyoming

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

          DAVIS, JUSTICE.

         [¶1] Chrissy Lynn Ransom (Mother) appeals from a divorce decree, claiming the district court abused its discretion in awarding Christopher Ryan Ransom (Father) primary physical custody of their daughter. She also claims the district court abused its discretion when it denied her motion to bifurcate the trial to separate the property issues from child custody and support determinations. We find no abuse of discretion and affirm.

         ISSUES

         [¶2] Mother states the issues for this Court's consideration as follows:

1. Whether the district court abused its discretion by improperly weighing the best interests of the child factors pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 20-2-201(a) and awarding custody to Father.
2. Whether the district court abused its discretion by denying Mother's Motion to Bifurcate property distribution proceedings from child custody proceedings pursuant to W.R.C.P. 42(b).

         [¶3] Father contends the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding him custody or denying the motion to bifurcate. He also asks this Court to certify there was no reasonable cause for this appeal and award costs and attorney fees in his favor pursuant to W.R.A.P. 10.05(b).

         FACTS

         [¶4] The parties were married in December of 2005 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Throughout the marriage, they resided in Laramie, Wyoming. Their daughter was born in 2009. She suffers from autism spectrum disorder.

         [¶5] In 2012, the parties purchased Grand Avenue Pizza in Laramie for $377, 000. Both parties worked at the restaurant, and during the course of their marriage, paid $100, 000 toward the loan with money earned from the business.

         [¶6] In January of 2016, Mother began an extra-marital affair. When Father discovered the affair in March, Mother left the child with Father and went to Pinedale to be with her new companion. Before she left, Mother wrote a note to the child explaining that she did not know when or how she would be able to return to Laramie.[1] Five days later, however, she returned to Laramie. By May of 2016, Mother was working and renting a residence in Laramie.

         [¶7] Meanwhile, in April of 2016, Father had filed a complaint for divorce in which he sought primary legal and physical custody of the child. Father also sought an interim order giving him custody of the child while the divorce was pending, claiming that Mother intended to take the child and leave Laramie. Mother answered the complaint and counterclaimed for custody. The parties subsequently stipulated to a temporary plan giving the parties joint legal custody of the child, with Father having primary physical custody, and Mother having visitation on Tuesday after school until 8:00 p.m. and from the end of school on Thursday until Saturday at 8:00 p.m.

         [¶8] The district court set the trial for November 18, 2016. On November 7, Mother filed a motion asking the court to bifurcate the child custody and visitation matters from the property issues. She claimed she had relied on Father to provide a valuation of the restaurant business, and had only recently received that valuation. She indicated that she questioned its accuracy and needed additional time to obtain her own appraisal. The district court denied the motion. The case proceeded to trial, and after hearing the testimony and counsels' arguments, the district court issued a decision letter finding it in the child's best interests to reside primarily with Father while awarding Mother the visitation in the parties' stipulated plan. The district court subsequently issued a decree of divorce consistent with its decision letter. Mother timely appealed from the district court's order.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         [¶9] Custody and visitation are committed to the sound discretion of the trial court. JCLK v. ZHB, 2015 WY 95, ¶ 8, 353 P.3d 720, 721 (Wyo. 2015) (citing Blakely v. Blakely, 2009 WY 127, ¶ 6, 218 P.3d 253, 254 (Wyo. 2009)).

This Court has consistently recognized the broad discretion enjoyed by a district court in child custody matters. We will not interfere with the district court's custody determination absent procedural error or a clear abuse of discretion. In determining whether an abuse of discretion has occurred, our primary consideration is the reasonableness of the district court's decision in light of the evidence presented. We view the evidence in the light most favorable to the district court's determination, affording every favorable inference to the prevailing party and omitting from our consideration the conflicting evidence.

JCLK, ¶ 8, 353 P.3d at 721-21 (quoting Durfee v. Durfee, 2009 WY 7, ¶ 6, 199 P.3d 1087, 1089 (Wyo. 2009)).

         [¶10] W.R.C.P. 42(b)[2] provides as follows:

(b) Separate trials. - The court, in furtherance of convenience or to avoid prejudice, or when separate trials will be conducive to expedition and economy, may order a separate trial of any claim, cross-claim, counterclaim, or third-party claim, or of any separate issue or of any number of claims, cross-claims, counterclaims, third-party claims, or issues.

         "We review a decision not to bifurcate a trial for an abuse of discretion, and reverse only if the district court's decision was outside the bounds of reason under the circumstances." In re Kite Ranch, LLC, 2010 WY 83, ¶ 33, 234 P.3d 351, 363 (Wyo. 2010) (citing In re Conservatorship & ...


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