from the District Court of Platte County The Honorable John
C. Brooks, Judge
Representing Appellant: Mary J. Hall and Elizabeth B. Lance,
Lance Law Office, LLC, Cheyenne, Wyoming. Argument by Ms.
Representing Appellee: Amanda K. Roberts [*], Lonabaugh & Riggs, LLP,
BURKE, C.J., and HILL [†] , DAVIS, and FOX, JJ.,
and LAVERY, D.J.
LAVERY, District Judge.
The appellant, Holly Lane Bruegman (Mother), filed for
divorce from the appellee, Colton Paul Bruegman (Father).
After an evidentiary hearing on temporary custody,
visitation, and child support, the district court ordered the
parties to share legal and physical custody of their minor
child pending a final hearing and required Father to pay
temporary child support. The district court also, on its own
motion, bifurcated the proceedings by entering a decree of
divorce dissolving the marriage and leaving all remaining
matters for a future order. After a full bench trial, the
district court issued a final decision on custody,
visitation, support, and property distribution granting the
parties shared legal and physical custody of the minor child
until he enters kindergarten, and granting primary physical
custody to Father with visitation for Mother after that.
Mother appeals claiming the district court should not have
ordered shared custody and should have awarded her primary
physical custody. We overrule our precedent disfavoring
shared custody and affirm.
Mother raises three issues for review:
I. Did the district court abuse its discretion when it
ordered shared custody?
II. Did the district court abuse its discretion in ordering
an automatic, anticipatory award of primary physical custody
to Defendant when the child enters kindergarten in the
absence of evidence or findings that modifying custody is in
the child's best interest?
III. Did the district court abuse its discretion in awarding
future primary custody to Defendant under the circumstances
and evidence presented at trial?
The parties were married July 26, 2008. Mother graduated from
Laramie County Community College, worked in admissions for a
year and, after obtaining a bachelor's degree at a
college in Missouri, was director of admissions from 2006
until 2014. After the birth of their child in the spring of
2014, Mother stayed at home full-time. Father continued to
work full-time. He was self-employed through various business
ventures largely in the oil and gas industry.
After the birth of their child, the couple began experiencing
marital difficulties and in September 2014 Mother moved to
Torrington, Wyoming and filed for divorce in Goshen County.
During that case, the district court entered a temporary
custody order which is not in the record. The record is
unclear whether they were ordered to split each week nearly
evenly or whether Mother had physical custody seventy percent
of the time and Father had physical custody thirty percent of
the time. Later in that case, after another temporary custody
hearing in the spring of 2015, the parties shared temporary
custody, splitting each week. The parties made efforts to
reconcile the marriage and Mother later dismissed the first
divorce action in February 2016.
A few months later, on May 27, 2016, Mother filed this case.
By that time Father had moved to Wheatland, Wyoming and
Mother had moved back to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Father began
ranching and Mother began working as a realtor at Century 21.
After a hearing on temporary custody, visitation, and support
on August 23, 2016, the district court divorced the parties
and ordered the parties to share custody equally week to
week, with exchanges every Sunday. A bench trial was held
April 18, 2017, and the district court entered its decision
on custody, visitation, support, and property division on May
The district court viewed this case as close, with two fit,
competent parents willing to accept the responsibilities of
parenting. Both parents supported the child's best
interests by taking advantage of opportunities to spend time
with the child and encouraging the child's relationship
with the other parent. The district court found the child had
a good relationship with both parents but a very close,
special bond with Father, who was probably the child's
primary caretaker, with Father taking the child with him
while he works around the ranch.
The trial court found Father's large extended family and
close friends, a strong support system, weighed in his favor.
Mother's babysitter and close friend planned to move and
Mother's family lived in Nebraska. The court was
concerned about Mother's ability to make ends meet. She
had just started a new job and testified she took home $2,
000 per month with a $1, 799 per month mortgage. The district
court noted Father's work situation was stable, although
he had significant debts. While Mother had some flexibility
at work, her work obligations were still developing. The
court predicted she would likely be able to tailor her work
schedule to facilitate what the court characterized as
generous visitation during the school year, three weekends
per month and one afternoon/evening each week, while Father
would be readily available to care for the child after school
daily due to his self-employment.
A substantial portion of the evidence was devoted to the
level of conflict in the parties' relationship, and the
district court carefully weighed this.
Wyo. Stat. § 20-2-201(a)(vii) requests courts to
evaluate the "ability and willingness of each parent to
allow the other to provide care without intrusion, respect
the other parent's rights and responsibilities, including
the right to privacy." The Court finds that, at times,
the parties have intruded on each other's right to
privacy. This may have been partially due to the efforts of
the parties to reconcile. Now that they are divorced,
continuing to stay the night at each other's residences
might result in confusion for [the child]. However, the
parties are free to make their own decisions regarding
whether they will or will not let the other party see [the
child] during their own parenting time. The parties will be
ordered to notify each other and get permission before they
come to the other's residence for any reason other than
scheduled pick-ups. The Court will caution the parents to
respect the other's boundaries and parenting time with
trial, Mother introduced three video recordings she took of
fights between her and Father. Father testified he was set
up, intentionally angered so that Mother could record his
outburst. The court was concerned about the context of the
recordings but acknowledged that they'd had a tumultuous
last couple of years of marriage. The court specifically
found no evidence of spousal abuse nor evidence that Father
lost his temper with his son or any sort of child abuse
The district court also considered the child's special
needs a relevant factor, concluding this factor did not weigh
against allowing shared custody for the child because the
federally subsidized non-profit centers serving
preschool-aged children with special needs in Cheyenne and
Wheatland jointly evaluated the child and developed an
individualized education program (IEP) for him. Though it
might be challenging, both centers are required to follow the
IEP and he would receive the same instruction if he were to
switch between centers.
The district court ultimately concluded it was in the minor
child's best interests to continue to see each parent as
much as possible, ordering shared custody with exchanges
every two weeks. The court viewed this as the best way to
maintain the close relationship with each parent that had
developed to date. As the parties live fairly close to each
other but not in the same community, the district court
ordered shared custody to continue until the child enters
kindergarten, at which time Father would have primary
physical custody and Mother would have liberal visitation.
Mother filed a timely notice of appeal.
Wyoming "law affords wide discretion to the district
court when fashioning custody and visitation provisions for
the best interests of the children." Pace v.
Pace, 2001 WY 43, ¶ 11, 22 P.3d 861, 865 (Wyo.
2001) (quoting Reavis v. Reavis, 955 P.2d 428, 431
(Wyo. 1998)). This "discretion encompasses one of the
most difficult and demanding tasks assigned to a trial
judge." Pace, ¶ 11, 22 P.3d at 865 (citing
Reavis, 995 P.2d at 431).
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.
Ransom v. Ransom, 2017 WY 132, ¶ 9, 404 P.3d
1187, 1190 (Wyo. 2017) (quoting JCLK v. ZHB, 2015 WY
95, ¶ 8, 353 P.3d 720, 721 (Wyo. 2015) (quoting
Durfee v. Durfee, 2009 WY 7, ¶ 6, 199 P.3d
1087, 1089 (Wyo. 2009))). "In determining whether there
has been an abuse of discretion, the ultimate issue is
whether or not the court could reasonably conclude as it
did." Womack v. Swan, 2018 WY 27, ¶ 11,
413 P.3d 127 (Wyo. 2018) (quoting Ready v. Ready,
906 P.2d 382, 384 (Wyo. 1995) (citations omitted)). "A
court does not abuse its discretion unless it acts in a
manner which exceeds the bounds of reason under the
circumstances." Stevens v. Stevens, 2014 WY 23,
¶ 8, 318 P.3d 802, 805 (Wyo. 2014) (quoting Bingham
v. Bingham, 2007 WY 145, ¶ 10, 167 P.3d 14, 17-18
(Wyo. 2007)). 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."
Stevens, ¶ 8, 318 P.3d at 805 (quoting Fink
v. Fink, 685 P.2d 34, 36 (Wyo. 1984)).
Mother challenges the sufficiency and weight of the
evidentiary findings, to some degree, in every issue
presented by her on appeal. "Findings of fact not
supported by the evidence, contrary to the evidence, or
against the great weight of the evidence cannot be
sustained." Id. (quoting Jones v.
Jones, 858 P.2d 289, 291 (Wyo. 1993)). Similarly, an
abuse of discretion is present "when a material factor
deserving significant weight is ignored." Vanasse v.
Ramsay, 847 P.2d 993, 996 (Wyo. 1993). However,
"In reviewing a challenge to the sufficiency of the
evidence, we accept the evidence of the successful party as
true and give all favorable inferences to that
evidence." Cranston v. Cranston, 879 P.2d 345,
351 (Wyo. 1994) (citing Hill v. Zimmerer, 839 P.2d
977, 981 (Wyo. 1992)). "We leave out of consideration
entirely the conflicting evidence of the unsuccessful
party." Cranston, 879 P.2d at 351 (citing
Kadrmas v. Valley West Homeowner's Ass'n,
848 P.2d 826, 828 (Wyo. 1993) and Hill, 839 P.2d at
Zupan v Zupan, 2010 WY 59, ¶ 16, 230 P.3d 329,
334 (Wyo. 2010).
Shared Custody Standard of Review
Mother claims the district court abused its discretion in
ordering shared custody in violation of this Court's
clear rule that shared custody arrangements are disfavored.
Buttle v. Buttle summarized shared custody
In Testerman [v. Testerman, 2008 WY 112');">2008 WY 112, ]
¶ 15, 193 P.3d [1141, ] 1145 [(Wyo. 2008)], this Court
reviewed our precedent concerning shared custody.
"We have repeatedly said that divided or shared custody
is not favored by this Court absent good reason
therefore." Eickbush [v. Eickbush,
2007 WY 179');">2007 WY 179, ] ¶ 11, 171 P.3d [509, ] 512 [(Wyo. 2007)].
We have explained that "stability in a child's
environment is of utmost importance to the child's
well-being, " Reavis, 955 P.2d at 432, while
"a measure of instability is inherent" in joint
custody arrangements. Gurney, 899 P.2d at 55. We
have emphasized that the "success of a joint or shared
custody arrangement hinges on the extent to which the parents
are able to communicate and agree on the matters relevant to
the children's welfare." Reavis, 955 P.2d
When a district court's exercise of discretion in custody
matters involves splitting custody of children between
parents or other unconventional custody approaches, we have
said it must provide an explanation of its reasoning and
place its findings on the record so that, upon review, this
Court can be sure that a comprehensive evaluation of all
relevant factors occurred prior to determining custody.
Pace v. Pace, 2001 WY 43, ¶ 17, 22 P.3d 861,
867 (Wyo. 2001).
… Among the most frequently cited contraindications
for joint custody is parents who do not live in close
proximity. As one ...