Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Johnson v. Clifford

Supreme Court of Wyoming

June 5, 2018

ZANE S. JOHNSON, Appellant (Defendant),
v.
JAMI CLIFFORD, Appellee (Plaintiff). ZANE JOHNSON, Appellant (Defendant),
v.
JAMI CLIFFORD, Appellee (Plaintiff).

          Appeal from the District Court of Johnson County The Honorable William J. Edelman, Judge

          Representing Appellant: Seth Shumaker, Sheridan, Wyoming.

          Representing Appellee: Christopher M. Wages of the Wages Group, LLC, Buffalo, Wyoming.

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

          KAUTZ, Justice.

         [¶1] Appellant, Zane S. Johnson (Father), appeals the district court's order modifying the child custody, visitation and support order entered when Father and Appellee, Jami J. Clifford (Mother), divorced. Father argues the district court erroneously determined a material change in circumstances affecting the parties' children occurred since the original divorce decree. He claims the court's order changing custody does not serve the children's best interests. Father also asserts the district court erred when it denied his motion to require that Mother and the children be examined by a psychologist of Father's choosing. We affirm.

         ISSUES

         [¶2] Father raises the following issues on appeal:

I. Whether the trial court erred in finding a substantial and material change of circumstances to justify a modification of the court's prior decree.
II. Whether the trial court erred in finding [a] substantial and material change of circumstances which affect[s] the welfare of the parties' children to justify and [sic] change in custody.
III. Whether the trial court erred in changing custody because it did not serve the children's best interests.
IV. Whether the trial court erred in denying Father's Motions for Orders to Examine Persons.

         FACTS

         [¶3] Father and Mother were married in 1997. Three children were born during the marriage: CEJ, born in 1999; MRJ, born in 2001; and SDJ, born in 2005. In 2008, the Sixth Judicial District Court in Weston County granted Father and Mother a divorce. The divorce decree was the result of a settlement agreement between the parties regarding property, child custody, and child support. The decree granted the parents joint legal custody of the children, vested primary residential custody of the children with Mother and granted Father reasonable and liberal visitation. The decree ordered that the children would visit Father every Wednesday from 5:00 p.m. until Thursday at 8 a.m., and every other Thursday afternoon through Monday morning. Father also was granted visitation for six weeks during the summer and every other holiday. The visitation schedule resulted in Father having the children 48% of the time. The parties agree this arrangement amounted to joint physical custody. Mother remarried in 2010 and relocated to Buffalo, Wyoming. In order to continue the joint custody arrangement, Father quit his job in Newcastle and moved into a home close to Mother's home in Buffalo.

         [¶4] In 2016, Mother filed a petition for modification of the custody and visitation order. She alleged several material changes in circumstances to justify modifying the custody order, including: the parties and the children had moved to Buffalo; CEJ is autistic/special needs and was preparing to graduate from high school; the parties could not agree on medical treatment decisions regarding MRJ; MRJ had become resistant to spending time with Father; MRJ had been cited for an alcohol offense; CEJ and SDJ experienced significant conflict during Father's custody periods; Father often left the children unsupervised in the mornings because he had to drive to Gillette for work; and all three children were receiving counseling for significant behavioral, emotional and mental health issues.

         [¶5] Father opposed the petition and requested that Mother and the children be examined by a psychologist of Father's choosing. The district court denied Father's motion. Father renewed the motion after Mother designated one of the children's treating psychologists as an expert witness. The district court again denied Father's motion.

         [¶6] On November 4, 2016, the district court held an evidentiary hearing on Mother's petition to modify custody. The court heard testimony from Mother, Father, Mother's husband, Mother's father, the children, and two psychologists. Mother argued that the testimony demonstrated several material changes of circumstance that made a joint custody arrangement no longer viable. Father argued Mother had failed to demonstrate a material change in circumstances that would warrant a change in custody. However, he further argued that if a change in custody was necessary, he should receive primary physical custody of the children.

         [¶7] The district court issued its Order Modifying Custody and Visitation over six months later, on May 24, 2017.[1] The court determined Mother had demonstrated multiple substantial changes in circumstances that affected the children: Mother had remarried; the parties had communication issues that have impacted their ability to co-parent; the children were displaying behavioral issues due to the custody arrangement; and the joint custody arrangement had become untenable. The court also determined it would be in the best interests of the children to modify the custody arrangement. The court ordered that Mother have primary custody of the children, and awarded Father visitation every other weekend and holiday. The court also granted Father summer visitation beginning seven days after school is released until seven days before school begins. During that time, Mother is entitled to visitation every other weekend and an undesignated continuous 14-day period. Father filed a timely notice of appeal.

          STANDARD OF REVIEW

         [¶8] We review a district court's decision on a petition to modify child custody for an abuse of discretion, and we will not disturb the decision absent a procedural error or a clear abuse of discretion. Bishop v. Bishop, 2017 WY 130, ¶ 9, 404 P.3d 1170, 1173 (Wyo. 2017). "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." Id. (quoting Gjertsen v. Haar, 2015 WY 56, ¶ 11, 347 P.3d 1117, 1122 (Wyo. 2015)). A district court does not abuse its discretion if it could reasonably conclude as it did. Id. In determining whether the decision was reasonable, "[w]e 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.'" Id. (quoting Durfee v. Durfee, 2009 WY 7, ¶ 6, 199 P.3d 1087, 1089 (Wyo. 2009)). As previously recognized:

Deference must be given to the opportunity of the trial court to judge the credibility of the witnesses, and a reviewing court will not set aside the court's findings merely because it might have reached a different result. The trial judge is in the best position to assess the credibility of witnesses and weigh their testimony, and, thus, this Court accords considerable deference to the trial judge's findings.

Drake v. McCulloh, 2002 WY 50, ¶ 18, 43 P.3d 578, 584 (Wyo. 2002).

         [¶9] Similarly, "[d]istrict courts are vested with wide discretion on discovery matters[.]" McCulloh v. Drake, 2005 WY 18, ¶ 16, 105 P.3d 1091, 1095 (Wyo. 2005). Therefore, we will not reverse a court's decision on a discovery matter unless it is an abuse of discretion. See id., ¶¶ 16-17, 105 P.3d at 1095; Inskeep v. Inskeep, 752 P.2d 434, 436 (Wyo. 1988).

         DISCUSSION

         Material Change ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.