from the District Court of Natrona County The Honorable
Catherine E. Wilking, Judge
Representing Appellant: Keith R. Nachbar, Keith R. Nachbar,
P.C., Casper, Wyoming.
Representing Appellee: Stacy E. Casper, Casper Law Office,
LLC, Casper, Wyoming.
DAVIS, C.J., and BURKE [*] , FOX, KAUTZ, and BOOMGAARDEN, JJ.
Heather Martin (Mother) and Christopher Hart (Father) had a
brief romantic relationship, which ended before their child
was born. Father filed a Petition to Establish Paternity,
Custody, Visitation, and Support. The district court awarded
primary physical custody to Mother, with a visitation
schedule that requires extensive travel between Mother's
residence in Glenrock, Wyoming, and Father's residence in
Mesa, Arizona, until the child reaches school-age, at which
time the parties must agree on a new visitation schedule or
seek modification from the district court. The order also
requires Father to pay child support below the presumptive
statutory amount. Mother appeals the district court's
visitation schedule and its child support determination. We
reverse and remand.
The parties raise three issues on appeal, which we rephrase:
1. Did Mother appeal an order over which this Court has
2. Did the district court abuse its discretion when it
imposed a graduated visitation plan requiring extensive
travel that does not specify how visitation will work when
the child starts kindergarten?
3. Did the district court abuse its discretion in
establishing Father's child support obligation?
Father and Mother met in Casper, Wyoming, during the summer
of 2015, and began a romantic relationship. That fall, Mother
and Father broke up, and Mother learned she was pregnant.
Initially Father and Mother communicated about the pregnancy,
but in early 2016, Mother changed her phone number and
blocked Father on social media "so that he could not
reach [her] anymore[.]" Meanwhile, Father moved to Mesa,
Arizona, to accept a job. In March, Father filed a Petition
to Establish Paternity, Custody, Visitation, and Support in
Mother gave birth to a son, LH, in June 2016. Father learned
of the birth two days later from his mother, who had seen
pictures of the baby on Facebook. Father travelled from
Arizona to Wyoming to visit LH in July. He visited again in
September, but Mother "kicked [him] out of the
house" because he was taking photos after she had asked
him not to. In November, Father and Mother entered into a
Stipulated Temporary Agreement Establishing Paternity, Child
Custody, Visitation and Support that established Father as
LH's biological father, awarded Mother primary physical
custody, established monthly visitation for Father, and
required Father to pay child support of $646.78 per month
during the pendency of the case. However, due to scheduling
conflicts between Mother and Father and the expense of
travelling from Arizona to Wyoming, Father missed monthly
visitation in December 2016 and in January, March, May, June,
and July 2017. When he did visit, Father did not spend time
alone with LH and never had him overnight.
Mother quit working before LH's birth and did not seek
new employment. While she was pregnant with LH, she and her
older daughter lived with her mother and then a friend,
without paying rent. She and her children then lived with her
grandmother, again without paying rent. In 2017, she and her
children moved in with her boyfriend, who pays for rent and
utilities and bought her a car. Mother receives government
assistance via food stamps and Medicaid.
At the hearing on Father's petition, Father testified
that he lives in Mesa, Arizona, with his fiancée and
their infant son, where he works at an engineering firm. He
also testified that he secured a spot for LH at a daycare
center in Arizona, took parenting classes, and has a good
relationship with LH, but has been prevented from spending
more time with him because it was difficult to set up
visitation with Mother and because he could not afford the
approximately $1, 500 cost of each visit. Father's mother
testified that he is a good father to LH and his other son.
His fiancée testified similarly, but added that
visitation with LH "never goes smoothly" because
"[e]very time he tries to get visitation it's never
what he asks for."
Father also testified that he could not pay both the cost of
his monthly child support and travel costs to visit LH, but
that Mother had told him not to worry about child support.
Father requested that child support be reduced from the
statutorily presumed amount to $300 per month so he could
afford transportation costs to visit LH, and expenses for his
other son. Father also asked for primary physical custody of
LH or, failing that, either three-month rotations between his
residence and Mother's or divided school year and summer
visitation with alternating holidays.
Witnesses for Mother testified that she is a good parent to
both of her children and has a strong support system in the
Casper area. Mother testified that she facilitates a
relationship between LH and Father's parents and that,
even though she and Father do not always communicate well,
she wants Father and LH to develop a father-son bond.
However, she was not yet comfortable with overnight
visitation because Father and LH had not spent enough time
together. Mother also requested primary physical custody with
a graduated visitation plan for Father, with LH to begin
travelling to Arizona overnight at age four.
Applying the factors in Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 20-2-201(a),
the district court found:
(i). The quality of the relationship each child has with each
parent. The Court finds that the parties are equal in this
regard. The testimony is that both of them have positive
relationships with the child.
(ii). The ability of each parent to provide adequate care for
the child throughout each period of responsibility, including
arranging for the child's care by others as needed. There
was testimony that [Mother] is a stay-at-home mom, and
[Father] has arranged for childcare for the minor. There was
also testimony that [Mother] is completely dependent on her
boyfriend for all means of support except for the public
assistance that she receives while living with him. So the
Court finds that to be a neutral factor between the parties.
(iii). Regarding the relative competency and fitness of each
parent, the Court finds that the parties are equal. They both
appear competent, fit and able to care for the child.
(iv). The parents' willingness to accept all the
responsibilities, including a willingness to accept care at
specified times and to relinquish care to the other parent at
specified times. The Court finds that [Mother] has
unreasonably restricted visitation for [Father], has
unreasonably restricted contact between [Father] and the