Trial Court Denies Mothers Move to Hawaii as Not in Best Interest of Child

Case: H.H. v. A.A. 
by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll (with thanks to Tamara McMillian)

HELD: Trial court’s decision to deny Mother’s requested relocation to Hawaii, to live with her new husband, was affirmed as not being in the child’s best interests.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY: Mother and Father divorced in 2006. Their only Child was born around the time of the divorce. Father has regularly and consistently exercised parenting time with Child since birth.

Mother remarried in 2008, and Father remarried in 2010.

In early 2012, Mother filed a notice of intent to relocate to Hawaii, where her husband  was looking for employment. Father objected to the relocation. After a hearing, the trial court denied Mother’s requested move. While Mother’s request to relocate was pending, Mother’s husband accepted a job in Hawaii and he later moved there.

In 2013, Mother filed a second notice of intent to relocate, along with a motion to change the trial judge. A new trial court assumed jurisdiction, and Father made a timely objection to the relocation. Another evidentiary hearing was held. After the hearing, the trial court denied Mother’s second request to relocate to Hawaii. Mother appealed.

Indiana’s relocation statute involves a two-step burden shifting analysis. First, the parent proposing relocation must prove that the relocation is proposed in good faith and for a legitimate reason; then, if that burden is met, the burden shifts to the non-relocating parent to show why the relocation is not in the child’s best interests. Here, the trial court had found that Mother failed to establish that the proposed move was in good faith and for a legitimate reason, and, further that Child’s best interests would not be served by the move.

Reviewing applicable case law, the Court of Appeals noted that the burden on the relocating parent to show the move is contemplated in good faith and for a legitimate reason is designed to be a very low bar. Disagreeing with the trial court, the Court of Appeals concluded that, based upon Mother’s husband being in Hawaii, and some unique employment opportunities that were available to Mother in Hawaii, that Mother’s proposed move was made in good faith and for a legitimate reason.

However, turning to the best interests analysis, the Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court. Child had a very involved relationship with Father and Father’s extended family. A move to Hawaii would have involved Child and Father seeing each other only during the summer and Christmas break. Child was thriving and doing well in Indiana. Noting the discretion afforded to the trial court in decisions involving the best interests of a child, the Court of Appeals concluded that the evidence supported the trial court’s decision that Child’s best interests would not be served by moving to Hawaii.

The judgment of the trial court to deny Mother’s proposed relocation to Hawaii was affirmed.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: H.H. v. A.A.

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The Indiana Family Law Update is a free service provided by the Matrimonial Law Group of Bingham Greenebaum Doll, LLP. While significant efforts are made to ensure an accurate summary and reproduction of each opinion, readers are advised to verify all content and analysis with a traditional case law reporter before relying on the content and analysis offered here.

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN

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