Trial Court Rules Mother & Child can Move to Georgia – Father Failed to Show it was Not in Childs Best Interest

Case: Ryan Gold v. Starr Weather
by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll (with thanks to Tamara McMillian)

HELD: The trial court acted within its discretion when it granted Mother’s request to relocate because her decision was made in good faith and for a legitimate purpose, and that Father failed to show the move was not in Child’s best interest. The court also affirmed the trial court’s ruling denying Father’s motion to modify physical custody because it would not have been in Child’s best interest.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
Mother and Father had Child in August 2008. The two had a tumultuous parenting relationship. Mother was Child’s sole legal and physical custodian.

On May 23, 2011, Mother emailed Father her intent to relocate to Georgia with Child.  Father immediately emailed Mother his discontent with her attempt to relocate and stated that Mother failed to comply with the Indiana relocation statute. Mother noted family support in Georgia from her relatives familiar with Child.

On June 17, 2011, Mother filed her official notice of intent to relocate to Georgia as of July 1, 2011, citing family relocation and job opportunities. Early July 2011, Mother relocated with Child to Georgia without court approval and obtained a higher paying nursing job than she held in Terre Haute, Indiana. Father filed a Verified Emergency Motion for Rule to Show Cause and Objection to Notice of Intent to Relocate Residence against Mother’s relocation. December 28, 2011, Father filed a modification for both legal and physical custody of Child. The trial court held three hearings over a two year period.

First, the trial court held a show cause hearing for Mother to prove why she should not have been held in contempt for unilaterally relocating to Georgia with Child. Mother appeared and the court reset the hearing for the parties to attempt to negotiate a resolution. Mother and Father failed to reach an agreement.

In August 2012, more than a year after Mother moved to Georgia with the child, the trial court conducted a hearing solely on whether Mother’s move was in good faith and for a legitimate reason. Mother satisfied the burden for both.

Following a July 2013 hearing two years after Mother and Child relocated to Georgia, the trial court granted Mother’s request to relocate with Child, held Father failed to demonstrate that the relocation was in Child’s best interest, and denied Father’s motion to modify physical custody. The Court, however, modified legal custody between Mother and Father from Mother having sole legal custody to Father and Mother sharing joint legal custody. Further, the trial court ordered Mother to pay $2,000.00 of Father’s attorney’s fees for impeding his parenting time. Father appealed.

The Court of Appeals analyzed the evidence Mother presented and noted that there was no explicit criteria for establishing the “good faith” and “legitimate purpose” requirements. Mother had an on-going and substantial familial network in Georgia and perhaps better employment opportunities there. The Court of Appeals reasoned that Mother’s evidence that she wanted to be closer to her family outweighed Father’s assertions that Mother desired to move to thwart his parenting time with Child. Further, Father failed to request and the trial court did not independently order Mother to return to Indiana with Child pending the resolution of the relocation issues. Instead, the court appropriately sanctioned Mother when it ordered her to pay a portion of Father’s attorney’s fees.

Since Mother’s request to relocate was in good faith and for a legitimate purpose, the Court of Appeals then reviewed the best interest factors. It determined that Father failed to establish that Mother’s move was not in Child’s best interest. Father presented evidence to suggest Mother’s relocation would negatively impact Father’s parenting with Child, including the 600-mile distance between Father’s residence and Mother’s proposed new home, an eighth-hour one way drive, and Father’s minimal financial resources. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s conclusion that Father’s relationship would not be significantly negatively impacted by any of these factors because Father could utilize online communication to supplement any diminished in-person parenting time. Mother was the primary caregiver of Child and maternal family maintained a caregiving relationship with Child. The appeals court further reasoned that the trial court had discretion in weighing the evidence presented for each best interest factor.

The trial court’s granting of Mother’s relocation request was affirmed.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: Ryan Gold v. Starr Weather _________________________________________________________________________________

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