In re the Parenting of CMR

In re the Parenting of CMR, 2016 MT 120 (May 24, 2016) (McGrath, C.J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court erred in denying father’s motion to change venue; (2) whether the district court erred in granting mother’s motion to dismiss the modification of the parenting plan; and (3) whether the district court violated father’s due process rights.

Short Answer: (1) No; (2) no; and (3) no.

Affirmed

Facts: CMR was born in November 2009 to Ray and Amber. They lived together until May 2010, and have been litigating the terms of their parenting plan as CMR has gotten older. Amber is CMR’s primary care provider. The parents signed a mediation parenting plan in February 2015, which is the basis of this appeal.

CMR lived his entire life in Toole County, but in April 2015, Amber accepted a job in Havre, Hill County, which is closer to Ray’s home in Chinook. Shortly after moving to Havre with CMR, Amber received a more lucrative job offer from her former employer in Shelby. Amber and CMR moved back to Shelby after three and a half months in Havre.

Procedural Posture & Holding: Upon learning Amber was moving back to Shelby, Ray petitioned to modify the mediated parenting plan. He also moved to change venue to Hill County, which was denied. The district court dismissed the petition for modification without a hearing. Ray appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: (1) Parenting plan proceedings are commenced in the county where the child is a permanent resident or is found. Ray contends CMR became a permanent resident of Hill County after temporarily living there for three months. He asserts venue should be changed for the convenience of witnesses. CMR has lived in Toole County his entire life, save the three months he lived in Havre. The entire history of the parenting litigation has occurred in Toole County District Court. The Court cannot it was error to deny the motion to change venue when virtually all evidence as to CMR’s best interest is in Toole County.

(2) Ray cannot demonstrate how CMR’s move to Havre adversely affects his right to spend time with CMR in accordance with the parenting plan. The party seeking to modify a parenting plan bears a heavy burden of proof. The district court did not err in finding the move back to Shelby was an insufficient change in circumstances to warrant modification of the parenting plan. 

(3) Ray contends his procedural due process rights were violated because the district court did not conduct a hearing on the merits of his motion to amend the parenting plan. However, the district court followed the appropriate procedure dictated by statute, and gave sufficient notice and opportunity to be heard.