In re the Parenting of SEL

In re the Parenting of SEL, 2015 MT 228 (Aug. 11, 2015) (Rice, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court erred by holding the child’s best interests would be served by allowing her to relocate to Nevada with her mother; (2) whether the district court erred by limiting Father’s visitations while SEL lives in Nevada; and (3) whether the district court erred by denying Father’s motion for relief from the judgment.

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

Affirmed

Facts: Shad Lemke and Siri Aanrud have a daughter, SEL, born in 2008. The parties never married, and their relationship ended by 2010. When SEL was four months old, the parties moved to Shields Valley, Montana, where Mother primarily stayed home to care for SEL. During the first year of SEL’s life, Father worked construction in Alaska and spent time in Hardin, where he owned some cattle.

Father and Mother co-parented without a parenting plan for two years after their relationship ended. SEL lived primarily with Mother during that time. The parties executed a stipulated final parenting plan on Sept. 17, 2012, under which SEL lived with Mother Monday afternoons through Friday mornings, while SEL attended school, and with Father the rest of the week.

Eventually Mother became engaged to a man who lives in Elko, Nevada, and decided to relocate there. Mother was pursuing her master’s degree in counseling and obtained an internship in Elko in her field of study.

Mother filed a proposed amended parenting plan under which she would take SEL with her to Elko. Father objected and filed his own proposed parenting plan, under which he would have primary custody. The district court held a hearing, and issued findings and conclusions, and concluding Mother was SEL’s primary parent and SEL should be allowed to move to Elko with her.

Procedural Posture & Holding: Mother submitted a final parenting plan for court approval, and Father moved for clarification, asking for seven uninterrupted parenting days whenever he visited SEL in Nevada. Mother argued the request was excessive and potentially disruptive, and suggested Father be allowed to visit one weekend a month upon prior notice. The district court approved a final parenting plan limiting Father to one long weekend a month, upon notice, when school is in session. Father moved for relief from the judgment and requested a new hearing, alleging Mother had misled the court. The motion was deemed denied, and Father appeals. The Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: (1) The district court consider the statutory factors. It recognized the move could be difficult for SEL but found that staying with Mother outweighed those difficulties. Although Father provided evidence that could have led to a contrary conclusions, substantial evidence supported the district court’s findings and its decision, and was not an abuse of discretion.

(2) The district court did not abuse its discretion in issuing the final parenting plan. It considered both parties’ arguments on Father’s request for clarification.

(3) The district court did not abuse its discretion by implicitly denying Father’s motion for relief from the judgment.