In re Marriage of Guffin, DA 08-0453.

Docket NºNo. DA 08-0453.
Citation2009 MT 169, 209 P.3d 225, 350 Mont. 489
Case DateMay 19, 2009
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Montana
209 P.3d 225
2009 MT 169
350 Mont. 489
In re the MARRIAGE OF Amber GUFFIN, f/k/a Amber Plaisted-Harman, Petitioner and Appellant, and
Thomas PLAISTED-HARTMAN, Respondent and Appellee.
No. DA 08-0453.
Supreme Court of Montana.
Submitted on Briefs April 22, 2009.
Decided May 19, 2009.

[209 P.3d 226]

For Appellant: Jeff A. Turner; Towe, Ball, Enright, Mackey & Sommerfeld, Billings, Montana.

For Appellee: Sheila M. Newman; Lucas & Tonn, Miles City, Montana.

Chief Justice MIKE McGRATH delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶ 1 Amber Guffin (Amber) appeals from the August 21, 2008, Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Order Amending Parenting Plan, entered by the District Court of the Seventh Judicial District, Prairie County. We reverse.

¶ 2 Amber presents the following issue for review: Whether the District Court erred in entering a modified parenting plan changing the primary custody of the children from her to Thomas on the ground that she was moving to Kalispell and was therefore required to pay the price of reduced parental contact with the children.


¶ 3 Amber and Thomas were married in Kalispell, Montana, in November, 2001 and have two children born in 2001 and 2005. The parties had spent their lives in Kalispell until they moved to Terry, Montana in February, 2006 so that Thomas could take an over-the-road trucking job. The trucking job kept Thomas away from home for much of the time. In November, 2007, Thomas quit the trucking job and took a job managing a ranch in Ekalaka, Montana, a two-hour drive from Terry, where Amber stayed with the children.

¶ 4 The parties divorced in a joint pro se proceeding in February, 2008. They agreed to a joint parenting plan approved by the District Court under which Amber was the primary custodian of the children, and Thomas had visitation on alternate weekends, and during the summer and holidays. Subsequently Amber decided to return to Kalispell.

¶ 5 Thomas then filed a petition to modify the parenting plan to award him primary custody of the children. After a hearing, the District Court entered its order amending the parenting plan to make Thomas the primary

209 P.3d 227

custodial parent. The primary ground for the decision was that Amber decided to move to Kalispell and so "should be the one who pays the price of reduced parental contact." Amber appeals.


¶ 6 A district court's findings of fact are reviewed to determine whether they are clearly erroneous. In the Matter of the Custody of D.M.G., 1998 MT 1, ¶ 10, 287 Mont. 120, 951 P.2d 1377. We will not overturn the decision unless there has been a clear abuse of discretion. In the Matter of the Marriage of Czapranski, 2003 MT 14, ¶ 10, 314 Mont. 55, 63 P.3d 499. Our review of conclusions of law is plenary. D.M.G., ¶ 10.

¶ 7 A district court is required to determine child custody matters in accordance with the best interests of the child, considering a variety of statutory factors. Section 40-4-212, MCA; Czapranski, ¶ 11.


¶ 8 The District Court's order amending the parenting plan found that either of the parents would be fit to care for the children. The court found that Amber had "legitimate reasons" to return to Kalispell, including employment and the support of an extended family. The express reason for the District Court's decision to change the parenting plan to make Thomas the primary custodial parent was Amber's "decision to move 700...

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