Citation353 P.3d 720,2015 WY 95
Decision Date20 July 2015
Docket NumberNo. S–14–0309.,S–14–0309.
PartiesJCLK k/n/a JCLS, Appellant (Respondent), v. ZHB, Appellee (Petitioner).
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wyoming

353 P.3d 720
2015 WY 95

JCLK k/n/a JCLS, Appellant (Respondent)
ZHB, Appellee (Petitioner).

No. S–14–0309.

Supreme Court of Wyoming.

July 20, 2015.

353 P.3d 721

Representing Appellant: John C. Schumacher, White & White, P.C., Riverton, Wyoming.

Representing Appellee: No appearance.

Before BURKE, C.J., and HILL, KITE, DAVIS, and FOX, JJ.


BURKE, Chief Justice.

¶ 1] In this paternity action, JCLK (Mother) appeals the district court's decision to award primary custody of four-year-old BHB to ZHB (Father). Our review convinces us that the district court did not abuse its discretion. We will affirm.


[¶ 2] Mother raises two issues, which we have consolidated for the sake of clarity:

Did the district court abuse its discretion in awarding primary custody of BHB to Father?


[¶ 3] BHB was born in May 2010, in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Although Mother and Father were never married, it is undisputed that Father is BHB's biological parent. In October 2010, Father filed a petition in the district court seeking to establish paternity, custody, visitation, and child support for BHB. A few days later, Father filed a motion for a mutual restraining order providing that BHB could not be removed from Laramie or Albany Counties during the pendency of the litigation. The district court entered the order.

[¶ 4] Aside from an occasional motion or stipulation for temporary visitation and a few standard district court orders concerning mediation and parenting classes, the district court's pleading file indicates that nothing happened in the matter until July 2013, when the district court issued a “Notice of Imminent Dismissal” due to inactivity in the case. Father responded with a request for a trial setting. Trial was held on August 28, 2014.

[¶ 5] Specific details of the evidence will be discussed as they relate to the issues below. A general outline will be set forth here. BHB was four at the time of the trial. He had lived with Mother since his birth. Mother had married, and was living in Shoshoni, Wyoming, at the time of trial. Also living in the household were Mother's husband, a seven-month-old half-sibling who is the biological child of Mother and her husband, and two half-siblings aged 5 and 6 who are the biological children of Mother and another man. Contrary to the restraining order prohibiting BHB's removal from Laramie or Albany Counties, Mother had lived with BHB in Guernsey, Wheatland, and Chugwater, all in Platte County, and in Shoshoni, in Fremont County.

[¶ 6] Father lived in Cheyenne at the time of trial, where his parents and other family members also resided. He had a steady job with an electric company, and was also serving in the Wyoming National Guard. He tried to have visitation with BHB “every couple of months,” and tried to call to check up on him “every couple of weeks.” Although Mother portrayed the contacts between Father and BHB as less frequent, she acknowledged that BHB appeared attached to Father. It was undisputed that Father had never provided significant financial support for BHB.

[¶ 7] Mother appeared pro se at trial. Father was represented by counsel. The witnesses at trial were Mother, Mother's husband, Father, and Father's mother. Both Mother and Father sought primary custody of BHB. The district court decided in favor of Father, and Mother challenges that decision on appeal.


[¶ 8] Custody and visitation are committed to the sound discretion of the trial court. Blakely v. Blakely, 2009 WY 127, ¶ 6, 218 P.3d 253, 254 (Wyo.2009).

This Court has consistently recognized the broad discretion enjoyed by a district court in child custody matters. We will not interfere with the district court's custody determination absent procedural error or a clear abuse of discretion. In determining whether an abuse of discretion has occurred, our primary consideration is the

[353 P.3d 722

reasonableness of the district court's decision in light of the evidence presented. We view the evidence in the light most favorable to the district court's determination, affording every favorable inference to the prevailing party and omitting from our consideration the conflicting evidence.

Durfee v. Durfee, 2009 WY 7, ¶ 6, 199 P.3d 1087, 1089 (Wyo.2009) (citations omitted).


¶ 9] At the close of trial, the district court explained in considerable detail its decision to award primary custody to Father. It discussed all of the factors required by Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 20–2–201 (LexisNexis 2013) to be considered in a child custody case. The court found that both parents loved BHB, each had a quality relationship with him, and both were capable of providing adequate care for him. In discussing the parents' relative competency and fitness, the court expressed concerns about both Mother and Father.

[¶ 10] The district court's concerns about Mother included her smoking cigarettes even though BHB has respiratory problems, her violation of the restraining order by taking BHB out of Laramie and Albany Counties, and her failure to inform Father of her new locations when she moved. Perhaps most significantly, the district court also expressed concern about her judgment as a parent because she returned her two older children to their biological father after she discovered evidence that he may have abused one of them.

[¶ 11] The court's concerns about Father included his failure to pay child support throughout BHB's life, his limited contact with BHB, and his failure to move forward with his paternity suit for more than a year after it was filed. As positive aspects in Father's favor, the court listed “solid employment,” the financial capability to provide for BHB, the ability to provide health insurance, family available to help support BHB, and a loving and nurturing relationship with BHB. While the district court found it “a very difficult decision,” on balance it found that Father was the “more competent and fit parent in this case,” and awarded primary custody to Father and visitation to Mother.

[¶ 12] Mother's challenge to the district court's decision rests primarily on the fact that the custody determination effectively separates BHB from his half-siblings. Based on Dowdy v. Dowdy, 864 P.2d 439, 440 (Wyo.1993), Mother points out that “separating siblings from each other through custody awards to different parents is not preferred.” She cites to our holding in Pace v. Pace, 2001 WY 43, ¶ 17, 22 P.3d 861, 867 (Wyo.2001) :

As future guidance to the trial courts, we hold that, when the exercise of its discretion in custody matters involves splitting custody of children between parents or other unconventional custody approaches, the

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6 cases
  • Womack v. Swan
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • March 13, 2018
    ...whether an abuse of discretion has occurred, our primary consideration is the reasonableness of the district court's decision. JCLK v. ZHB , 2015 WY 95, ¶ 8, 353 P.3d 720, 721–22 (Wyo. 2015).[¶42] I do not dispute that there are legitimate concerns regarding the entry of temporary orders an......
  • Bruegman v. Bruegman, S-17-0213
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • May 14, 2018
    ...from our consideration the conflicting evidence. Ransom v. Ransom , 2017 WY 132, ¶ 9, 404 P.3d 1187, 1190 (Wyo. 2017) (quoting JCLK v. ZHB , 2015 WY 95, ¶ 8, 353 P.3d 720, 721 (Wyo. 2015) (quoting Durfee v. Durfee , 2009 WY 7, ¶ 6, 199 P.3d 1087, 1089 (Wyo. 2009) ) ). "In determining whethe......
  • Ransom v. Ransom, S-17-0071.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • November 14, 2017
    ...the district court's order.STANDARD OF REVIEW [¶9] Custody and visitation are committed to the sound discretion of the trial court. JCLK v. ZHB , 2015 WY 95, ¶ 8, 353 P.3d 720, 721 (Wyo. 2015) (citing Blakely v. Blakely , 2009 WY 127, ¶ 6, 218 P.3d 253, 254 (Wyo. 2009) ).This Court has cons......
  • Gutierrez v. Bradley
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • December 22, 2021
    ...findings on the other relevant factors, they provide[d] us with a reasoned explanation for the district court's decision"); JCLK v. ZHB , 2015 WY 95, ¶ 19, 353 P.3d 720, 724 (Wyo. 2015) (affirming the district court's custody decision despite a lack of explicit sibling separation findings b......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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