Reavis v. Reavis, No. 97-209

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
Writing for the CourtBefore TAYLOR; TAYLOR
Citation955 P.2d 428
Docket NumberNo. 97-209
Decision Date20 March 1998
PartiesRebecca A. REAVIS, Appellant (Plaintiff), v. Calvin D. REAVIS, Appellee (Defendant).

Page 428

955 P.2d 428
Rebecca A. REAVIS, Appellant (Plaintiff),
Calvin D. REAVIS, Appellee (Defendant).
No. 97-209.
Supreme Court of Wyoming.
March 20, 1998.

Page 429

Rhonda Sigrist Woodard of Burke, Woodard & O'Donnell, P.C., Cheyenne, for Appellant.

Marc C. Thompson of Webster Law Office, Cody, for Appellee.


TAYLOR, Chief Justice.

Appellant contests the district court's order alternating physical and legal custody of three children between appellant and appellee six times a year. Appellant also appeals the denial of her request for temporary spousal support. Finding no record evidence to support the district court's custody arrangement, and overwhelming evidence that the district court's order is contrary to the children's best interests, we reverse and remand with instructions.


Appellant, Rebecca A. Reavis (Mother), presents two rather lengthy issues for review. We summarize the issues as follows:

1. Was the divided custody arrangement ordered by the district court contrary to the best interests of the children?

2. Did the district court abuse its discretion when it ignored the fact that Rebecca Reavis was the primary caregiver to the three children and her care was undisputedly exemplary?

3. Did the district court abuse its discretion in refusing to award Rebecca Reavis temporary spousal support?

Appellee, Calvin D. Reavis (Father), responds with these issues:

1. Was the trial court acting within its discretion by establishing a shared custody arrangement for the parties' minor children?

Page 430

2. Was the trial court acting within its discretion by denying to award alimony to the former wife?


After Mother and Father graduated from the University of Wyoming in 1979, they married in July and settled in Cody, Wyoming. Father began employment with Marathon Oil Company, and continued that employment through the time of the divorce. Mother worked for one year in an entry-level clerical position and thereafter worked full-time in the home; a decision which Father fully supported.

The parties' first son was born in 1986, and twin sons arrived in 1989. From 1986 until 1995, Mother and Father agreed that it was in the children's best interests for Mother to stay home in order to be a full-time caregiver to the children. Over the course of the marriage, the parties moved several times in order to facilitate Father's progress in his career. The couple returned to Cody approximately two years before they separated.

In 1995, recognizing that the marriage was in trouble, Mother took action to return to employment outside the home, and obtained a Wyoming real estate license. Mother chose this line of work because of her interest in real estate and because it would provide her flexibility to spend time with the children before and after school. Again, Father approved of Mother's choice to enter this field of employment.

After marriage counseling and mediation failed to resolve the differences between Mother and Father, Mother was advised that the best interests of the children would be furthered if the couple ceased living in the same residence. Upon Father's refusal to move, Mother relocated with the children within Cody, and filed for divorce. By ex parte order, Mother received temporary custody of the children in October 1995, which Father challenged in November. On February 5, 1996, the parties signed a stipulation resolving the temporary custody and child support issues, agreeing to continue the arrangements already in place. Mother retained primary custody, while Father received visitation on alternating weekends, one afternoon or evening per week, and six weeks during the summer vacation period. Father was to pay the presumptive child support of $1,300.00 per month and maintain the children on his health insurance. The district court approved this stipulation on February 8, 1996.

Prior to trial, the parties had reached a stipulation as to the division of the marital property. At the hearing on November 4, 1996, Father sought primary custody, or in the alternative, joint custody with physical custody alternating every year. Mother requested primary custody of the children with liberal visitation for Father, and temporary spousal support for a period of three years. During three days of trial, the district court heard testimony from numerous witnesses, including Mother, Father, Father's parents, teachers, friends, and Father's expert, Larry Andrews, who had acted as mediator for the parties prior to the filing for divorce, and later was Father's counselor.

On November 8, 1996, ruling from the bench, the district court ordered that each party would have custody of the children during one-half of the summer and during alternating periods every nine weeks during the school year. The children's primary place of residence was that of the primary custodial parent during each period. Visitation was ordered one evening per week and every other weekend, alternating on the same schedule as the primary custody. The district court underscored that it was not ordering joint custody, but a shared custody arrangement. However, the district court also ordered the parties to cooperate and consult with each other regarding decisions affecting the children and to choose medical and health care professionals together.

Mother's request for alimony was denied, the district court finding that "the property settlement tends to put the parties on substantial footing, other than their current earning abilities." The district court entered a final Nunc Pro Tunc Decree of Divorce on March 28, 1997. This timely appeal followed.

Page 431


Custody, visitation, child support, and alimony are all committed to the sound discretion of the district court. Scherer v. Scherer, 931 P.2d 251, 253-54 (Wyo.1997); Triggs v. Triggs, 920 P.2d 653, 657 (Wyo.1996); Basolo v. Basolo, 907 P.2d 348, 352 (Wyo.1995). It has been our consistent principle that in custody matters, the welfare and needs of the children are to be given paramount consideration. Scherer, 931 P.2d at 254; Rowan v. Rowan, 786 P.2d 886, 890 (Wyo.1990); see also Gurney v. Gurney, 899 P.2d 52, 55 (Wyo.1995) and Fink v. Fink, 685 P.2d 34, 36 (Wyo.1984). The determination of the best interests of the child is a question for the trier of fact. "We do not overturn the decision of the trial court unless we are persuaded of an abuse of discretion or the presence of a violation of some legal principle." Fink, 685 P.2d at 36.

A court does not abuse its discretion unless it acts in a manner which exceeds the bounds of reason under the circumstances. Pinther v. Pinther, 888 P.2d 1250, 1252 (Wyo.1995) (quoting Dowdy v. Dowdy, 864 P.2d 439, 440 (Wyo.1993)). Our review entails evaluation of the sufficiency of the evidence to support the district court's decision, and we afford to the prevailing party every favorable inference while omitting any consideration of evidence presented by the unsuccessful party. Triggs, 920 P.2d at 657; Cranston v. Cranston, 879 P.2d 345, 351 (Wyo.1994). Findings of fact not supported by the evidence, contrary to the evidence, or against the great weight of the evidence cannot be sustained. Jones v. Jones, 858 P.2d 289, 291 (Wyo.1993). Similarly, an abuse of discretion is present " 'when a material factor deserving significant weight is ignored.' " Triggs, 920 P.2d at 657 (quoting Vanasse v. Ramsay, 847 P.2d 993, 996 (Wyo.1993)).



Mother claims the district court's division of custody is an abuse of discretion because it is unsupported by evidence and because the district court failed to consider Mother's role as the primary caregiver to the children. The law affords wide discretion to the district court when fashioning custody and visitation provisions for the best interests of the children. Wyo. Stat. § 20-2-113 (Repl.1994) provides, in relevant part:

(a) In granting a divorce or annulment of a marriage, the court may make such disposition of the children as appears most expedient and beneficial for the well-being of the children. The court shall consider the relative competency of both parents and no award of custody shall be made solely on the basis of gender of the parent. If the court finds that both parents have shown the ability to act in the best interest of the child, the court may order any arrangement that encourages parents to share in the rights and responsibilities of rearing their children after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage. * * *

* * *

(p) The court may award custody under this section in accordance with subsection (a) of this section. Custody shall be crafted to promote the best interests of the child, and may include any combination of joint, shared or sole custody as the circumstances may require.

The great discretion given to the district court in fashioning family relationships encompasses one of the most difficult and demanding tasks assigned to a trial judge. This life-altering decision is perhaps most exacting in cases such as this, where it is apparent that both parents love their children and are fit and competent to have custody. Every case, however, requires careful weighing of relevant factors, looking to the unique and individual family relationships, in order to reach a resolution in the best interests of the children in that family.

To determine whether a district court has abused its discretion, we must rely on the district court's articulation of the factors...

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