Waldecker v. O'Scanlon, No. SCWC–14–0000780.

CourtSupreme Court of Hawai'i
Writing for the CourtOpinion of the Court by RECKTENWALD, C.J.
Citation375 P.3d 239,137 Hawai'i 460
Docket NumberNo. SCWC–14–0000780.
Decision Date17 June 2016
Parties Anastasia Y. WALDECKER, Petitioner/Petitioner–Appellant, v. John O'SCANLON, Respondent/Respondent–Appellee.

137 Hawai'i 460
375 P.3d 239

Anastasia Y. WALDECKER, Petitioner/Petitioner–Appellant,
v.
John O'SCANLON, Respondent/Respondent–Appellee.

No. SCWC–14–0000780.

Supreme Court of Hawai‘i.

June 17, 2016.


375 P.3d 240

Michael A. Glenn, for petitioner.

A. Debbie Jew, Honolulu, for respondent.

RECKTENWALD, C.J., NAKAYAMA, McKENNA, POLLACK, and WILSON, JJ.

Opinion of the Court by RECKTENWALD, C.J.

137 Hawai'i 461

This case arises from the 2010 divorce of Anastasia Waldecker and John O'Scanlon in Nevada. When they divorced, Waldecker and O'Scanlon had one minor child together (Daughter). In anticipation of the divorce, Waldecker and O'Scanlon entered into a Property Settlement Agreement that was incorporated into the Divorce Decree entered by a Nevada court. The Settlement Agreement provided that Waldecker and O'Scanlon would have joint physical custody of Daughter, but if either parent moved more than two hundred miles away from either O‘ahu or San Francisco, then sole custody would automatically revert to the remaining parent.

Following the divorce, Waldecker and O'Scanlon both moved to O‘ahu. In early 2014, Waldecker filed a petition in the Family Court of the First Circuit to change the custody arrangement because she had remarried and was anticipating a move to Florida with her new husband. According to Waldecker, her anticipated relocation constituted a material change in circumstances that required the family court to examine whether the change in custody would be in Daughter's best interests. Waldecker also argued that O'Scanlon had become a bad parent, and that this also constituted a material change in circumstances.

O'Scanlon argued that because the parties had agreed to the Settlement Agreement, which had been approved by the Nevada court and which provided for Daughter's custody in the event of a relocation, there was no material change in circumstances. He contended that the family court should therefore enforce the change of custody provision in the Divorce Decree without performing a "best interests of the child" analysis.

The family court agreed with O'Scanlon and concluded that because the parties had contemplated a future relocation in the change of custody provision in the Divorce Decree, there was no material change in circumstances. The family court thus enforced the Divorce Decree and awarded sole physical custody of Daughter to O'Scanlon without explicitly finding that the change of custody was in Daughter's best interests. Waldecker appealed, and the Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA) affirmed the family court's decision.

We hold that the family court erred in failing to consider the best interests of the child. Accordingly, we vacate the ICA's judgment on appeal and the family court's order, and remand this case to the family

137 Hawai'i 462
375 P.3d 241

court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. Background

A. The Divorce Decree

Waldecker and O'Scanlon were divorced in Reno, Nevada, pursuant to the Nevada district court's May 13, 2010 Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Decree of Divorce (Divorce Decree), which incorporated the parties' Settlement Agreement. Waldecker subsequently filed the Divorce Decree in the State of Hawai‘i on January 22, 2014.

According to the Divorce Decree, Waldecker and O'Scanlon were married on or about October 4, 2003, and physically separated on October 7, 2009. The parties have one minor child, Daughter, who was born on August 17, 2005. At the time of the divorce, O'Scanlon, Waldecker, and Daughter were residents of Nevada.

The Settlement Agreement explicitly awarded joint legal and joint physical custody of Daughter to both parties. Relevant to the instant proceedings, the Settlement Agreement contained the following provisions:

4. Husband and Wife shall have the joint legal and physical care, custody and control of [Daughter]. Shared custody and visitation shall be on a week-on/week-off basis, commencing May 15, 2010. No provision is made for visitation during holidays or school breaks such that the week-on/week-off cycle will continue except to the extent that the parties agree otherwise.

5. Nevada shall retain exclusive continuing jurisdiction over issues of child custody, visitation, support and related matters. It is contemplated that both Husband, Wife and the minor child will initially be residing on the island of Oahu, Hawai‘i. If in the future either party relocates to a residence beyond a 200–mile radius of Oahu or San Francisco, modification of custody shall automatically occur then changing to the other party remaining having primary physical custody of said minor child, at the option of the remaining party.

6. Husband shall pay child support to Wife in the amount of $500.00 per month, commencing upon the entry of a Decree of Divorce. This provision for child support satisfies the statutory formula. Health care expenses which are not reimbursed by insurance will be equally divided. Husband shall be entitled to the exemption annually for income tax purposes. Any applicable Social Security benefits based upon the age of Husband and/or said minor child will revert to Husband upon the entry of a Decree of Divorce. Husband shall pay for the school said minor child will attend, and will be entitled to choose the school and its location. In the event that Husband dies or becomes mentally or physically incompetent, the responsibility regarding choice of school shall be assigned to Husband's adult children.

(Emphasis added).

The Nevada Divorce Decree specifically found that "Plaintiff and Defendant executed a Property Settlement Agreement on May 13, 2010, which is fair and equitable, and should be ratified, approved and incorporated into the Decree of Divorce[,]" but did not include any findings regarding Daughter's best interests.

In 2010, Waldecker relocated to O‘ahu with Daughter, and O'Scanlon followed shortly thereafter. They resided on O‘ahu from the initial move through the 2014 change of custody hearing in the present action.

B. 2014 Motions Regarding Custody

Waldecker filed a Motion to Change Custody, Visitation, and Child Support in the family court on February 4, 2014, and attached a declaration she made on January 2, 2014.

In her declaration, Waldecker alleged several grounds by which the family court could find that there had been a material change in circumstances since the Divorce Decree: (1) Waldecker remarried, (2) Waldecker was pregnant with another child from her new husband and was expecting to give birth at the end of March, (3) Waldecker's husband is active-duty military and was scheduled to change duty stations to the mainland, and (4)

137 Hawai'i 463
375 P.3d 242

O'Scanlon had become an unfit parent for a number of reasons.

On March 10, 2014, O'Scanlon filed a motion to enforce the custody and education provisions of the original decree and attached an affidavit in opposition to Waldecker's motion.

In his affidavit, O'Scanlon addressed several of the facts alleged in Waldecker's declaration. O'Scanlon acknowledged Waldecker's marriage to an active-duty military husband, as well as her anticipated relocation to the mainland. O'Scanlon also claimed to be "an experienced father of three sons" who can provide Daughter "with a stable and wholesome life."

In addition, O'Scanlon alleged that in 2009, after he filed for divorce in Nevada, Waldecker took Daughter and moved in with a mutual friend and "avoided making arrangements for [O'Scanlon] to have timesharing with [Daughter]." O'Scanlon stated that after approximately two months, Waldecker left to live in Reno without notifying him, during which time O'Scanlon had no contact with Daughter for a few weeks. Waldecker subsequently informed O'Scanlon she had moved to Hawai‘i with Daughter and her then-boyfriend. According to O'Scanlon, at some point thereafter, Waldecker's then-boyfriend allegedly became abusive, and O'Scanlon offered Waldecker money and a vehicle if she promised to never take Daughter away from O'Scanlon again. According to O'Scanlon, Waldecker agreed to abide by the relocation and school provisions in the Divorce Decree in exchange for O'Scanlon's financial help.

C. Family Court Hearing

The Family Court of the First Circuit held a hearing on both motions on March 19, 2014.1 Waldecker agreed with the family court that to change custody, the court must make a finding that there had been a material change in circumstances since the Divorce Decree issued.2

At the hearing, Waldecker's counsel mixed legal arguments with assertions regarding what Waldecker would testify to, and asserted that she would testify regarding the same four grounds for finding a material change that she alleged in her declaration. Waldecker did respond to some questions from her counsel and from the court, although not under oath.3

When the court...

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15 practice notes
  • Cox v. Cox, SCWC-12-0000762
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Hawai'i
    • August 16, 2016
    ...relocation was a material change in circumstances that would warrant a reexamination of the best interests of the child. 137 Hawai‘i 460, 375 P.3d 239, 245–246 (2016). The dispositive argument that this court chose to resolve, even though neither party asserted it, was the continued applica......
  • State v. Chang, SCWC-17-0000674
    • United States
    • Hawaii Supreme Court
    • June 28, 2019
    ...simply has no application." Cox v. Cox, 138 Hawai‘i 476, 488, 382 P.3d 288, 300 (2016) (citing Waldecker v. O’Scanlon, 137 Hawai‘i 460, 375 P.3d 239, 245–46 (2016), and Akamine & Sons, Ltd. v. Hawaii National Bank, 54 Haw. 107, 114–15, 503 P.2d 424, 429 (1972) ). To determine whether the di......
  • Backstrand v. Backstrand, No. 1 CA-CV 19-0742 FC
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Arizona
    • December 24, 2020
    ...continuing validity of the change-of-circumstance jurisprudence regarding parenting plans. Cf. Waldecker v. O'Scanlon , 137 Hawai'i 460, 375 P.3d 239, 249 (2016) ("[J]urisprudential concerns regarding repetitive motions cannot be addressed in a manner that conflicts with the requirements of......
  • KS v. RS, CAAP-19-0000871, CAAP-20-0000489
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Hawai'i
    • May 27, 2022
    ...133 Hawai‘i 415, 422 n.6, 329 P.3d 320, 327 n.6 (App. 2014), overruled on other grounds by Waldecker v. O'Scanlon, 137 Hawai‘i 460, 375 P.3d 239 (2016) (noting that in cases where joint custodial parents reach an impasse in decision-making regarding their child, preliminary alternatives suc......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
15 cases
  • Cox v. Cox, SCWC-12-0000762
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Hawai'i
    • August 16, 2016
    ...relocation was a material change in circumstances that would warrant a reexamination of the best interests of the child. 137 Hawai‘i 460, 375 P.3d 239, 245–246 (2016). The dispositive argument that this court chose to resolve, even though neither party asserted it, was the continued applica......
  • State v. Chang, SCWC-17-0000674
    • United States
    • Hawaii Supreme Court
    • June 28, 2019
    ...simply has no application." Cox v. Cox, 138 Hawai‘i 476, 488, 382 P.3d 288, 300 (2016) (citing Waldecker v. O’Scanlon, 137 Hawai‘i 460, 375 P.3d 239, 245–46 (2016), and Akamine & Sons, Ltd. v. Hawaii National Bank, 54 Haw. 107, 114–15, 503 P.2d 424, 429 (1972) ). To determine whether the di......
  • Backstrand v. Backstrand, No. 1 CA-CV 19-0742 FC
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Arizona
    • December 24, 2020
    ...continuing validity of the change-of-circumstance jurisprudence regarding parenting plans. Cf. Waldecker v. O'Scanlon , 137 Hawai'i 460, 375 P.3d 239, 249 (2016) ("[J]urisprudential concerns regarding repetitive motions cannot be addressed in a manner that conflicts with the requirements of......
  • KS v. RS, CAAP-19-0000871, CAAP-20-0000489
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Hawai'i
    • May 27, 2022
    ...133 Hawai‘i 415, 422 n.6, 329 P.3d 320, 327 n.6 (App. 2014), overruled on other grounds by Waldecker v. O'Scanlon, 137 Hawai‘i 460, 375 P.3d 239 (2016) (noting that in cases where joint custodial parents reach an impasse in decision-making regarding their child, preliminary alternatives suc......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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