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Judge ‘troubled’ by delays in relocation case

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The Indiana Court of Appeals Thursday upheld a mother’s decision to relocate from Indiana to Georgia with her daughter before a court hearing was held on the matter. But one judge on the panel found the court’s reliance on the time the mother and child lived in Georgia to support its decision “makes a mockery” of the relocation statute.

Starr Weather and Ryan Gold have a daughter born in August 2008. Gold is married with two other children and lives in Indianapolis. Weather worked as a nurse in Terre Haute. The two had a contentious relationship, including Weather denying Gold visitation for more than a year. She decided to relocate to Atlanta, Ga., to be close to her mother and two siblings, whom lived in Terre Haute prior to moving to Georgia.

Weather did not provide the required 90-day notice of her intent to move prior to her relocation date of July 1, 2011, and she moved prior to obtaining court approval. In October 2012, the court found that Weather satisfied her burden of proving the move was in good faith and for a legitimate purpose. In October 2013, the court issued its final order denying Gold’s objection to the relocation and his motion to modify physical custody. The two were awarded joint legal custody of the child.

In Ryan Gold v. Starr Weather, 49A02-1311-JP-995, the Court of Appeals affirmed the decision by the trial court, with Judge Patricia Riley pointing to the care that mother’s immediate family provided for the child and her close bond with those family members. Weather also relocated to Georgia for employment reasons.

Gold argued that custody should be modified because of Weather’s multiple attempts to thwart parenting time, but the judges declined to disturb the trial court’s decision.

The majority opinion noted by the time of the final hearing, the child had lived in Georgia for two years. This was an issue that caused Judge Margret Robb to concur in result.

“I believe Mother’s move in violation of the terms of the relocation statute alone justifies closer scrutiny of her reasons for the move. And Mother’s hasty move coupled with the court’s reliance – however small – on the time she and the Child have lived 800 miles away from Father as support for its decision despite acknowledging her disregard makes a mockery of the statute,” Robb wrote.

“If a parent can ignore the requirements of the law, move the child without court approval, and then claim ‘primary caregiving’ and ‘bonding’ as a justification for staying with that parent being in the child’s best interest—and moreover, if the court can acknowledge all of this and yet in effect reward the parent by approving what they have already done—then the relocation statute has no meaning and no teeth.”

She said her concurrence might have been a dissent if Gold had been more aggressive in pursuing his rights and less complicit in the lengthy delay in this case. Robb also found the two-year delay from the notice of intent to move and when the final order was issued to be “unconscionable” on the part of both the parties and the court.  

 

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