COA affirms custody modification from mother to father

The Indiana Court of Appeals has affirmed the modification of a Dearborn County mother’s physical and legal custody of her child over to his father, also ruling her relocation claims moot after her request to do so was denied.

After their divorce, Annette McDaniel and Joe McDaniel shared joint legal custody of their child, C.M., while mother maintained primary physical custody. Father, who lives in northern Kentucky, filed an objection in 2018 after mother filed a notice of intent to relocate to Richmond, Indiana, after living with the child in Dearborn County, roughly 30 minutes from Father’s home.

Father alleged that the move, which took place shortly after filing the notice of intent to relocate, significantly increased his travel time and impacted his ability to be involved with C.M.’s activities. He also argued, among other things, that he was not given a chance to provide input on changing the child’s school.

The trial court ultimately concluded that the request to relocate and the actual relocation were not in C.M.’s best interests, and therefore denied mother’s request to relocate. It thus ordered that the child’s interests would be best served by a modification of custody to father having primary physical and full legal custody, rather than mother.

An appellate panel found that the trial court’s modification order was neither clearly erroneous nor an abuse of discretion, despite mother’s contentions in Annette McDaniel v. Joe McDaniel, 19A-DR-2983.

The panel first disagreed with mother’s argument that the trial court’s findings “fail to support its judgment that a substantial change in circumstances had occurred justifying modification of custody.” Specifically, the appellate court noted that the trial court did not clearly err in finding that the effect of mother’s move on the interaction and interrelationship of the child with father and his extended family was consequential and substantial, justifying a modification in custody.

The appellate court additionally noted that the changed circumstances included mother’s recent marriage to an individual with significant prior involvement with the legal system, including 13 criminal cases and 17 civil cases, ranging from a theft charge, two protective orders, and convictions of invasion of privacy.

“Mother maintains that the trial court’s findings do not support its judgment that

modification of both physical and legal custody is in C.M.’s best interests.

While we need not go into each specific instance cited by the trial court,

significant evidence was presented regarding Mother’s lack of communication with Father and her interference with and/or failure to accommodate his parenting time,” Judge Terry Crone wrote for the appellate court.

“The record indicates that Mother was increasingly making decisions regarding C.M. without advising and/or consulting with Father, with many of those decisions negatively affecting C.M., Father’s relationship with C.M., and Father’s ability to exercise parenting time with C.M. The trial court took judicial notice of previous hearings, and its own file, to note Mother’s dismissive and hostile attitude toward co-parenting, while also taking note of Father’s general attitude of cooperation. Mother has also engaged in contentious behavior toward Father during his parenting time (unsubstantiated child abuse allegations) that was undoubtedly harmful to C.M. and C.M.’s relationship with Father,” the appellate court continued.

In sum, the trial court found that, while both parents love C.M. and are fit and proper parents, it is in C.M.’s best interests to have a positive relationship with both parents and that this goal can best be achieved by Father having primary physical custody and sole legal custody.”

The appellate panel also declined to address the moot issue of whether the trial court abused its discretion in denying Mother’s request to relocate.

“As we concluded above, the trial court did not err in modifying physical and legal custody of C.M.; therefore, inasmuch as Mother is attacking the validity of the trial court’s prior denial of her request to relocate with C.M., we find that issue moot,” it concluded.

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