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Hamilton v. Hamilton

Court of Appeals of Indiana

May 31, 2018

Marva Deskins Hamilton, Appellant-Petitioner,
v.
Michael Hamilton, Appellee-Respondent.

          Appeal from the Hamilton Superior Court The Honorable Jonathan M. Brown, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 29D02-1610-DR-9293

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT Darlene R. Seymour Bryan L. Ciyou Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. Indianapolis, Indiana

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE Janice Mandla Mattingly Janice Mandla Mattingly, P.C. Carmel, Indiana

          Pyle, Judge.

         Statement of the Case

         [¶1] Marva Deskins Hamilton ("Mother") appeals the child custody order entered following the dissolution of her marriage to Michael Hamilton ("Father"). Mother specifically argues that the trial court abused its discretion in awarding primary physical custody of their daughter, L.H., to Father. Finding no abuse of the trial court's discretion, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

         [¶2] We affirm.

         Issue

         Whether the trial court abused its discretion in awarding primary physical custody of L.H. to Father.

         Facts

         [¶3] When Mother and Father began dating in 2011, Mother lived in Maryland with her fourteen-year-old daughter, I.D., and Father lived in Indianapolis. Father visited Mother regularly in Maryland but told her that he would never move because he was actively involved in the life of his three-year-old son, I.H., who lived in Indianapolis. I.H. spent three to four nights per week and every third weekend with Father.

         [¶4] Mother and Father eventually married in June 2013. Mother continued to live in Maryland with I.D., and Father continued his regular visits. In March 2014, Mother gave birth to the parties' daughter, L.H. Father was present for the birth and stayed with Mother, L.H., and I.D. for two weeks after L.H.'s birth. Four months later, Mother, I.D., and L.H. moved to Indianapolis. Mother and Father eventually purchased a home in Hamilton County where I.H. attended school.

         [¶5] Mother, an attorney, obtained employment at a law firm, where she earned an annual base salary of $120, 000, with the potential to earn an additional $30, 000 in annual performance bonuses for reaching certain employment-related goals. Father is a firefighter/emergency medical technician who works a twenty-four-hour shift every third day. He earns $80, 000 per year.

         [¶6] The parties shared household responsibilities during their marriage. Father frequently took L.H. to daycare and picked her up at the end of the day. On Father's days off from the firehouse, he fixed dinner, supervised homework, and got L.H. ready for bed. He was familiar with the pediatrician's recommendations for L.H.'s asthma treatment in the event she had difficulty breathing. L.H. was very close to both her brother, I.H., and her sister, I.D. Father's parents, who lived nearby, were actively involved in all of the children's lives and provided transportation for the children on the days that both parents worked.

         [¶7] In October 2016, Mother filed a petition for legal separation, and in November 2016, Father filed a petition for dissolution. On March 7, 2017, the parties entered into an agreed preliminary order regarding parenting time with three-year-old L.H. and distribution of the parties' property. Later that month, Mother filed a notice of intent to relocate to Maryland and a request for a final custody hearing, wherein Mother advised Father and the trial court that she intended to relocate to Maryland with L.H. by July 1, 2017. Father filed an objection to the relocation and a petition for physical custody of L.H. in April 2017.

         [¶8] The trial court held a three-day hearing on custody, child support, and parenting time in June and July 2017.[1] Testimony at the hearing revealed that in October 2016, Mother learned that her former federal government job in Maryland might be available. Without telling Father, Mother began researching schools in the Maryland area and applied for L.H. to attend the Langley School ("Langley"), a private school, which is located in Virginia and offers foreign languages, art, and music. In early March 2017, Mother received notice that L.H. had been accepted at Langley and had received a considerable financial aid package. Mother visited Maryland later in March 2017 for a job interview, and while she was there, she took L.H. to visit Langley. Thereafter, Mother placed a deposit at Langley to hold L.H.'s spot. Mother never mentioned Langley to Father.

         [¶9] Mother further testified that she had not been happy with her law firm job in Indianapolis and had never met the billable hour requirement. She planned to return to her former job and house in Maryland less than a week after the hearing. She had already sent all of her belongings to Maryland, and they were in a storage facility. Mother explained that because of the flexible alternative work schedules and hours, government holidays and vacation policy, she would have flexibility in her job to spend more time with L.H. She would earn $146, 000 per year. According to Mother, she also had church, family, and educational contacts in the Maryland area. Mother further testified that L.H. had a close bond with both I.H. and I.D., and that I.D. would be attending college in New Jersey in the fall. Mother admitted that, although she had always discussed the choice of schools for I.D. with I.D.'s father, she had not discussed Langley with Father. During cross-examination, Mother admitted that she had not investigated schools or government jobs in the Indianapolis area. She also told the trial court that she planned to move to Maryland "whether [the] court award[ed] custody to [her] or not." (Tr. 160).

         [¶10] Father testified that he would not be able to move to Maryland because of his relationship with I.H. He expressed concern that if Mother relocated to Maryland, she would not communicate with him about L.H. He told the trial court that his parents would help him with L.H. on the days that he had ...


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