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In re Paternity of Wheeler

Court of Appeals of Indiana

March 11, 2019

In re the Paternity of W.R.H. Casie N. Wheeler, Appellant-Petitioner,
v.
William Jesse Hinshaw, Appellee-Respondent

          Appeal from the Hamilton Superior Court The Honorable Jonathan M. Brown, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 29D02-1506-JP-839

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Trenna S. Parker Trenna S. Parker Law Office, P.C. Noblesville, Indiana

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE Rodney T. Sarkovics Sarkovics Law Carmel, Indiana

          VAIDIK, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Case Summary

         [¶1] Casie N. Wheeler ("Mother") and William Jesse Hinshaw ("Father") shared joint legal custody of their young son (i.e., authority and responsibility for the major decisions concerning their son's upbringing, including his education, health care, and religious training). However, after Mother filed a notice of intent to relocate and Father objected, the trial court issued an order that, among other things, awarded sole legal custody to Father. Mother appeals, arguing that the parties did not raise the issue of legal custody and that the modification was therefore improper. Father acknowledges that he did not expressly request a change in legal custody but contends that, under Indiana's parental-relocation statutes, Ind. Code ch. 31-17-2.2, legal custody is placed at issue any time one parent files a notice of intent to relocate and the other parent objects. We disagree with Father's reading of the statutes, and because he did not otherwise put Mother on notice that he was seeking a change in legal custody, we reverse the modification.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2] Mother and Father are the parents of W.H., who was born in March 2014. As of July 2017, Mother had primary physical custody of W.H., with Father exercising significant parenting time and paying child support, and the parties shared joint legal custody. Mother was living in Indianapolis, and Father was living in Westfield. That month, Mother filed a notice of intent to relocate to New Haven, Indiana, "for a teaching position with a Fort Wayne ballet company and to pursue her undergraduate degree at Indiana University - Purdue University Fort Wayne." Appellant's App. Vol. II p. 40. She acknowledged that the move would "cause a change in the current parenting time as the increased distance will affect Father's currently ordered parenting time." Id. at 40-41.

         [¶3] Father immediately objected to the proposed relocation, asserting that it would "substantially interfere with his parenting time he is currently exercising." Id. at 43. He asked the trial court to set the matter for a hearing, to prohibit Mother from relocating while the matter was pending, and to ultimately bar the relocation. Father also asked the court to modify child support and to award him "physical custody" "[s]hould Mother decide to move to Ft. Wayne[.]" Id. at 44.

         [¶4] The trial court set the matter for a hearing. A few days before the hearing, Father filed a motion for rule to show cause. He alleged that Mother, without talking to him, had enrolled W.H. in a school in New Haven. Father asserted that this was a breach of the joint-legal-custody arrangement and asked the court to hold her in contempt.

         [¶5] At the hearing, the parties disputed whether W.H. had actually been "enrolled" in the school in New Haven. They also presented extensive testimony and exhibits regarding the proposed relocation. Father's primary contention was that Mother's reason for wanting to move to New Haven was not school or work but rather to live with her boyfriend.

         [¶6] In January 2018, the trial court issued its order. Believing that Mother would be relocating to New Haven regardless of the court's decision, the court (1) denied Mother's request to relocate W.H., (2) awarded primary physical custody to Father, (3) awarded sole legal custody to Father, (4) modified child support, and (5) found Mother in contempt of the previous legal-custody order and ordered her to pay some of Father's attorney's fees.

         [¶7] Mother then filed a motion to correct error. She did not challenge the denial of her request to relocate W.H. to New Haven, but she argued that the rest of the rulings were incorrect. Relevant to this appeal, Mother asserted that the parties did not ask the trial court to modify legal custody and that the court therefore erred by doing so. The trial court granted Mother's motion in part, including setting aside the finding of contempt, but it left in place the modification of legal custody. The court concluded that "a change of custody was requested and plead by both parties." Appellant's App. Vol. III p. 30.

         [¶8] ...


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