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Purnell v. Purnell

Court of Appeals of Indiana

July 11, 2019

Matthew PURNELL, Appellant-Respondent,
Kayla PURNELL, Appellee-Petitioner.

Page 623

          Appeal from the Johnson Circuit Court, The Honorable K. Mark Loyd, Judge, The Honorable Andrew Roesener, Magistrate, Trial Court Cause No. 41C01-1702-JP-21

         Attorney for Appellant: Dylan A. Vigh, Indianapolis, Indiana

         Attorneys for Appellee: Amanda R. Blystone, Austin T. Robbins, Broyles Kight & Ricafort, P.C., Indianapolis, Indiana

         Riley, Judge.


          [¶ 1] Appellant-Respondent, Matthew Purnell (Father), appeals the trial court’s Order, awarding Appellee-Petitioner, Kayla Purnell (Mother), sole legal custody and primary physical custody of their minor child, S.P. (Child).

          [¶ 2] We affirm.


          [¶ 3] Father presents one issue on appeal, which we restate as: Whether the trial court abused its discretion by considering Father’s active-duty status in the United States Air Force when it awarded sole legal and primary physical custody to Mother.

Page 624


          [¶ 4] Father and Mother married on December 15, 2014. At the time, Father was an active member of the United States Air Force stationed in California. After the wedding, in February 2015, Mother relocated from Indiana to California and the couple resided in an on-base residence. Approximately fourteen months later, in April 2016, Mother moved back to Indiana to live with her mother (Grandmother) due to purported allegations of Father’s infidelity. When she left California, Mother was pregnant and, approximately two weeks after returning to Indiana, the Child was born on April 20, 2016. There is no dispute that Father is the legal and biological father of the Child.

          [¶ 5] Mother has been the primary caregiver for the Child since his birth and has effectuated parenting time opportunities for Father when Father is in Indiana. Six weeks after his birth, Father visited the Child for the first time. In June of 2016, Father travelled to Indiana with the intent to remove the Child from Mother’s care and to return with him to California. On his way to Indiana, Father stopped at the home of his father and stepmother in New Mexico to spend the night. During this visit, Father informed them of his plan to take the Child as he did not believe Mother was fit to be the Child’s primary caretaker. Father’s stepmother contacted Grandmother and informed her of Father’s plans. Mother was able to successfully thwart Father’s plan while still allowing him parenting time when he was in Indiana. Father returned to California without the Child.

         [¶ 6] Mother has been treated for mental health issues since she was approximately eleven years old. When she was thirteen years old, Mother spent three weeks in inpatient hospital care for suicidal tendencies. Another suicide attempt at age fifteen was followed by a month of inpatient care. Mother has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder Type I, anxiety disorder not otherwise specified, and ADHD. Bipolar disorder Type I is characterized by "periods where [Mother’s] mood can be manic and then periods where [her] mood can be depressed." (Transcript p. 11). Every two to three months, Mother has an appointment with Susan Fay, an advanced nurse practitioner and clinical specialist (Nurse Fay), who works with Mother on medical management and assisted her to overcome postpartum depression after the birth of the Child. Overall, Mother is compliant with the proposed course of treatment and Nurse Fay has no concerns that Mother can appropriately care for the Child.

          [¶ 7] In addition to Nurse Fay, Mother is under the care of Diane Burks (Burks), a licensed clinical social worker, who has been working with Mother since she was eleven years old. Burks has seen positive changes in Mother since the start of the treatment plan. Mother is "more rational, much more grounded, [with] fewer manic episodes." (Tr. p. 45). When Mother gets manic, "she talks real fast. She gets judgmental, she gets more opinionated. She’ll get stuck on something and be on a tangent, and she’ll be on a roll about it, and it’s hard to stop her." (Tr. p. 48). Mother is "secure in her job, she has plans for the future, she’s dealing with college." (Tr. p. 60). "[S]he’s got it all together and knows where she’s going and how to manage that." (Tr. p. 60). In the six months prior to the hearing, Mother has become "much more confident with herself, much more closely bonded with [Child], clearly attached. [Child] is very comfortable with Mother and [G]randmother and goes between them back and forth easily." (Tr. p. 60). Because Mother brings Child to the appointments with Burks, Burks had an

Page 625

opportunity to chart his evolution. She noticed that Child "regressed" in walking skills after a long visit with Father when he was about one year old. (Tr. p. 55).

          [¶ 8] Mother maintains fulltime employment as a security guard and is enrolled in college courses part-time at Ivy Tech. She and the Child reside with Grandmother, who aids Mother in her care for the Child. Mother is aware that "she has her mom to step in and help out and support her when she’s not doing as well" and Grandmother remains a stabilizing and supportive presence in Mother’s life. (Tr. pp. 23-24).

          [¶ 9] During the proceedings, Father re-enlisted in the Air Force and was re-assigned to the Cavalier Air Force base in North Dakota where he is the Crew Chief for the missile warning radar and spacecraft surveillance. Father has no immediate plans to return to civilian life or Indiana. He lives on-base with his girlfriend and their eleven-month-old child.

          [¶ 10] On August 29, 2016, Father filed for a dissolution of marriage in the Superior Court of Santa Barbara in California (Superior Court). After conducting a hearing on Father’s petition, the Superior Court ruled that it "has no jurisdiction to make an initial custody order in this case. The [C]hild’s home state of Indiana has jurisdiction to make the initial custody orders." (Appellant’s App. Conf. Vol. II, p. 48). The Superior Court retained jurisdiction over all other issues. On February 9, 2017, based on the Superior Court’s order, Mother filed her verified petition to establish custody, parenting time, and child support with the trial court in Indiana. One week later, Father submitted his verified petition for transfer of child custody jurisdiction and for custody determination. On April 13, 2017, the trial court conducted a hearing on Father’s petition, which it subsequently denied. The trial court granted Mother temporary custody of the Child. On March 2, 2018 and November 2, 2018, a final hearing was conducted on the parties’ competing custody requests. On December 27, 2018, the trial court issued its Findings of Fact and Conclusions thereon, awarding sole legal custody and primary physical custody of the Child to Mother and concluding, in pertinent part:

15. Two (2) predominant issues have emerged from this litigation and have great bearing [on] the critical decisions of custody and parenting time.
16. Those issues are as follows:
a. The mental and emotional fitness and stability of both Mother and Father; and
b. The significant geographical distance between Mother and Father.
17. Adding another wrinkle of complexity to this matter is the anticipated transient nature of Father’s future ...

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