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
OF THE CASE
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).
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
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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.
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.
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
17. Adding another wrinkle of complexity to this matter is
the anticipated transient nature of Father's future
employment with the Air Force.
31. The [c]ourt's decision today as it relates to
physical custody of the minor [C]hild is predicated in large
part on the ongoing presence of [G]randmother, [Burks], ...