from the Johnson Circuit Court, The Honorable K. Mark Loyd,
Judge, The Honorable Andrew Roesener, Magistrate, Trial Court
Cause No. 41C01-1702-JP-21
for Appellant: Dylan A. Vigh, Indianapolis, Indiana
for Appellee: Amanda R. Blystone, Austin T. Robbins, Broyles
Kight & Ricafort, P.C., Indianapolis, Indiana
STATEMENT OF THE CASE
[¶ 1] Appellant-Respondent, Matthew Purnell
(Father), appeals the trial courts Order, awarding
Appellee-Petitioner, Kayla Purnell (Mother), sole legal
custody and primary physical custody of their minor child,
[¶ 2] We affirm.
[¶ 3] Father presents one issue on appeal,
which we restate as: Whether the trial court abused its
discretion by considering Fathers active-duty status in the
United States Air Force when it awarded sole legal and
primary physical custody to Mother.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
[¶ 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 Fathers 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 Mothers 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 Childs primary caretaker. Fathers stepmother
contacted Grandmother and informed her of Fathers plans.
Mother was able to successfully thwart Fathers 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
[Mothers] 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. Shell get stuck on something and be on a
tangent, and shell be on a roll about it, and its hard to
stop her." (Tr. p. 48). Mother is "secure in her
job, she has plans for the future, shes dealing with
college." (Tr. p. 60). "[S]hes got it all together
and knows where shes 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).
[¶ 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 shes not doing as well"
and Grandmother remains a stabilizing and supportive presence
in Mothers 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 Fathers petition, the Superior Court ruled that
it "has no jurisdiction to make an initial custody order
in this case. The [C]hilds home state of Indiana has
jurisdiction to make the initial custody orders."
(Appellants App. Conf. Vol. II, p. 48). The Superior Court
retained jurisdiction over all other issues. On February 9,
2017, based on the Superior Courts 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
Fathers 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
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 Fathers future