Family Law

Editor:
John W. Dennis, Jr., Esquire 

Repeated requests for relocation, denied by the court, held not to justify a modification of custody. Hendry v. Osia, No. 94722 (Mo. App. E.D., March 29, 2011), Norton, J.
The parties were divorced in 2006. In 2007, litigation ensued because the Mother wanted to relocate the children. She lost both at trial and on appeal. Thereafter, she notified Father of her desire to relocate again. The Father filed the necessary pleadings in opposition to relocation and a motion to modify custody so he would be named "residential custodian" of their children. The trial court denied the request to relocate and modified custody naming Father "primary residential custodian."  The Mother appealed both the denial of her request to relocate and the transfer of custody.
Held: Reversed. There was sufficient evidence to support the denial for relocation. However, once the relocation issue was resolved, modification of custody is not supported by the evidence. ".[T]he trial court relied heavily upon the assumption that Mother would relocate in its determination of whether modification was in the best interests of the children."
"As a result of the trial court's denial of Mother's request to relocate, the children's best interests would continue to be served with the original custody arrangement."

Trial court's judgment rejecting proposed parenting plans of Mother, Father and Guardian ad Litem reversed due to lack of specificity showing court's reasoning. Hall v. Hall, No.72290 (Mo. App. W.D., March 15, 2011), Ahuja, J.
In this divorce case of hotly contested custody, the trial court rejected the proposed Parenting Plans of Mother, Father and Guardian ad Litem. Its judgment entry paid summary lip-service to the statutory factors involved. The Father filed the requisite Rule 78.07(c) motion for deficiencies in the findings. The court of appeals found that mere mention of the statutory factors without specificity showing the trial court's reasoning was insufficient.
Held: Reversed."A `checklist' which merely lists the best interests factors enumerated in Sec. 452.375.2, and indicates which parent each factor favors, is insufficient to comply with the statutory mandate." See also Schlatman v. Costa, 193 S.W.3d 430 (Mo. App. W.D. 2006)

Extracurricular activity expenses in a support order should include limiting language defining their scope, or a cap on expenses, where one party has sole discretion to determine activities. Pratt v. Ferber, No. 72166 (Mo. App. W.D., March 15, 2011), Mitchell, J.
This was an action for modification of custody, visitation and support. This summary focuses strictly on the order modifying the original judgment to require Father to pay one-half of extraordinary expenses for the child. Father argues that the provisions is so vague as to be unenforceable. The Mother had decision-making authority in selecting the extracurricular activities of the child.
Held: Reversed with instructions. There is a line of cases that address extra child-rearing costs outside of the monthly child support payment. See Bryson v. Bryson, 624 S.W.2d 92 (Mo. App. E.D. 1981); Toomey v. Toomey, 636 S.W.2d 313 (Mo. banc 1982); Echele v. Echele, 782 S.W.2d 430 (Mo. App. E.D. 1989); Fulton v. Adams, 924 S.W.2d 548 (Mo. App. E.D. 1996).

In the case at bar, while it appears that the parties negotiated an even sharing of the cost of Daughter's extracurricular activities prior to the entry of the original dissolution decree, the agreement was based upon a maximum of $100 per month. What is at issue now is an order modifying child support. Not based upon an agreement of the parties - The order in no way limits the types of activities or the categories of resulting expenses. .[L]imiting language should have (been) used to define the scope of the activities covered by the order, or, in the alternative, placed some sort of cap on the extraordinary expenses that the Father had to pay for Daughter's extracurricular activities, especially since it gave Mother sole discretion to decide which activities would occupy Daughter.

The court amended the judgment to cap Father's obligation at no more than $200 per month.

The Missouri Bar Courts Bulletin, 11-Apr