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In re Parenting of G.M.O.

Supreme Court of Montana

May 11, 2017

IN RE THE PARENTING OF: G.M.O., A Minor Child. CRISTY PEDERSON, f/k/a CRISTY PICKETT, Petitioner and Appellant, and ANDREW ORVIS, Respondent and Appellee.

          Submitted on Briefs: May 10, 2017

         Appeal From District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, In and For the County of Missoula, Cause No. DR-11-806 Honorable John W. Larson, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Marybeth M. Sampsel, Measure, Sampsel, Sullivan & O'Brien, P.C.

          For Appellee: Andrew Orvis, Self-Represented, Missoula, Montana

          Beth Baker Justice

         ¶1 Cristy Pederson appeals the amended parenting plan issued by the Fourth Judicial District Court on the grounds that it is contrary to the best interests of her child and that the District Court failed to make sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law. She requests that we vacate the order amending the parenting plan and remand for a new hearing to establish an appropriate parenting plan.

         ¶2 We reverse and remand.

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 Andrew Orvis and Cristy are the parents of a seven-year-old child, G.M.O. The District Court adopted a parenting plan in August 2012 when G.M.O. was two years old. Under the plan, G.M.O. resided primarily with Cristy, and Andrew had parenting time every week from Tuesday morning to Thursday evening. Both parents lived in Missoula at the time. G.M.O. has been in Cristy's primary care ever since.

         ¶4 Cristy worked as the general manager of a Taco Bell in Missoula. In early 2016, Cristy was offered the general manager position for Taco Bell in Kalispell. The position included a pay raise, a better schedule, and an opportunity for growth in the company. Cristy accepted the position and managed the Kalispell location while still living in Missoula. Cristy commuted to and from Kalispell a few times a week for several months. ¶5 In April 2016, Cristy provided notice of her intent to move to Columbia Falls. Andrew filed a motion opposing Cristy's intent to move. The District Court denied Cristy's motion and set an August hearing date to review the parenting plan.

         ¶6 Both Cristy and Andrew testified at the hearing. Cristy offered evidence and testified extensively that allowing her to maintain primary care of G.M.O. in Columbia Falls would be in the child's best interest. Andrew provided little testimony regarding G.M.O.'s best interests. The court did not make any oral findings during the hearing. The court did state, however, that "there are worse things than having to go to two different schools in a year, and I know there's a lot of kids go to two different schools in a year without, you know, too much harm."

         ¶7 The District Court issued a brief order amending the parenting plan on August 23, 2016. The order did not contain any substantive findings of fact or conclusions of law. It provided that G.M.O. would attend school in Columbia Falls from the beginning of the school year until Thanksgiving. At that point, G.M.O. would move back to Missoula and attend school there until Easter. At Easter, G.M.O. would again move back to Columbia Falls to finish the school year. Following the school year, G.M.O. would move back to Missoula to spend the first third of the summer there. She would spend the second third of the summer in Columbia Falls, and the last third of the summer back in Missoula. At the end of the summer, G.M.O. would move back to Columbia Falls to begin the school year. The District Court found this schedule to be "in the best interest of the child." Cristy appeals. Andrew did not submit a response brief on appeal.

         STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         ¶8 We review a district court's findings of fact related to a parenting plan to determine whether the findings are clearly erroneous. In re Parenting of C.J., 2016 MT 93, ¶ 12, 383 Mont. 197, 369 P.3d 1028. A finding is clearly erroneous if it is not supported by substantial evidence, if the district court misapprehended the effect of the evidence, or if our review of the record convinces us that the district court made a ...


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