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In re Marriage of Williams

Supreme Court of Montana

September 11, 2018

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF: STEVAN STREIT WILLIAMS, Petitioner and Appellee, and LINDSAY MARIE WILLIAMS, Respondent and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: August 8, 2018

          District Court of the Twenty-Second Judicial District, In and For the County of Stillwater, Cause No. DR-2015-13 Honorable Blair Jones, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Craig R. Buehler, Buehler Law Office, Lewistown, Montana

          For Appellee: Jo Messex Casey, Hendrickson Law Firm, P.C., Billings, Montana

          OPINION

          Ingrid Gustafson, Justice.

         ¶1 Lindsay Williams (Lindsay) appeals from the Twenty Second Judicial District Court's Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law dated October 11, 2017 setting forth the court's ordered parenting plan which provides for the parties' children to reside on a primary basis in Columbus, Montana. We affirm.

         ¶2 We restate the issue on appeal as follows:

         Did the District Court abuse its discretion in ordering the parenting plan which provides for the children to reside on a primary basis in Columbus?

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 Lindsay and Stevan Williams (Stevan) met in college when a professor requested she take notes for him as he is deaf. They married in July 1999. Prior to having children, the parties moved to Columbus where Stevan began working in his family's business. The parties have three children: G.M.W., born in 2003, G.L.W., born in 2007, and T.R.W., born in 2008. G.M.W and T.R.W. were born deaf and have cochlear implants. The parties separated near the end of the school year in 2015. Prior to the parties' separation they resided as a family in Columbus. Post-separation, Stevan remained in Columbus and Lindsay relocated from Columbus to Lovell, Wyoming, then to Bearcreek, Montana, and then later to Lewistown, Montana. The parties alternated parenting of their children on a weekly basis during the summer of 2015, then agreed to continue this 50/50 schedule for the 2015-2016 school year with the children attending school in Columbus. The parties entered into a written Stipulated Marital and Property Settlement Agreement filed November 17, 2016 resolving all non-parenting issues associated with their dissolution. The District Court adopted the parties' Agreement and signed a Decree of Dissolution of Marriage on November 18, 2016. As part of the dissolution, the parties entered into a Stipulated Interim Residential Schedule filed November 7, 2016, which was approved and adopted by the court. This interim plan provided for the children to reside on a primary basis with Stevan and for Lindsay to parent the children on weekends (designated by her but assuring Stevan would parent at least two weekends of each month), alternating major holidays, and time in the summer.

         ¶4 On July 17, 2017, the parties appeared with their respective counsel for trial. At the outset of the hearing, the parties confirmed resolution of all non-parenting issues in their dissolution and proceeded to trial on the remaining parenting issues. The following week, both parties filed post-trial findings. The District Court issued an Order Re: Interim Parenting Plan and Parenting Schedule on August 8, 2017, to remain in effect until the court issued a final parenting order. This interim plan provided for the children to continue to attend school and reside in Columbus. It also provided that in the event Lindsay relocated back to Columbus, the children would reside with her on a primary basis in Columbus. Subsequently, the District Court issued its Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law setting forth the District Court's parenting plan on October 12, 2017 from which Lindsay now appeals. Additional facts will be referenced in the discussion below.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶5 We review the underlying findings in support of a districts court's decision regarding a parenting plan under the clearly erroneous standard. Guffin v. Plaisted-Harman, 2010 MT 100, ¶ 20, 356 Mont. 218, 232 P.3d 888. We review a district court's conclusions of law to determine if they are correct. In re Parenting of C.J., 2016 MT 93, ¶ 12, 383 Mont. 197, 369 P.3d 1028. A district court has broad discretion when considering the parenting of a child, and we must presume the court carefully considered the evidence and made the correct decision. In re Parenting of C.J., ¶ 13 (citation omitted). It is not this Court's function to reweigh conflicting evidence or substitute its judgment regarding the strength of the evidence for that of the district court. In re A.F., 2003 MT 254, ¶ 24, 317 Mont. 367, 77 P.3d 266. Rather, the ultimate test for adequacy of findings of fact is whether they are sufficiently comprehensive and pertinent to the issues to provide a basis for decision, and whether they are supported by the evidence presented. In re Marriage of Wolfe, 202 Mont. 454, 458, 659 P.2d 259, 261 (1983). Accordingly, absent clearly erroneous findings, we will not disturb a district court's decision regarding parenting plans unless there is a clear abuse of discretion. In re Parenting of C.J., ¶ 13.

         DISCUSSION

         ¶6 Did the District Court abuse its discretion in ordering the parenting plan whichprovides for the children ...


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