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In re Parenting of S.W.B.S.

Supreme Court of Montana

January 2, 2019

IN RE THE PARENTING OF: S.W.B.S., Minor Child, BRYAN SINRAM, Petitioner and Appellee, and MICHALA BERUBE, Respondent and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: November 8, 2018

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Eleventh Judicial District, In and For the County of Flathead, Cause No. DR 14-502(B) Honorable Robert B Allison, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Paula M. Johnson-Gilchrist, Johnson-Gilchrist Law Firm, P.C., Whitefish, Montana

          For Appellee: Tiffany B. Lonnevik, Lonnevik Law Firm, P.C., Kalispell, Montana

          OPINION

          Laurie McKinnon Justice.

         ¶1 Michala Berube (Mother) appeals from an order of the Eleventh Judicial District Court, Flathead County, amending her parenting plan with Bryan Sinram (Father). While Mother presents nine issues on appeal, we summarize her arguments and restate the dispositive issue as:

         Did the District Court err in amending the parties' parenting plan?

         ¶2 We conclude the District Court did not err and therefore affirm its order amending the parties' parenting plan.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 S.W.B.S. was born to Mother and Father in December 2012. Mother and Father never married and, in 2015, when S.W.B.S. was two years old, the District Court approved the parties' stipulated parenting plan (Initial Parenting Plan). Both parents lived in Kalispell and the plan's residential schedule provided that Mother would parent four days a week while Father would parent three days a week. The residential schedule contained a holiday schedule that contemplated S.W.B.S. entering school; it provided specific arrangements for spring and winter breaks "applicable when kindergarten begins" and clarified that "school attendance takes priority over the holiday" schedule. The residential schedule also contained a subsection entitled "School (when applicable)" and delineated instances in which the parties could remove S.W.B.S. from school.

         ¶4 The plan further provided that Mother and Father would make certain parenting decisions-specifically those regarding S.W.B.S.'s schooling and healthcare-together. If the parties were unable to agree upon those parenting decisions, the plan provided that they were to make a good-faith effort to resolve the issues through dispute resolution processes before bringing their disagreements to the court. The plan also contained a provision entitled "Modification" (Modification Provision), which provided:

The parties agree that the above schedule shall be reviewed and modified as necessary if there are significant change in circumstances or when the minor child begins kindergarten to consider the developmental changes, needs, and best interest of the child at that time. They shall begin discussions of a schedule at least 6 months prior to the start of kindergarten. Both parties agree that the above schedule must be modified to some extent so that both parents may enjoy a full weekend parenting time with the child.

         ¶5 After the District Court approved the Initial Parenting Plan, Mother had two more children and moved to Columbia Falls. As S.W.B.S. aged, Mother and Father continuously disagreed on notable parenting decisions, such as whether S.W.B.S. should attend preschool and whether S.W.B.S. should be vaccinated. The parties tried to mediate the issues but could not agree. Therefore, in May 2017, Father filed a motion to permit school enrollment, amend the parenting plan, and modify child support. Specifically, Father wished to enroll S.W.B.S. in preschool and vaccinate him. Father also sought an amended residential schedule, as contemplated by the Initial Parenting Plan's Modification Provision, in anticipation of S.W.B.S. beginning kindergarten the next fall. Mother objected to Father's motion. The District Court held a hearing regarding Father's motion in August 2017.

         ¶6 Ultimately, the District Court denied Father's request to enroll S.W.B.S. in preschool and granted his request to vaccinate S.W.B.S. The District Court further determined that, in light of its Modification Provision, the Initial Parenting Plan's residential schedule should change as soon as S.W.B.S. entered kindergarten. The District Court memorialized those decisions in an order modifying the parenting plan. That ...


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