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Wylie v. Wylie

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

May 22, 2019

TIAN VONTE WYLIE Plaintiff-Appellee
v.
EMILY MICHELLE WYLIE Defendant-Appellant

          Appealed from the Twenty-Sixth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Bossier, Louisiana Trial Court No. 148858 Honorable Jeff R. Thompson, Judge

          McNEW, KING & LANDRY, LLP Counsel for Appellant By: April M. Hammett J. Dhu Thompson

          JEAN-PAUL GUIDRY Counsel for Appellee

          Before GARRETT, STEPHENS, and BLEICH (Ad Hoc), JJ.

          BLEICH, J. (AD HOC)

         This appeal is from the trial court's custody judgment that awarded the parties, Tian Vonte Wylie ("Tian") and Emily Michelle Wylie (now Snyder) ("Emily"), joint custody of their minor daughter Samaya ("Maya"). The judgment is based, inter alia, upon the court's findings that Emily had engaged in tactics and behaviors constituting parental alienation that had almost destroyed the father-daughter relationship between Tian and Maya and granted Tian's request to relocate Maya to Florida. The judgment gave primary physical custody and domiciliary status to Tian, ordered that Tian and Maya undergo reunification therapy and, following completion of therapy and counseling specifically dealing with parental alienation issues, awarded Emily specified periods of visitation with Maya. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Tian and Emily were married on July 19, 2005. At the time of the marriage, Emily had three children, one of whom lived with Emily's mother. The other two children lived with Tian and Emily. During the Wylies' marriage, a daughter, Maya, was born on December 10, 2007. Because of an extramarital affair on the part of Emily with the couple's recently widowed neighbor, Tian and Emily separated. Tian filed a petition for divorce on December 22, 2015, and he filed an amended petition on February 18, 2016, seeking a divorce on the grounds of adultery. The parties were divorced on July 1, 2016.

         There were several interim custody orders issued, as well as a series of mental health experts, including a parenting coordinator, appointed by the trial judge. The judge recognized early in this matter the emotional damage and distress the minor child was sustaining, as well as her sudden rejection of any type of relationship with Tian, making a valiant effort to address these issues by having the parties and Maya undergo psychological testing and participate in counseling.

         The hearing for the initial setting of custody was held over three days: July 9, August 31, and September 20, 2018. Because of Tian's move to Florida due to a military assignment, in addition to focusing on the issue of which parent would provide the most stable and suitable home for Maya, the trial court also had to decide a related issue, whether to grant Tian's request that Maya relocate to Florida to live with him. After considering the testimony and documentary evidence, the trial court issued a detailed, most thorough written opinion setting forth its findings on October 22, 2018, and on December 7, 2018, signed a judgment awarding the parties joint custody, with Tian being named domiciliary parent, and granting Tian's request for Maya's relocation.[1] It is from this judgment that Emily has appealed.

         DISCUSSION

         Emily asserts on appeal that the trial court erred in finding that relocation was in the best interest of Maya, thus modifying the custodial arrangement the parties were at the time following under an interim order, which was equal and shared custody, with Emily as primary domiciliary parent and Tian having visitation during the summer and holiday periods.

         A parent seeking to relocate the principal residence of a minor child has the burden of proving that the proposed relocation is in good faith and that the proposed relocation is in the best interest of the child. La. R.S. 9:355.10; Hernandez v. Jenkins, 12-2756 (La. 06/21/13), 122 So.3d 524; Curole v. Curole, 02-1891 (La. 10/15/02), 828 So.2d 1094; Blake v. Morris, 51, 402 (La.App. 2 Cir. 06/30/17), 222 So.3d 1277, writ denied, 17-1334 (La. 09/15/17), 225 So.3d 478. La. R.S. 9:355.14 provides 12 factors that the court must consider in determining whether the proposed relocation is in the best interest of the child as well as other relevant factors. Blake, supra.

         A trial court's determination in a relocation matter is entitled to great weight and will not be overturned on appeal absent a clear showing of abuse of discretion. Gathen v. Gathen, 10-2312 (La. 05/10/11), 66 So.3d 1; Curole, supra. Upon review, the entire record reflects that the trial court properly considered all of the factors mandated by La. R.S. 9:355.14 (formerly designated as La. R.S. 9:355.12). The trial reasonably concluded, based upon the totality of the circumstances, that relocation would be in the child's best interest. Gathen, supra. While La. R.S. 9:355.14 requires consideration of all 12 factors, it does not direct the court to give preferential consideration to any certain factor or factors. Id.; Curole, supra; Payne v. Payne, 41, 049 (La.App. 2 Cir. 05/19/06), 930 So.2d 1181, writ denied, 06-1871 (La. 08/09/06), 935 So.2d 130.

         In the instant case, neither party argued or directly addressed, either at the trial court or appellate level, La. R.S. 9:355.10's requirement that the parent seeking to relocate must prove that the proposed relocation is in "good faith," an inquiry separate and apart from the determination of whether the relocation is in the child's best interest. Jurisprudence has defined the meaning of "good faith" in the context of relocation as a legitimate or valid reason for the move. See, Mathes v. Faucheux, 17-0329 (La.App. 4 Cir. 08/09/17), 226 So.3d 503; McLain v. McLain, 07-0752 (La.App. 4 Cir. 12/12/07), 974 So.2d 726. Legitimate reasons for relocation include: to be close to significant family or other support networks; for significant health reasons; to protect the safety of the child or another member of the child's household from a significant risk of harm; to pursue a significant employment or educational opportunity; or to be with one's spouse (or equivalent) who is established, or is pursuing a significant employment or educational opportunity in another location. Gathen, supra; Mathes, supra; McLain, supra.

         In his "Motion to Authorize Relocation of the Minor Child," Tian asserted that he was being relocated by the U.S. Air Force to Patrick Air Force Base in Brevard County, Florida, at the end of August 2017, and that this relocation was an advancement in his career. He further averred that relocation of Maya would provide her with, inter alia, a positive role model with a successful career, the stability that comes from such a career, and financial benefits. The following testimony by Tian at trial was undisputed:

• Tian moved to Florida in August 2017 after completing officer training school in Alabama. He relocated to Florida then because the time had come where he either had to leave Barksdale or get out of the military.
All of his employment offers were out of state; he had offers in Virginia, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Florida. He decided to stay with the military to have some consistency-that is how he ended up in Florida. The opportunity to become an officer was a good one; he makes more money and can provide more opportunities for Maya.
• Tian's move to Louisiana was never intended to be permanent, but was a temporary assignment with the military.
• Tian stated that neither he nor Emily was a big fan of Barksdale originally; they were concerned about the schools and cultural issues they might face with them being an interracial couple. There has always been a desire to get ...

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