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Carranza v. Carranza

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

June 5, 2019

KEITH CARRANZA
v.
ANDREA C. CARRANZA

          APPEAL FROM THE THIRTIETH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF VERNON, NO. 92,890 A HONORABLE TONY A. BENNETT, DISTRICT JUDGE

          Walter M. Sanchez Tony C. Fazzio The Sanchez Law Firm, L.L.C. COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT: Andrea C. Carranza

          Terry W. Lambright Lambright Law Firm COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE: Keith Carranza

          Court composed of John D. Saunders, Elizabeth A. Pickett, and Van H. Kyzar, Judges.

          VAN H. KYZAR JUDGE

         The mother, Andrea C. Carranza, appeals from a trial court judgment denying her request to relocate her minor children to the State of Washington. For the following reasons, we reverse in part and render, affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand for further proceedings.

         DISCUSSION OF THE RECORD

         Keith Carranza and Andrea C. Carranza were married in Leesville, Vernon Parish, Louisiana on April 20, 2012. Two children were born of the marriage, Laila, born September 7, 2013, and Lilia, born September 18, 2015. Both parties are enlisted in the United States Army and were stationed at Fort Polk at the time of their marriage. At some point, their duty station was changed to Germany, where both of their children were born. They were then transferred back to Fort Polk in January 2016. The parents were divorced pursuant to an August 3, 2017 judgment of divorce.

         Following an October 11, 2017 custody hearing, the trial court rendered a judgment on October 18, 2017, finding that it was in the best interests of the minor children that the parents be awarded joint custody and that the mother be designated the domiciliary parent. The trial court noted that because Ms. Carranza was to be transferred to Fort Lewis, Washington at some point before August 2018, it declined to rule on a custody plan. It stated, "That would be more appropriately dealt with closer in time to that move."[1]

         On March 21,2017, Ms. Carranza filed a petition seeking to relocate the minor children's residence from Fort Polk to Fort Lewis. Attached to her petition was a copy of her January 27, 2018 certified letter to Mr. Carranza, notifying him of her intent to relocate the children's primary residence to Fort Lewis, effective May 11, 2018, and a copy of Mr. Carranza's February 26, 2018 objection to the relocation. Mr. Carranza filed a motion to prevent the relocation and, alternatively, a motion to change custody, with him being designated the children's domiciliary parent.

         Following a May 10, 2018 hearing, the trial court rendered a written ruling on June 1, 2018, finding that Ms. Carranza's request to relocate was not made in good faith and that it was not in the best interests of the children. The trial court further held that Mr. Carranza failed to prove that a material change in circumstances warranted him being named the domiciliary parent. However, it stated that in the event that Ms. Carranza transferred to Fort Lewis, Mr. Carranza would have the legal authority to make all decisions regarding educational and medical matters pertaining to the children. The implementation plan contained in the judgment stated that the children would primarily reside with Mr. Carranza in Vernon Parish, with Ms. Carranza granted summer visitation. A written judgment was rendered in this matter on July 26, 2018. It is from this judgment that Ms. Carranza appeals.

         On appeal, Ms. Carranza raises three assignments of error:

1. The trial court incorrectly ruled that Andrea Carranza's relocation was not in good faith.
2. The trial court erred when it failed to apply the Bergeron standard to its analysis of the best interest of the child factors for the relocation of the residence of the minor children.
3. The trial court incorrectly ruled that while maintaining Andrea Carranza as the domiciliary parent of the minor children that their primary residence would be with the non-domiciliary parent, as well as, giving him decision making authority of educational and medical decisions.

         OPINION

         The matter before us lies squarely within the juxtaposition of the burden of proof required for a change of custody and that required for relocation of the children to another state by a parent with domiciliary custody, when both parents are active-duty soldiers with the United States Army. Here, Ms. Carranza was the domiciliary parent of the minor children by virtue of an October 18, 2017 judgment, which was granted after the trial court took into consideration the fact that she was being transferred to Fort Lewis. Upon the issuance of her transfer orders, Ms. Carranza notified Mr. Carranza of her intent to relocate the children, to which he objected. He further objected to the relocation after Ms. Carranza filed her petition to relocate in the trial court. In addition to objecting to the relocation, Mr. Carranza moved for a change in custody, requesting that he be designated the domiciliary parent.

         "A parent proposing relocation has the burden of proof that the proposed relocation is made in good faith and in the best interest of the child." La.R.S. 9:355.10. In determining whether relocation is in the best interest of the child, a trial court considers the following relevant factors set out in La.R.S. 9:355.14:

(1)The nature, quality, extent of involvement, and duration of the relationship of the child with the person proposing relocation and with the non-relocating person, siblings, and other significant persons in the child's life.
(2) The age, developmental stage, needs of the child, and the likely impact the relocation will have on the child's physical, educational, and emotional development.
(3)The feasibility of preserving a good relationship between the non-relocating person and the child through suitable physical custody or visitation arrangements, considering the logistics and financial circumstances of the parties.
(4)The child's views about the proposed relocation, taking into consideration the age and maturity of the child.
(5) Whether there is an established pattern of conduct by either the person seeking or the person opposing the relocation, either to promote or thwart the relationship of the child and the other party.
(6)How the relocation of the child will affect the general quality of life for the child, including but not limited to financial or emotional benefit and educational opportunity.
(7) The reasons of each person for seeking or opposing the relocation.
(8)The current employment and economic circumstances of each person and how the proposed relocation may affect the circumstances of the child.
(9) The extent to which the objecting person has fulfilled his financial obligations to the person seeking relocation, including child support, spousal support, and community property, and alimentary obligations.
(10)The feasibility of a relocation by the objecting person.
(11)Any history of substance abuse, harassment, or violence by either the person seeking or the person opposing relocation, including a consideration of the severity of the conduct and the failure ...

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