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Day v. Barnes

Court of Appeals of Utah

July 27, 2018

Macaela Day, Appellant and Cross-appellee,
v.
Tyler Barnes, Appellee and Cross-appellant.

          Second District Court, Farmington Department The Honorable David M. Connors No. 134700668

          Theodore R. Weckel Jr., Attorney for Appellant and Cross-appellee

          Eric B. Barnes and Jason F. Barnes, Attorneys for Appellee and Cross-appellant

          Judge David N. Mortensen authored this Opinion, in which Judges Michele M. Christiansen and Ryan M. Harris concurred.

          MORTENSEN, JUDGE

         ¶1 Macaela Day and Tyler Barnes are mother and father to Child. Child was born in 2010, when Day was about fifteen and Barnes was about seventeen. Day and Barnes have struggled over custody for most of Child's life. In this iteration of that struggle, both parties contend that the district court erred.

         ¶2 Day appeals the district court's custody determination on her motion to relocate, which the parties first argued before a commissioner. Because we conclude that the district court applied the wrong standard in making its findings and conclusions, we vacate the district court's order and remand for further proceedings.

         ¶3 Barnes appeals the district court's order, alleging that the order establishes an automatic future modification to the custody order upon Day's decision to relocate. We conclude that the order does not operate as Barnes alleges.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶4 We join the parties' custody saga at a moment of apparent, though short-lived, agreement. In April 2013, the parties stipulated-and a Massachusetts court accepted-that Barnes, who lived in Utah, would be awarded temporary custody of Child, with standard parent time for Day, who lived in Massachusetts. Just under one month later, Day filed a petition in Utah, requesting that Utah courts assume jurisdiction of the case and award custody to her. The district court assumed jurisdiction of the case and ultimately denied Day's motion for custody. In so doing, the court kept the temporary custody agreement in place, awarding Barnes primary physical custody of Child should Day remain in Massachusetts, but awarding the parties shared custody should Day relocate to Utah.

         ¶5 Day continued to reside in Massachusetts, although she also periodically lived in Utah for months at a time. Day filed another motion to modify temporary custody, which the court denied. As the case progressed toward trial, the parties reached another stipulation, providing that, should Day move back to Utah, Day would be designated as Child's primary caregiver and that she would have final decision-making authority under a joint legal and physical custody framework.

         ¶6 In July 2015, Day moved to Utah. However, in September 2015, Day provided notice of her intent to relocate back to Massachusetts. When Barnes opposed the relocation, Day filed a motion to relocate.

         ¶7 A hearing on Day's motion to relocate was held before a commissioner. As per usual procedure, the commissioner entertained oral argument but did not take evidence. The commissioner recommended denial of the motion. Day objected to the commissioner's recommendation and the district court held an evidentiary hearing. The district court overruled Day's objection to the commissioner's recommendation and denied her motion. In its ruling, the district court concluded that "[a] party objecting to the Commissioner's recommendation has the burden of demonstrating that the Commissioner's recommendation is incorrect." The court found that Day had "not presented new circumstances that the [c]ourt did not already consider in its [previous custody determination], except for evidence that she is now in a serious relationship with a boyfriend and has plans to be married in the future."

         ¶8 The court concluded that Day "has not carried her burden of demonstrating that the Commissioner's recommendations were incorrect and that moving the child to Massachusetts would be in the child's best interest" because "[t]he new evidence presented related to [Day's] blossoming relationship with her new boyfriend is not ...


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