District Court, Farmington Department The Honorable David M.
Connors No. 134700668
Theodore R. Weckel Jr., Attorney for Appellant and
B. Barnes and Jason F. Barnes, Attorneys for Appellee and
David N. Mortensen authored this Opinion, in which Judges
Michele M. Christiansen and Ryan M. Harris concurred.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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 ...