Brief Fact Summary. Appellee father was granted custody based upon factors such as appellant mother’s frequent moves, work, attendance at law school, and conception of a second child with a man to whom she was not married. Mother appealed.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The best interests of the child standard requires an inquiry into the direct or probable effect of parental conduct on the physical, mental, emotional, and social development of the child, rather than a determination of which lifestyle choices made by a parent are correct in the judgment of the court.
Issue. Did the court abuse its discretion in granting custody to the appellee?
Held. The trial court abused its discretion by its reliance on an erroneous standard to justify the designation of the residential parent.
Concern for the best interests of the child does not permit a court to judge the rights and lifestyles of parents by nonstatutory codes of moral or social values. Rather, the focus should be a determination of the direct or probable effect of parental conduct on the physical, emotional, and social development of the child.
The error in the trial court’s analysis is apparent from its comparison of the mother’s living situation with the father’s. The record did not support the trial court’s findings that the home, the mother’s work or her school schedule required tremendous adjustment by the child. Additionally, the court questioned the mother’s stability based on her many moves and sudden and complete relationship with her new male companion and the resulting pregnancy. However, the many moves were caused by the father’s refusing upon the advice of counsel to move from the marital residence. In relation to the male companion, there was no evidence that mother’s relationship had an unfavorable effect on the child. The trial court’s ruling constituted a reproval of the mother test, rather than the best interests of the child standard required.
Discussion. The Court found that the trial court judged the mother during the custody hearing rather than judging how the mother’s acts affect her child. This is not compatible with the best interests of the child standard.