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In re Marriage of Carney

Supreme Court of California
598 P.2d 36 (Cal. 1979)


William Carney (plaintiff) and his wife, Ellen Carney (defendant), separated shortly after they had two children. By written agreement, Ellen relinquished custody of the children to William, who moved from New York to California. After the move, Ellen had no contact with the children other than telephone calls and letters. In California, William, his new partner, and the children all lived together as a family unit in a stable and loving environment. Several years later, William was injured in an accident that left him a quadriplegic and confined to a wheelchair. William purchased a van that was fitted with a wheelchair lift and hand controls to permit him to drive. Subsequently, William filed for divorce from Ellen. Ellen immediately moved for a transfer of custody of the children, claiming that William could not properly care for the children due to his handicap. The trial court agreed that the change in circumstances justified the removal of the children from William’s custody, granted the divorce, and ordered the children to move back to New York under Ellen’s custody. The trial judge noted that William could not play sports or go fishing with his children and thus could not have the type of normal relationship with his children that was enjoyed by non-handicapped fathers. William appealed.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Mosk, J.)

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