In re S.W.B.S.

432 P.3d 709 (2019)

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In re S.W.B.S.

Montana Supreme Court
432 P.3d 709 (2019)

Facts

SWBS (the child) was born to Michala Berube and Bryan Sinram, who never married. In 2015, when the child was two years old, the trial court approved the parties’ parenting plan, which provided that the child would spend four days per week with Berube and three days per week with Sinram. The plan required the parties to make joint decisions concerning the child’s education and healthcare. If the parties could not agree on those decisions, the plan required them to first make a good-faith effort to resolve the disagreement using the dispute-resolution process before asking the court to resolve the matter. The plan also included a modification provision providing that the child’s schedule would be reviewed and modified as necessary in the event of a significant change in circumstances or when the child began kindergarten. After approval of the plan, Berube and Sinram disagreed over numerous matters. In 2017, after an unsuccessful mediation attempt, Sinram filed a motion to permit school enrollment, modify child support, and amend the parenting plan. Sinram requested a modified residential schedule in anticipation of the child’s enrollment in kindergarten the following school year. The trial court granted Sinram’s request to vaccinate the child, denied Sinram’s request to enroll the child in preschool, and determined that, upon enrollment in kindergarten, the child should begin residing primarily with Sinram during the school year, subject to liberal visitation with Berube. The court found that Sinram’s home was more child-centered, stable, and structured, and that Sinram was better equipped to support the child’s academic success. In its order, the trial court cited the Montana statute governing modifications to parenting plans, which required the court to find both that the child’s circumstances had changed, and that the modification was in the child’s best interest. However, rather than finding that the child’s circumstances had changed, the trial court justified the modification by relying on the parenting plan’s modification provision. Berube appealed the trial court’s decision.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (McKinnon, J.)

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