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In Wyoming, the fundamental consideration in determining child custody should be the best interests of the children. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 20-2-201(a) (2017). The Supreme Court of Wyoming holds there is no presumption that shared custody is contrary to the best interests of the children and shared custody should be considered on an equal footing with other forms of custody.
The appellant, Holly Lane Bruegman (Mother), filed for divorce from the appellee, Colton Paul Bruegman (Father). After an evidentiary hearing on temporary custody, visitation, and child support, the district court ordered the parties to share legal and physical custody of their minor child pending a final hearing and required Father to pay temporary child support. The district court also, on its own motion, bifurcated the proceedings by entering a decree of divorce dissolving the marriage and leaving all remaining matters for a future order. After a full bench trial, the district court issued a final decision on custody, visitation, support, and property distribution granting the parties shared legal and physical custody of the minor child until he enters kindergarten, and granting primary physical custody to Father with visitation for Mother after that. The Mother appealed, claiming that the district court should not have ordered shared custody and should have awarded her primary physical custody.
Did the district court err in awarding shared legal and physical custody of the minor child?
The Court held that under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 20-2-201(a) (2017), the fundamental consideration in determining child custody was the best interests of the children, there was no presumption that shared custody was contrary to the best interests of the children, and thus, shared custody should be considered on an equal footing with other custody forms. In this case, a determination that shared custody was in the child's best interests was affirmed where the district court considered the child's developmental needs, and the record was replete with instances of the parties' cooperating and sharing time with the child. A shift from shared custody to primary physical custody with the father and visitation with the mother when the child entered school was appropriate where the only thing the district court has assumed was that the child's age would change. Thus, the primary custody determination was affirmed.