Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
AS 25.20.110(a) provides that an award of custody of a child or visitation with the child may be modified if a court determines that a change in circumstances requires the modification of the award and the modification is in the best interests of the child. A party moving for custody modification has the burden to establish that a substantial change has occurred. The required change in circumstance must be significant or substantial, and must be demonstrated relative to the facts and circumstances that existed at the time of a prior custody order that the party seeks to modify. Once the court has found such a change, the court must then determine whether modification of the arrangement is in the best interests of the child.
Appellant Kristen L. and appellee Benjamin W., were divorced. Under the terms of their custody agreement, they shared legal custody of their two sons. Both parties were aware before the divorce that their younger child engaged in feminine behaviors. They apparently assumed the child was going through a "phase," although they had differing views — appellee was more accepting of the child's behavior than appellant. Appellee noticed that the younger child had bruises and was told that it was because of appellant and her husband. Appellee filed a motion to modify custody based on his concerns about physical and emotional abuse of the children while with the appellant. After the hearing, the superior court concluded that there had been a substantial change of circumstances affecting the children because of appellant’s domestic violence and inability to deal with her child's transgender issue. The court determined that a custody change was warranted under two different analyses.
Did the superior court err in concluding there had been a substantial change of circumstances warranting a custody modification?
No. The judgment was affirmed.
The court held that it was not error to find a substantial change of circumstances affecting the parties' children warranted considering the children's best interests for a possible custody modification because the trial court found appellant mother committed domestic violence against a child and was unable to deal with a child's transgender issue and made specific findings of fact about witness credibility and weighed testimony accordingly. The court further held that the trial court's custody modification did not err because its weighing of statutory best interest factors was uncontested, nor was its decision to restrict the appellant mother to supervised visitation, subject to revision upon completion of specified domestic violence and parenting classes, and the trial court's decision was supported by necessary findings and included a means by which the mother could regain unsupervised visitation.