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Ravin v. Spears

Supreme Court of Delaware

December 30, 2019

CALEB RAVIN, [1] Petitioner, Appellant,
v.
LYNN SPEARS, Respondent, Appellee.

          Submitted: October 25, 209

          Court Below-Family Court of the State of Delaware File No. CN12-06874, Petition No. 18-14759

          Before VALIHURA, VAUGHN, and TRAYNOR, Justices.

          ORDER

          KAREN L. VALIHURA, JUSTICE

         After consideration of the parties' briefs and the record on appeal, it appears to the Court that:

         (1) The appellant, Caleb Ravin ("the Father"), filed this appeal from a Family Court order granting the parties' joint custody of their son, granting the appellee, Lynn Spears ("the Mother"), primary placement of the son with the Father having visitation, and granting the Mother's motion for permission to relocate to Georgia. We affirm the Family Court's judgment.

         (2) The parties are the parents of a son born in 2009 ("the Child"). They had a tumultuous relationship, moving back and forth between Delaware and Georgia from 2008 through 2012. Beginning in 2012, they both stayed in Delaware. In June 2013, the parties entered into a custody consent order. They agreed on joint custody with the Mother having primary residential placement. Under the consent order, the Father had visitation every weekend with the parties agreeing to increase contact during the week depending on the Father's work schedule.

         (3) On May 17, 2018, the Father filed a petition to modify custody. In the petition, the Father opposed the Mother's plans to move to Georgia with the Child at the end of the school year and asked that the Child live primarily with him. In her answer to the petition, the Mother admitted that she wished to move to Georgia with the Child. She did not file a motion for permission to relocate to Georgia.

         (4) On October 29, 2018, the Family Court held a hearing on the Father's petition. Both the Father and the Mother testified about the Mother's desire to move to Georgia. The Family Court noted that the Mother had not filed a petition for relocation. On December 11, 2018, the Mother filed a motion for permission to move to Georgia. She attached a job offer from a Georgia employer that paid more and offered more regular hours than her Delaware job.

         (5) On December 13, 2018, the Family Court issued its decision. After weighing the best interest factors under 13 Del. C. § 722 and the factors set forth in the Model Relocation Act, the Family Court awarded the parties joint custody of the Child, granted the Mother primary residential placement, and allowed the Mother to move to Georgia. The Father was granted visitation that included summers, winter and spring breaks, and one weekend a month. This appeal followed. The Father filed a motion for an emergency ex parte order in the Family Court to prevent the Mother from moving to Georgia with the Child. The Family Court denied the motion.

         (6) This Court's review of a Family Court decision includes a review of both the law and the facts.[2] Conclusions of law are reviewed de novo.[3] The Family Court's factual findings will not be disturbed on appeal if they are supported by the record and are the product of an orderly and logical deductive process.[4]

         (7) Under Delaware law, the Family Court must determine legal custody and residential arrangements for a child in accordance with the best interests of the child. The criteria for determining the best interests of a child are set forth in 13 Del. C. § 722.[5] When considering a petition for relocation, the Family Court may consider-in addition to the required § 722 factors-the factors set forth in the Model Relocation Act.[6]

         (8) On appeal, the Father first argues that the Family Court erred by granting the Mother's motion to relocate without giving the Father an opportunity to file a responsive pleading or argue against relocation. The record below does not support this argument. It is true that the Mother did not file a motion for permission to relocate until after the October 2018 hearing, but the Father raised the Mother's desire to relocate in his petition to modify custody. On the first page of the petition, the Father stated that he did not want the Mother to take the Child to Georgia as she wished to do. The Father then explained why the Child should stay with him in Delaware. In her answer to the Father's petition, the Mother admitted that she wished to move to Georgia with the Child.

         (9) At the October 2018 hearing, the Family Court noted that the Mother had not filed a petition for relocation when the subject of a move to Georgia came up. The Family Court proceeded to hear testimony about why the Mother wished to move to Georgia, the parties' connections to Delaware and Georgia, and the Mother's proposal (which the Father received before filing his petition) for the Father's visitation with the Child if she was allowed to move to Georgia. The Family Court questioned the Father about the Mother's statements and gave him the opportunity to respond to her testimony. The only new evidence that the Mother offered in her December 2018 motion to relocate was documentation of the ...


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