L was born in 2009. Her parents never married, and both were members of
the military. Less than a year after she was born, Father left the military
and moved into Mother’s home in the San Francisco Bay area and began
attending graduate school. Mother remained in the military, but attended,
and later graduated, from law school. During this time, Mother’s
family (also living in the Bay area) helped care for L while L’s
parents attended school.
After both parents graduated, Father found a job in the Bay area, and Mother
was posted in Georgia. Father and Mother agreed to a temporary custody
arrangement with Father, while they worked on a permanent agreement.
In February of 2013, Father filed a petition in Superior Court to obtain
full custody of L. (At the time L would have been four years old.) After
a three-day hearing Judge D granted joint custody to Father and Mother
with L spending the school year with Father and the summer months with
Mother. Judge D noted that Mother was able to spend other days during
the year in the Bay area with L because of her military schedule and that
she was able to stay with her family members to visit with L. Father did
not have the same access to vacation time nor living quarters if L lived
with Mother. Judge D noted that Mother’s family in the Bay area
would also be able to help support L, and that Mother’s career in
the military would cause her to move in many places while Father’s
job location was static.
In 2015, Mother filed a request for modification of Judge D’s decision,
because her parents had moved to Virginia and she had secured a position
in Washington DC. Her posting was expected to be effective for five or
six years. (To obtain a modification [change in a custody order], the
requestor must show that there has been a significant change in circumstances
to warrant a change in custody.) (In 2015, L would have been six years
old and a full time elementary student.)
The modification was heard by Judge G. Judge G determined that there were
no changes in circumstances that would warrant a change in custody, and
denied Mother’s request.
The Appellate Court agreed with Judge G, stating that there was no rule
that says one judge must always follow the reasoning of another judge.
Although there were changes in circumstances, nothing in those changes
“…claimed by Mother caused school year custody with her,
rather than Father, to be a clearly preferable situation in furthering
L.’s best interests. After the relocation, Mother continued to have
family members available in the Bay Area to assist her visitation there,
while Father had no comparable family or friends in Virginia.”