In re the Parenting of MC

In re the Parenting of MC, 2015 MT 57 (Feb. 24, 2015) (McKinnon, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: Whether the district court violated mother’s fundamental right to travel by ordering that parties’ minor child should reside in Montana.

Short Answer: No.


Facts: MC was born to Pirkle and Mitchell Collie in Missoula in 2012, and lived there until March 2013 with her parents, who were not married. Pirkle was from Ohio, and moved here to attend the university. She had difficulty finding work after MC was born, and was MC’s primary caregiver.

In March 2013, Pirkle took MC to Ohio to attend a family wedding. After several reasons for not returning, Pirkle told Collie in April 2013 that she and MC were going to stay in Ohio. Collie petitioned the Missoula district court for a parenting plan under which he would be the primary caregiver. In May 2013, he moved for an order that Pirkle return MC to Montana no later than July 2013.

The matter was referred to a standing master, who ordered that Collie buy a plane ticket for Pirkle and MC to return to Missoula, and move out of the family home so that Pirkle could stay there with MC. Pirkle did not return as ordered, and could not be contacted for a telephone hearing.

Pirkle initiated a parenting plan action in Ohio and moved the Montana district court to cede jurisdiction to Ohio. The Ohio court dismissed for lack of jurisdiction and the Montana court denied Pirkle’s motion to cede jurisdiction.

The district court held a hearing on establishing a parenting plan in February 2014. Pirkle proposed to live in Ohio as MC’s primary caregiver, with the parties sharing the costs of visitation for Collie. Collie did not object to Pirkle being the primary caregiver if she lived in Montana, but said that if she lived in Ohio, he believed MC should live with him in Montana.

Procedural Posture & Holding: The district court entered FOF/COLs weighing the best interests of the child and finding most did not strongly favor one parent over the other. The court found that Pirkle had made no active effort to foster a relationship between MC and Collie. It held that it was in MC’s best interest to live in Montana, and said Pirkle could choose to stay in Ohio or move back to Montana. Pirkle appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: The district court found that Pirkle had interfered in Collie’s ability to remain involved in MC’s life after her move to Ohio by not exchanging photos, not talking to MC about her father, and refusing to travel to Montana with MC even when such travel was court-ordered and paid for. This is the kind of “case-specific proof” required to show that interstate travel is not in a child’s best interest. A parent’s decision to move may be against the best interests of a child if her decision “exemplifies a ‘willful and consistent’ attempt to frustrate or deny” contact between the child and her other parent.