Faced with evidence of the plaintiff-mother’s dysfunctional relationship with her parents, the trial court should have made, but did not make, findings as to more of the factors set out in Ramirez-Barker v. Barker, 107 N.C. App. 71, 418 S.E.2d 675 (1992), before approving the mother’s and children’s relocation to Indiana to live with the mother’s parents.
We vacate the trial court’s custody order and remand for entry of a new order consistent with this opinion.
The trial court heard evidence that the plaintiff-mother had suffered from mental health issues since adolescence, stemming from what plaintiff characterized as an abusive, disciplinarian upbringing by her religious fundamentalist parents. Plaintiff ceased all contact with her parents shortly after the birth of the parties’ first child in 2014, in part due to plaintiff’s resentment about her own upbringing and concerns with how her parents’ religious beliefs would conflict with the worldview under which the parties planned to raise their own children.
Nonetheless, amid increasing marital strife and a desire to separate from the defendant-father, plaintiff reinitiated contact with her family and moved herself and the children to her parents’ home in Indiana. The trial court awarded primary physical custody to plaintiff and permitted the move to Indiana.
Ramirez-Barker lists several factors that should be considered in a child custody relocation case. Despite receiving evidence relating to those factors, the trial court merely recites several of those factors without engaging in any substantive analysis.
For example, the trial court found that the distance between Indiana and North Carolina would require visits with defendant during seasonal school breaks and holidays. However, the court omitted any consideration of how such a visitation schedule would preserve and foster the children’s relationship with defendant or serve their best interests.
The court also found that defendant opposed the relocation of the children. Rather than assessing the integrity of his opposition, the trial court instead chose to downplay his opposition by finding that he unreasonably failed to acknowledge his role in the failure of the marriage. A party’s fault for the failure of the marriage is not an appropriate consideration in determining whether relocation would be in the best interests of the children.
Given the cursory manner in which the trial court addressed the Ramirez-Barker factors and its failure to otherwise note how relocation of the children would be in their best interests, its conclusion of law rests upon its finding of an advantage in the family support network in Indiana. This finding alone cannot carry the weight of the custody order.
Even if this finding were sufficient, it is undermined by unresolved contradictions with several other findings in the order. The trial court found that the children “appear to have long standing relationships with their extended family members, with the exception of a three year period of time that ended a few weeks prior to the parties’ separation.” However, the children were only ages four and one at the time of the hearing. We find no competent evidence would support this determination.
As to plaintiff’s writings about her physical, verbal, and emotional abuse at the hands of her parents, the trial court noted that these writings were her way of “venting.” Yet notably absent from the order is any indication as to whether the trial court believed the accounts of abuse. Other than their availability to provide transportation and supervision of the children if plaintiff secures employment in Indiana, the trial court does not make any findings indicating that contact with plaintiff’s parents would be beneficial to the children.
Moreover, the trial court found that plaintiff’s mental health issues are partially caused by the burden of being the children’s primary caregiver, yet it failed to explain how these issues would not be exacerbated by awarding her primary custody of the children and placing them in daily contact with her parents, which whom she had a dysfunctional relationship at best.
The trial court’s findings do not support its conclusion that granting plaintiff primary physical custody and permitting relocation to Indiana would be in the children’s best interests.
Vacated and remanded.
Tuel v. Tuel (Lawyers Weekly No. 011-083-20, 13 pp.) (John Arrowood, J.) Appealed from Johnston County District Court (Addie Rawls, J.) No appearance for plaintiff; Evan Horwitz and Jeffrey Russell for defendant. N.C. App.