Watt v. Watt

In Watt v. Watt, 971 P.2d 608 (Wyo. 1999) the Court considered the constitutional implications of a custodial parent's relocation. The mother had been awarded primary custody of the parties' children. The divorce decree provided for an automatic change of custody to the father if the mother were to move more than 50 miles from their town of residence. The mother, seeking to attend graduate school, asked the distric tcourt to allow her to move more than 50 miles. The district court acknowledged that the automatic change clause was improper. Nevertheless, after a hearing, the court ordered a change of custody. Id. at 611-12. After noting that there was a constitutional right to travel under the federal and Wyoming constitutions and that there were inherent inequities in allowing a non-custodial parent but not the custodial parent to relocate without restraint, the Court held: "In light of our prior cases, and our concern for the protection of constitutional liberties of the citizens of the State of Wyoming, we hold that an intrastate relocation by a custodial parent, taking the children along, cannot by itself be considered a change in circumstanc essufficiently substantial and material to justify reopening the question of custody. This precept also applies to factors that are derivative of the relocation. The custodial parent's right to move with the children is constitutionally protected, and a court may not order a change in custody based upon that circumstance alone. Some other change of circumstances, together with clear evidence of the detrimental effect of the other change upon the children is required. Such a circumstance necessarily would have to be sufficiently deleterious to the welfare of the children that by itself would serve as a substantial and material change in circumstances even in the absence of a relocation." (Watt, 971 P.2d at 616-17.) The Court reversed the district court's order changing custody but added that relocation could be the basis for modifying visitation, if not custody. Id. at 617.