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Involved Father Gets "Credit" in Determination of Established Custodial Environment

In Landon v Sheldon, a paternity case decided by the Court of Appeals on December 21, 2010, the trial court found that an established custodial environment existed solely with defendant mother. The COA disagreed and reversed the trial court's award of sole custody to mom.

The COA faulted the trial court's finding that the ECE existed solely with mother because it had failed to consider the significant amount of time the child had also spent with dad. In this case, mom relied heavily on the fact that the minor child had been with her "full time" as a result of a temporary custody order entered by the trial court (which, ironically, changed the custodial environment because the child had split time with the parents before the court entered a "standard" parenting time order). The trial court ignored dad's involvement with the child prior to entry of the temporary order, and gave short-shrift to the fact that dad continued to be as involved with the child as the temporary order allowed. The COA found this to be error and gave dad "credit" for his involvement, finding that the minor child looked to both parents for parental guidance, discipline and love. Ultimately, the Court of Appeals held that a custodial environment existed with both parents and that the trial court was not permitted to alter that arrangement absent clear and convincing evidence. Being an involved parent can pay off in more ways than one.

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