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Award of sole custody to mother made in error where court fails to determine whether established custodial environment exists

Holding that the trial court erred by entering the custody order without determining whether an ECE existed and without an adequate analysis of the statutory best interest factors, the court reversed the trial court's order and remanded for further proceedings. The trial court granted the plaintiff-mother sole legal and physical custody of the parties' child and set supervised parenting time for the defendant-father. The court concluded that the holding in Rivette is equally applicable to the ECE determination. Both an ECE determination and a best interests analysis are required before the trial court "can modify an existing custody order. The trial court is not only required to ensure that the referee meaningfully considered the best interest factors, but also, that the referee made an established custodial environment determination in order to examine whether the modification of the existing custody order would change that custodial environment, and to set the proper burden of proof in regard to the best interests of the child." The referee here failed to make any findings as to the ECE in addressing plaintiff's motion for sole legal and physical custody and did not set forth any burden of proof. Thus, the trial court erred by entering the final custody order without a determination regarding an ECE "at any point in the proceedings. The failure to make this determination is 'not harmless because the [] determination regarding whether an established custodial environment exists determines the proper burden of proof in regard to the best interests of the children.'" Remand was necessary in order to determine whether an ECE exists, and if so, whether it is "with one parent, both, or neither parent." Further, the "referee failed to make adequate findings and conclusions regarding each best interest factor, and the trial court neither satisfied itself that the referee considered the best interests of the child, nor made its own findings with respect to the best interest factors." Thus, the court remanded the case to the trial court with instructions to make a finding as to the ECE, "determine the applicable burden of proof, weigh the best interest factors, and make a custody determination."

Antenuptial agreement held to be valid and enforceable

The court held that the parties' antenuptial agreement was valid and enforceable, concluding that to invalidate it on the basis of one party's fault would contravene the agreement's clear and unambiguous language, and that as a matter of law, the...

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