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FAMILY LAW 51: Defendant-father’s motion for a change of custody and parenting time was not granted in error because all of the trial court’s findings of fact were not against the great weight of the evidence.


Plaintiff and defendant have three children together—ET, KT, and CT.  Plaintiff and defendant’s relationship ended in 2013.  Following the end of their relationship, the trial court entered a consent order for custody granting plaintiff and defendant joint legal custody of the three children and defendant parenting time three weekends a month and every Wednesday night.

In 2018, defendant filed an emergency motion for change of custody and modification of parenting time due to ET feeling suicidal after being sexually assaulted,  due to Plaintiff and the three minor children having been removed from their home, and due to concerns over Plaintiff’s mental health.

The trial court granted defendant’s motion, ordering that defendant have primary physical custody of KT and CT, ET live with Plaintiff’s mother, and plaintiff and defendant continue to share legal custody.  This appeal follows.


Plaintiff argues that the trial court erred in granting defendant primary custody of KT and CT.  We disagree.

All custody orders must be affirmed on appeal unless the circuit court’s findings were against the great weight of the evidence, the circuit court committed a palpable abuse of discretion, or the circuit court made a clear legal error on a major issue.

Furthermore, a court may not modify or amend a previous judgment or issue a new custody order that changes a child’s established custodial environment unless there is presented clear and convincing evidence that it is in the best interest of the child.   An established custodial environment exists if over an appreciable time the child naturally looks to the custodian in that environment for guidance, discipline, the necessities of life, and parental comfort.  In the trial court, defendant conceded that the children had an established custodial environment with plaintiff, and that concession is not challenged on appeal.  Thus, the only issue before this Court is whether the trial court properly found, by clear and convincing evidence, that it was in the best interests of KT and CT to change custody.   In making a custody determination, a trial court is required to evaluate the best interests of the children under the 12 statutorily enumerated factors. This Court “defer[s] to the trial court’s credibility determinations, and the trial court has discretion to accord differing weight to the best-interest factors.

The appellate court reviewed the lower court’s findings on all the best interest factors and determined that none of them were against the great weight of the evidence.


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