Relocating Children: The One Year Rule
According to Arizona law, parents are required by statute to wait a year before requesting a modification to previously issued order regarding legal decision making and parenting time. In Murray v. Murray, the Arizona Court of Appeals considered the application of this requirement to a parent’s request to relocate with the children when that relocation would affect parenting time or legal decision making for the parents.
A Brief History of the Case: Murray v. Murray
Kamen Rae Murray (Mother) and Sean Noel Patrick Murray (Father) were granted an order awarding both parents joint legal decision making over their children in 2009. The court subsequently issued another order modifying parenting time in January 2014. Pursuant to the modification, Mother and Father continued to share joint legal decision making, but Father’s parenting time was increased to six days every two weeks. A month later, in February 2014, Father learned Mother intended to remarry and relocate with the children to the state of Nebraska. He filed a Motion to Prevent Relocation and Request for Attorney’s Fees and Costs.
The court granted Father’s motion in August 2014 ruling that Mother could not take the children to Nebraska. Mother then filed a Motion for Clarification and/or Motion to Amend Under Advisement Ruling, followed by an Expedited Motion to Allow Petitioner’s Witnesses to Appear Telephonically for Trial and a Motion to Enforce the Parties’ Agreement. Mother’s motions were denied and Father was awarded a portion of his attorney’s fees and costs. Mother appealed the judge’s rulings.
Murray v. Murray on Appeal: The Court of Appeals of Arizona
On appeal, Mother argued the superior court judge erred in his ruling that A.R.S. Section 25-411(A) prevented the relocation of the children less than a year after the modification order issued January 2014. Additional findings of the court were that even were the one year restriction not to apply to the case, Mother did not prove to the court that the relocation of the children would be in their best interests.
The Arizona Court of Appeals reviewed the case to determine if the judge abused his discretion. After review, it found the superior court judge’s application of A.R.S. Section 25-411(A) to the case to prevent Mother’s relocation with the children was correct due to the fact that the one year waiting period to modify the prior legal decision making and parenting time order had not expired. The move would have required that changes be made to the parenting time arrangements already established by the January 2014 order. It was also concluded that the move may have also required a change in legal decision making. Mother’s plan to move with the children to Nebraska, with Father continuing to reside in Arizona, would disrupt Father’s parenting time and impact his ability to participate in shared legal decision making over the children.
Mother also argued that the trial court erred when it denied her motion to enforce an alleged agreement she reached with Father that purportedly allowed her to move with the children to Nebraska. She claimed the parties reached the agreement while Father’s motion to prevent the children’s relocation was pending before the court. Mother presented numerous emails and text messages as evidence of the alleged agreement. Father did not dispute he had agreed to allow the move, but he argued he did not sign any written agreement and, further, that the court should not enforce the alleged agreement because the relocation was not in the children’s best interests. The trial court ruled that the statements in the emails constituted settlement negotiations and were, therefore, not admissible as evidence, pursuant to Rule 408 of the Arizona Rules of Evidence.
Rule 69 of the Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure provide that an agreement between parties is valid and binding if it is in writing or recited by the parties on the record. The Arizona Court of Appeals, therefore, concluded that the trial court’s ruling precluding Mother from presenting evidence of an alleged agreement between the parties in the form of emails and text messages was in error. The appellate court also noted that Rule 408 of the Arizona Rules of Evidence only applied to the use of statements in settlement negotiations used to impeach a witness or prove or disprove the validity of a disputed claim, but not as in this case to prove the existence of a binding settlement agreement between the parties.
The Arizona Court of Appeals also concluded that the trial court’s erred when it made a finding that the move was not be in the children’s best interests without first conducting a trial and hearing evidence on the issue. The Arizona Court of Appeals, therefore, vacated the orders and remanded the case back to the trial court to conduct a trial on the issues.