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Jarrett v. Jarrett





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. MARION E. BURKS, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied November 1, 1978.

This is an appeal by the plaintiff, Jacqueline Jarrett, from an order of the trial court awarding a change of custody to the defendant, Walter Jarrett, pursuant to his petition. The issue presented for review is whether there was a change of circumstances detrimentally affecting the welfare of the minor children which warranted a change of custody.

On December 6, 1976, the plaintiff was awarded a judgment for divorce on the grounds of extreme and repeated mental cruelty. Pursuant to the judgment order and property settlement agreement, the plaintiff, having been found to be a fit and proper person, was granted sole care, custody, control and education of the three daughters of the couple, then aged 12, 10 and 7. The defendant was granted visitation rights "at all reasonable times."

In April 1977, Jacqueline informed Walter that Wayne Hammon would be moving into the family home where she and the children lived. Walter protested this arrangement, but Hammon moved into the residence on May 1, 1977.

Walter subsequently filed a petition for change of custody, and, on July 12, 1977, a post-decree hearing was held. At the hearing, testimony showed that since the divorce, Walter had visited with the children every weekend, usually picking them up every Saturday evening, taking them to church, and then preparing their dinner. The girls would stay overnight and spend all day Sunday with him, returning home at about 5 p.m. The children are being raised in the Roman Catholic religion, and Jacqueline takes the children to religious instruction on Saturdays.

Walter testified that Jacqueline's living arrangement was contrary to his own personal beliefs and that he would not want his children to be raised in that atmosphere. He stated that he believed it was an improper moral climate and that he had certain ideals which he would like to be able to instill in his children. He further testified that when he picks the children up at Jacqueline's home every weekend, they have always been clean, healthy, well dressed and well nourished. He stated that he had spoken with his oldest daughter, Kathleen, about Hammon and the living arrangement, and she expressed no serious objections, except that occasionally he would yell at them when they made noise or something of that nature.

Wayne Hammon testified that the children refer to him as Wayne, and that he disciplines the children verbally from time to time. He and Jacqueline had discussed their situation with the children from time to time in terms of different people having different beliefs and that their father felt one way about it while they felt another, and that what mattered was that they loved each other. Hammon was acquainted with the neighbors, and had attended school functions with the children. He and the children had fun together and seemed to get along. He paid the children their allowances out of his money.

Jacqueline Jarrett testified that the children have lived in the present family home in Mount Prospect all their lives. She and her neighbor alternate driving her oldest daughter to school before 8:30, when Jacqueline leaves for work. The two younger girls, who do not have to be in school until 9 o'clock, can walk to school without having to cross a street. When the children are not in school, she has a part-time sitter who stays with the children until Hammon gets home. The children are very fond of Hammon and show him affection, although when they first learned that he would be moving in, they were not "overly enthused about it." They asked if they were going to get married, and Jacqueline told them she did not know. She explained to the children that some people think it is wrong for two people to live together without a marriage license, but that such was not her feeling. She testified that she did not want to get married at that time because it was too soon after the divorce, that she did not believe a marriage license "makes a relationship," that the divorce judgment provides that upon remarriage she must sell the house within six months and the children did not want to move, and that she could not afford it on her present salary. Hammon helps the children with their homework, and they go to shows, play games and participate in other activities as a family unit. Jacqueline stated that the love she and Hammon feel for each other very definitely manifested itself to the children and that her children were developing their own sets of values as individuals and not as duplicates of herself.

The trial court granted the defendant's petition, stating that it was "necessary for the moral and spiritual well-being and development" of the children that they reside with the defendant rather than the plaintiff and on July 19, 1977, the amended judgment order was entered granting Walter custody of the three children. Jacqueline's petition for a rehearing and motion for a stay pending appeal were denied. The sole issue presented for review is whether the fact that an unmarried male moved into the family residence with Jacqueline and her children constituted a change of circumstances which so detrimentally affected the welfare of the children that it was in their best interests to require a change in custody.

• 1, 2 It is well settled in Illinois that a judgment for divorce cannot be modified or amended unless there has been a material change of circumstances since its entry. (Jacobs v. Jacobs (1974), 25 Ill. App.3d 175, 177, 323 N.E.2d 21, Taylor v. Taylor (1961), 32 Ill. App.2d 45, 48, 176 N.E.2d 640.) Every presumption is indulged in favor of the validity of the judgment, and if its provisions are to be changed, the burden of proof is on the moving party to show why the change should be made. (Jacobs, at 170; Eggemeyer v. Eggemeyer (1967), 86 Ill. App.2d 224, 230, 229 N.E.2d 144; Abbott v. Abbott (1976), 40 Ill. App.3d 348, 350, 352 N.E.2d 404.) The evidence must establish that the parent to whom custody of the children was originally awarded is unfit to retain custody or that a change of conditions makes a change of custody in their best interests. Vanderlaan v. Vanderlaan (1972), 9 Ill. App.3d 260, 264, 292 N.E.2d 145; Stickler v. Stickler (1962), 38 Ill. App.2d 191, 186 N.E.2d 542.

In all matters concerning the custody of children, the paramount issue is their welfare. The fact of changed conditions, in itself, is not sufficient to warrant modification of the custody provisions of the decree absent a finding that such changed conditions affect the welfare of the children. (Eggemeyer, at 231; Jacobs, at 178; Arden v. Arden (1960), 25 Ill. App.2d 181, 186, 166 N.E.2d 111; Garland v. Garland (1974), 19 Ill. App.3d 951, 954, 312 N.E.2d 811.)

"`In determining whether there have been changed conditions the court must keep in view primarily the welfare of the child. The custody of the child is not awarded for the purpose of gratifying the feelings of either parent or with any idea of punishing or rewarding either parent." Hamilton v. Anderson, 176 Ark. 76, 2 S.W.2d 673." Maupin v. Maupin (1950), 339 Ill. App. 484, 489, 90 N.E.2d 234; Wade v. Wade (1951), 345 Ill. App. 170, 180, 102 N.E.2d 356; Arden, at 186.

While the trial court has broad discretion in such cases, such discretion is not unlimited but is subject to review and will be reversed if exercised in a manner contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. (Eaton v. Eaton (1977), 50 Ill. App.3d 306, 310, 365 N.E.2d 647; Comiskey v. Comiskey (1977), 48 Ill. App.3d 17, 24, 366 N.E.2d 87.) Since the children and the parents are entitled to a certain degree of finality and conclusiveness when an order of custody is entered (Collings v. Collings (1970), 120 Ill. App.2d 125, 128, 256 N.E.2d 108), the person seeking a change of custody must ...

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