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In re Marriage of Ricketts

April 25, 2002

IN RE MARRIAGE OF EDWARD T. RICKETTS, PETITIONER-APPELLEE, AND DENISE A. RICKETTS, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT.


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. No. 95--D--2364 Honorable Rodney W. Equi, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McLAREN

UNPUBLISHED

The trial court terminated the joint custody arrangement of the minor child of the parties, A.R., and awarded sole custody to the father, petitioner, Edward Ricketts. The trial court also ordered the respondent, the mother, Denise Ricketts, to pay support for the child in the amount of $1,124 per month. Denise appeals. We affirm.

Edward Ricketts and Denise Brown were married on October 4, 1985. One child, A.R., was born to the parties on August 4, 1995, after three years of fertility treatments. The parents separated when the child was three weeks old. Edward moved out of the marital residence and on September 1, 1995, filed a petition for dissolution of marriage. Denise filed a counterpetition for dissolution. Both parties sought sole custody of their only child, A.R.

The child lived with Denise on a continuous basis throughout the dissolution proceedings. On February 20, 1997, a judgment for dissolution of marriage, marital settlement agreement, and joint parenting agreement was entered. The agreements provided for joint custody of A.R. The joint parenting agreement specified the joint custody arrangement, including a visitation schedule for Edward, as the child continued to reside with Denise in the former marital residence, holiday and vacation time, child support payments by Edward, and other arrangements for the care of the child.

Difficulties concerning the visitation and care of A.R. pursuant to the joint parenting agreement quickly ensued. On September 5, 1997, Edward filed a petition for a change of custody, seeking the sole custody of A.R. Mediation of the custody and visitation disputes did not resolve continued problems with the joint custody arrangement. On September 10, 1999, Edward filed a second petition for a change of custody, again seeking the sole custody of A.R. On October 22, 1999, Denise also filed a petition to change custody, seeking the sole custody of the child.

A lengthy evidentiary hearing was held on the cross-petitions for change of custody filed by both parents. After hearing testimony from numerous witnesses over the course of three weeks, the trial court entered a memorandum opinion on October 3, 2000. Utilizing the best interest standard, the trial court concluded that it was in the best interest of A.R. to terminate the joint parenting agreement and provide Edward with the sole custody of A.R., with visitation by Denise. Based on the trial court's six-page opinion, it appears that its decision to transfer sole custody to Edward was based on evidence that Denise was "committed to minimizing if not destroying Edward's parenting rights," which is not in the best interest of the child. On October 20, 2000, an order was entered modifying the judgment for dissolution of marriage to terminate the joint parenting agreement and incorporate the trial court's ruling concerning custody and visitation contained in its memorandum opinion of October 3, 2000.

On appeal, Denise contends that the trial court's decision to provide sole custody to Edward is against the manifest weight of the evidence. She makes this argument by repeatedly asserting that the trial court's decision was made in an effort to punish her for failing to comply with court orders concerning Edward's visitation. She also contends that the trial court's decision failed to consider the best interests of A.R. in that the custodial transfer will have a devastating impact on the child.

We note at the outset that Denise's brief, consisting of 75 pages, contains scant citation to the record, to the evidence adduced at the three-week hearing, or to the trial court's findings to support her assertion. Instead, she resorts to speculation and acrimonious attacks on the trial court's ruling without citation to pertinent authority or portions of the voluminous record submitted on appeal.

Denise's brief stands in violation of Supreme Court Rule 341. 188 Ill. 2d R. 341. Throughout most of the argument portion of her brief, she fails to cite to the record so as to direct us to those places where her claims can be substantiated. The appellate court is not a depository onto which a litigant may dump the burden of research and review of the record. This practice violates Supreme Court Rule 341 (188 Ill. 2d R. 341) and makes our review unduly onerous. Such a failure generally results in waiver of the issue on appeal. Ray Dancer, Inc. v. DMC Corp., 175 Ill. App. 3d 997, 1005 (1988). However, we will review the issues raised by Denise on the merits, considering that the interests of a child are at issue.

Denise first contends that the trial court's order providing Edward with the sole custody of A.R. is against the manifest weight of the evidence. A decision regarding child custody modification will not be disturbed on appeal unless it is against the manifest weight of the evidence. In re Marriage of Divelbiss, 308 Ill. App. 3d 198, 206 (1999). In determining whether a judgment is contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence, the reviewing court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the appellee. Divelbiss, 308 Ill. App. 3d at 206. Where the evidence permits multiple reasonable inferences, the reviewing court will accept those inferences that support the court's order. Divelbiss, 308 Ill. App. 3d at 206-07. We will affirm the trial court's ruling if there is any basis to support the trial court's findings. Divelbiss, 308 Ill. App. 3d at 207. The trial court's custody determination is afforded "great deference" because the trial court is in a superior position to judge the credibility of the witnesses and determine the best interests of the child. In re Marriage of Gustavson, 247 Ill. App. 3d 797, 801 (1993).

In a footnote, Denise challenges the standard applied by the trial court. She asserts that a change in custody should have been granted only if the trial court found, by clear and convincing evidence, that a change in circumstances occurred such that the modification of the joint parenting agreement was in the best interest of the child. Although both Edward and Denise filed petitions to modify the joint custody agreement, each seeking sole custody, Denise claims that she did not agree to a termination and that clear and convincing evidence of a change in circumstances was necessary to terminate the joint custody agreement.

Section 610(b) of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (Act) provides as follows:

"The court shall not modify a prior custody judgment unless it finds by clear and convincing evidence, upon the basis of facts that have arisen since the prior judgment or that were unknown to the court at the time of entry of the prior judgment, that a change has occurred in the circumstances of the child or his custodian, or in the case of a joint custody arrangement that a change has occurred in the circumstances of the child or either or both parties having custody, and that the modification is necessary to serve the best interest of the child. In the case of joint custody, if the parties agree to a termination of a joint custody arrangement, the court shall so terminate the joint custody and make any modification which is in the child's best interest. The court shall ...


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