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In Re Marriage of Melissa Lee Coulter

January 13, 2012

IN RE MARRIAGE OF MELISSA LEE COULTER,
PETITIONER-APPELLEE,
AND DONALD R. COULTER,
RESPONDENT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 14th Judicial Circuit, Rock Island County, Illinois Appeal No. 3-10-0973 Circuit No. 04-D-614 Honorable Frank R. Fuhr, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Carter

JUSTICE CARTER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Justice Lytton concurred in the judgment and opinion.

Justice O'Brien dissented, with opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 The petitioner, Melissa Lee Coulter, filed a petition for removal with respect to Gwenyth, the child whom Melissa had with the respondent, Donald R. Coulter. After a hearing, the circuit court granted the petition. On appeal, Donald argues that removal was not in Gwenyth's best interests because it drastically impaired his visitation rights. We affirm.

¶ 2 FACTS

¶ 3 In 2001, the parties married and Melissa gave birth to Gwenyth. The parties divorced in 2005, and Melissa was given sole custody of Gwenyth, subject to Donald's visitation rights.

Donald's visitation consisted of two nights per week, every other weekend, and alternating holidays.

¶ 4 In 2010, Melissa filed a petition to remove Gwenyth from Illinois. The petition stated that Melissa obtained employment as a foreign service officer for the United States Department of State (State Department). Her career would consist of two-thirds overseas posts at United States embassies and one-third posts at the State Department in Washington, D.C. The posts would last for two to three years, with transitions typically occurring in summers. She would be expected to complete at least two "hardship" posts in which family members would not be allowed to accompany her due to either a low standard of living or dangerous conditions. In these instances, the State Department "provides a maintenance allowance for care of dependents by a designated guardian." If Gwenyth would not be allowed to accompany Melissa on these posts, Gwenyth would live with Donald and attend a local public school, and Donald would receive the full amount of the maintenance allowance.

¶ 5 Additionally, the petition stated that starting in May 2010, Melissa would undergo a 4- to 12-month training period in Virginia, during which time she would reside in an apartment in Falls Church. Gwenyth would stay with Donald between May and September 2010.

¶ 6 Melissa attached to the petition some information regarding overseas schools and schools in Falls Church, Virginia. Among other things, these data sheets reported that the American students in the overseas schools had average SAT scores higher than the national average, and the Falls Church public schools also had average SAT scores higher than the national average.

¶ 7 Melissa also attached a proposed parenting agreement to the petition. Donald would receive visitation for the 10 weeks of Gwenyth's summer vacation; transportation costs would be covered by the State Department. The proposed agreement also stated that "[Melissa] will arrange and assume financial responsibility for the minor child to be chaperoned during travel from [her] residence to [Donald's] residence. [Donald] will do the same during travel from [his] residence to [Melissa's] residence." In addition, Donald would have an option to exercise visitation for one to two weeks during Christmas break in odd-numbered years and during Easter break in even-numbered years; transportation costs would be Donald's responsibility.

¶ 8 With regard to communication, the proposed agreement stated that Melissa would provide Gwenyth with a computer and Internet access so Donald could communicate with her via webcam and e-mail.

ΒΆ 9 With regard to schooling, the proposed agreement stated that the State Department would cover the majority of Gwenyth's overseas schooling costs, and ...


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