Case Caption: Symone James v. Samuel FaustCase Number: S. Ct. Civ. No. 2015-0070Date: 09/06/2016Author: Cabret, Maria M. Citation: Summary:

In a child custody dispute, following remand from an earlier appeal, the Superior Court's July 22, 2015 custody order, unlike its earlier vacated custody order, is supported by a much more robust body of factual findings and legal conclusions. But it nonetheless failed to comply with the full breadth of this Court's remand instruction, which required the Superior Court to engage in a two-step procedure to first outline a set of relevant factors that it intends to use in determining the best interests of the child, and then second, to explain how its findings of fact regarding those factors are supported by the evidence introduced at the custody hearing. Here, while the Superior Court complied with the first step by specifying a set of nine relevant factors, it did not sufficiently explain how its findings of fact regarding those factors were supported by the evidence introduced at the hearing. Meaningful appellate review is simply not possible where the Superior Court fails to sufficiently explain its reasoning, and the importance of explanation is even more pronounced in a case such as this, where the mother disputes the legal sufficiency of the evaluation of the guardian ad litem's recommendation-ultimately rejected by the Superior Court-which was based on the effects of relocation to Florida on the child and the mother's status as primary caretaker. The custody order awarding the father physical custody of their minor child is therefore vacated and the matter is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. On remand, based on a Banks analysis, in conducting an evaluation of the best interests of the child, the Superior Court must consider, if relevant, at least the following non-exhaustive list of factors: (1) the respective home environments of each parent, including the degree to which relocation between those respective environments will impact the child's best interests; (2) the ability of each parent to nurture the child, including the degree to which each parent has acted as primary caretaker; (3) any evidence of domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, or child neglect; (4) the interaction and interrelationship of the child with his or her parent or parents, his or her siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect his or her best interests; and (5) any recommendation by a court-appointed guardian ad litem. Each factor included on this list is not necessarily entitled to similar weight, however, because the court must look to the unique family relationships of each case in order to reach a resolution that is in the best interests of the child in that particular family, and to the extent that the Superior Court considers other additional factors, such factors must be relevant to the child's best interests.

Attachment: Open Document or Opinion