FROM THE WASHINGTON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 72DR-16-279],
HONORABLE CRISTI BEAUMONT, JUDGE
& Taylor Law Firm, P.A., Little Rock, by: Andrew M. Taylor
and Tasha C. Taylor, for appellant.
Law Firm, by: James M. Hornsey, Fayetteville, for appellee.
M. BROWN, Judge
Appellant Melita Cox (now Nicola) appeals the order of the
Washington County Circuit Court denying her motion for
relocation and modification of visitation. On appeal, she
argues that the circuit court "improperly shifted the
burden to Ms. Nicola to prove that her proposed move to
Winnipeg, Canada, would be advantageous to herself and the
children." In light of the Arkansas Supreme Courts
decision in Hollandsworth v. Knyzewski
, we agree and hold that the circuit
court clearly erred in denying Melitas request to relocate;
therefore, we reverse and remand.
parties were divorced in August 2016. Born of the marriage
were two children of whom Melita was awarded primary custody
subject to appellee Nathan Coxs visitation rights. In July
2017, Melita filed a motion to relocate, expressing her
desire to move the children, M.C. (11) and
F.C. (3), to Winnipeg, Canada, for "better education,
financial and employment opportunities." Nathan
responded, objecting to the relocation and asserting that it
would have a "detrimental effect" on his
relationship with the children. A hearing was held on January
hearing on the motion to relocate, both Melita and Nathan
testified. Melita stated that following the divorce in 2016
she was awarded primary custody of the children while Nathan
was awarded visitation on alternating weekends, 6:00pm-8:00pm
on Tuesdays, and as provided in the courts standard
visitation schedule for holidays.
testified that she first notified Nathan on May 18, 2017, via
text message regarding her desire to move and request for a
"different visitation schedule." She stated that he
responded that he wanted her to be happy and wished her well,
which she took as an indication that he was supportive and
consented to the move. Melita again contacted Nathan via text
on June 27, 2017, concerning relocation and the need for a
"revised long-distance visitation schedule." At
that time, Nathan still did not object to Melitas proposed
move with the children.
7, 2017, Melita prepared a letter expressing her
"intention to move to Winnipeg-Manitoba, Canada"
for employment and educational opportunities. She expressed
her willingness to work with Nathan in coordinating
visitation and transporting the children between Canada and
Arkansas. Melita specifically provided:
I am willing to drive half way the distance between
Fayetteville, Arkansas and Winnipeg, Canada every summer
until the children turn 18 years old. They can spend the
entire summer vacation with the non-custodial parent, Nathan
Lloyd Cox, from first weekend of summer vacation until the
last Friday preceding the start of the new school year.
further offered electronic communication with the children
"by means of telephone, mobile phone, text messaging,
[and] video conference" to supplement traditional forms
of visitation. Still, there was no objection to the
relocation from Nathan. Melita filed a motion for relocation
and modification of visitation on July 14, 2017.
testified that on July 19, 2017, Nathan texted her the
We need to talk sometime. I wanna know all details. I will
follow any path you think is best for you and kids. They will
grow up soon and I dont want to be the reason why they look
down on me. One life we all have. Lets think about kids. I
have youre [sic] back on any dission [sic] if its safe for
my kids. This message was the hardest thing I ever have done
in my life.
then arranged to meet to discuss the details; however, the
meeting did not happen. The following week, Nathan informed
Melita that he would "meet [her] in front of the
testified that she wished to move to Canada to further her
education, beginning with completing her Bachelor of Science
degree and then moving on to medical school, stating that it
"will be better for the kids if I get a better job and
have a more stable financial situation." Melita also
stated that moving to Canada would allow her parents to be
involved in the childrens lives. She explained that her
parents live in Romania and that it had been difficult for
them to obtain a visa to
visit them in the United States; however, Romanians can
travel to Canada without a visa.
stated that she had already secured a one-bedroom apartment
in Winnipeg and had placed a $ 450 deposit on it. Melita
provided her acceptance letter to the University of Manitoba.
F.C. is not yet of school age, but M.C. would attend George
Waters Middle School in Winnipeg. Upon inquiry, the principal
of George Waters Middle School informed Melita that M.C.
should not have any academic problems with transitioning to
the school. Melita obtained the school calendar and
calculated a total of 95 days of school break during which
Nathan could exercise visitation with the children (spring
break, Christmas break, and summer). Under the current
visitation schedule, Nathan receives 108 days of visitation.
Melita explained that she would encourage the use of calls,
messages, and video chat to supplement Nathans interaction
with the children.
cross-examination, when asked if there was a medical school
in Arkansas, Melita replied that there is not one in
Fayetteville, but there is one in Little Rock-UAMS. However,
"I did not apply to UAMS. My intention was to relocate,
so I applied to the University of Manitoba." She further
acknowledged that while many states may have medical schools,
she did not apply to those schools because "[m]y focus
was to relocate to Winnipeg, Canada." Additionally,
"[a]s to whether I have a basis of comparison to attest
that the educational opportunities afforded by the University
of Manitoba are superior to any opportunities I would have at
UAMS or any ...