WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a plea from a Harford County mother who said her constitutional right to travel was violated after she lost custody of her daughter because she moved from Maryland to Arizona.
The court’s decision Monday lets stand lower court rulings that said the state has a right to decide what is best for the child and, in this case, the child was better served by remaining in Maryland with her father.
Court documents show that Leslie Braun and Jeffrey Headley, former workmates at a graphics company, never married. But in 1994 Braun went to court to prove Headley was the father of her daughter, and to seek child support.
A Harford County Circuit Court granted custody of the child to Braun and ordered Headley to make support payments. Headley was also given weekend and holiday visitation rights with the girl.
Braun suffered medical problems, according to court records, including being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which forced her to use a cane and kept her from working. She said she thought Arizona’s drier climate would help ease her pain and would also help her daughter’s bronchitis.
In October 1998, according to court records, Braun moved to Arizona with her daughter, then 4, notifying the girl’s father of the move with a cellular phone call while they were en route. At the same time, Braun filed for a change in the father’s visitation rights.
Headley responded by filing for custody of the girl.
After a three-day trial, Harford County Circuit Judge Cypert O. Whitfill ruled that Braun’s move warranted a review of the child custody situation between the parents. Whitfill granted the father custody, in part, because he said the father, who was living with his parents, could provide a more stable home for the girl.
Braun argued that Whitfill’s ruling violated her constitutional right to travel. But the judge said Maryland is in the majority of states that puts the interest of the child before a parent’s constitutional right to travel.
“I have no power to order her to live anywhere,” Whitfill wrote. “But I do have the power to tell her where the child is going to be, and she can choose to be close to that child or she can choose to be on the other side eof the world from that child. That’s her choice.”
Whitfill said that the mother failed to consider the move’s impact on her daughter. He said Braun was unwilling to communicate with the girl’s father and also said that he thought she moved away to get back at Headley for not marrying her.
Braun appealed to the Maryland Court of Appeals and lost. She then asked for a hearing from the Supreme Court, which turned her down without comment Monday.