St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Tuesday, December 14, 1999

Appeals court gives first ruling on divorce parent wanting to relocate

By Carolyn Tuft
Of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Jane Hicks Jane Hicks, left, speaks on the telephone about a new horse she bought while her mother, Marie Hall, handles Jane's son, Andrew Pokrzywinski in their home in Pacific. Hicks and her children, Alexandra and Andrew, are living with her parents, Don and Marie, in Pacific while a legal battle is fought. Hicks' ex-husband has filed a lawsuit to prevent her and the children from moving to Randolph County in Illinois with her new husband, Richard Hicks.
Teak Phillips

The Missouri Court of Appeals on Tuesday denied a woman the right to move her two children to her new husband's Illinois home.

The ruling is the first appellate decision on a new state law that requires divorced parents to seek permission before they move.

"I'm just devastated," said the mother, Jane Hicks, after learning of the court's decision. "We're all just in shock."

Hicks and several custodial parents across the state - all women - have been awaiting the decision on Hicks' case to see if the new law passed by the Missouri Legislature last year would hold up in the courts. The law requires divorced parents to get permission from each other whenever either of them wants to move, even if the move is across the street.

Hicks, a TWA flight attendant, said she is considering whether to appeal her case to the Missouri Supreme Court. Her ex-husband, who blocked the move in court, is a TWA mechanic.

The appeals court judges sided with the children's father, Alan Pokrzywinski (pronounced Puck-sha-vin-ski), stating that the move to Illinois "appears to be unnecessary and only a matter of convenience."

The court found it insufficient that Hicks wanted to live with her husband on a ranch that he inherited near Chester, Ill., about 60 miles southeast of St. Louis. The ranch is where her husband conducts his business.

The children, Alexandra, 14, and Andrew, 6, now live in their grandparents' home in Pacific. They were ordered to live there a year ago by Franklin County senior Judge Randolph Puchta, who cited the new state law when he made the ruling. The children's mother splits her time between Pacific and her husband's home near Chester, Ill.

The appellate court also rejected claims that Hicks' parents wanted to move, but were prohibited because of the lower court judge's decision forcing the children to live with them and to remain in Pacific.

Instead, the appeals court stated that in cases such as these, where the parents have joint custody but one parent is the custodial parent, a relocation would limit the father's ability to visit his children.

"Thus, the move to Illinois would greatly decrease (the) father's participation in the lives of the children," Judge William H. Crandall Jr. wrote.

Hicks said Tuesday that her children were unhappy with the ruling.

"The kids are so upset; Alexandria is crying," she said. "I can't even move out of my parents' house. My ex-husband will try to stop me just for spite."

Pokrzywinski was reportedly out of town and unavailable for comment. His attorney, Charles Hurth, did not return phone calls.

Last week, a group of mothers, including Hicks, met in Columbia with state legislators to ask that the law be changed to shift the burden of proof from the custodial parent to the parent blocking the move.

The mothers also asked the lawmakers to change the law to take into consideration cases with histories of domestic violence or abuse. Hicks had alleged her ex-husband abused her and her children, and she had filed several orders of protection against him.

Hicks said she is angry at the appeal's court decision. She said they ignored the fact that her ex-husband has moved and has not notified her where he resides, as the law requires. She added that her ex-husband has not visited with his children in six months.

Hicks said that despite the decision, she will continue to lobby the Legislature, along with the other parents who are hoping for the right to move with their children.

"No one has taken into consideration what the children want and what is in their best interest," Hicks said. "It is just a bad law. I have an abusive ex-spouse who has taken control of my life. Now, my new husband and I have a choice: We can go to the Supreme Court, or we can sell everything we have and ask my ex-husband's approval for where we can live."

© 1999 St. Louis Post-Dispatch