This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Sheila Rae Love,
Filed September 25, 2001
Sheila Rae Love, 32574 520th Avenue, Grove City, MN 56243 (pro se respondent)
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
SCHUMACHER, ROBERT H., Judge
Appellant Gary Wayne Strodtman challenges the district court's order denying attorney fees and requiring that Strodtman attend anger-management counseling. We affirm.
In 1998, Strodtman filed a petition for custody of two minor children. Respondent Shelia Rae Love is the natural mother of the children. Strodtman has been previously adjudicated as their father. In a March 29, 2000 order, the district court granted Strodtman sole physical and legal custody of the children subject to Love's reasonable visitation. The March 29, 2000 order also required Love to pay Strodtman $279.76 per month in child support.
In August 2000, Strodtman filed motions requesting a finding of contempt due to Love's ongoing failure to pay child support. Strodtman also sought an award for attorney fees based on Love's conduct. The district court appointed a visitation expediter. In October 2000, the district court denied Strodtman's contempt motion and issued an order incorporating a report of the visitation expediter. In November 2000, Strodtman filed another motion for attorney fees. In January 2001, the visitation expediter issued an amended report. Among other things, the visitation expediter noted concerns about Strodtman's behavior and temper and its effect on the children. The amended report recommended that Strodtman attend anger-management counseling.
The district court issued an order on January 23, 2001, that adopted the recommendations of the visitation expediter's amended report. The order also denied Strodtman's motion for attorney fees, stating that his refusal to work with the county child-support office unduly frustrated Love's efforts to provide him with monies owed. Strodtman was in conflict with the county child-support office in another matter involving his child-support obligations toward another child residing with a different mother. See Reid v. Strodtman, 631 N.W.2d 414 (Minn. App. 2001) (reviewing expedited child-support proceedings).
In February 2001, Strodtman filed a motion for attorney fees and for the court to vacate the anger-management-counseling requirement. In an order dated March 9, 2001, the district court addressed Strodtman's repeated request for attorney fees:
[Strodtman] consistently brings motions seeking legal fees for [Love's] failure to pay child support. However, when provided an opportunity to obtain assistance through wage withholding, he refuses. Further, [Strodtman] consistently complains of attorney's fees, yet he refuses the free legal service which the county is obligated to provide him in child support matters.
The district court acknowledged that the "arrangement is an uncomfortable solution for [Strodtman] due to his conflict with the county on an unrelated matter." The court also denied the motion to vacate the requirement to attend an anger-management program. Strodtman appeals.
A trial court has broad discretion to provide for the custody of the parties' children. Rutten v. Rutten, 347 N.W.2d 47, 50 (Minn. 1984). A trial court has extensive discretion in deciding visitation questions and will not be reversed absent an abuse of discretion. Olson v. Olson, 534 N.W.2d 547, 550 (Minn. 1995).
1. Strodtman claims the district court erred by failing to grant him attorney fees. In contested-custody proceedings, parties have the burden to pay their own costs and expenses unless the court finds that (1) one of the parties needs assistance to justifiably assert his or her rights; or (2) the unreasonable conduct of one of the parties contributes to the length and expense of the proceedings. Minn. Stat. § 518.14, subd. 1 (2000); Mize v. Kendall, 621 N.W.2d 804, 807 (Minn. App. 2001), review denied (Minn. Mar. 27, 2001). "Conduct-based fee awards are discretionary with the district court." Sharp v. Bilbro, 614 N.W.2d 260, 264 (Minn. App. 2000) (citing Kronick v. Kronick, 482 N.W.2d 533, 536 (Minn. App. 1992)), review denied (Minn. Sept. 26, 2000).
In this case, the district court denied Strodtman's motion for attorney fees, stating that Strodtman's refusal to work with the county child-support office "unduly frustrated [Love's] efforts to provide him with monies owed." The district court has also noted that Strodtman refuses the free legal services concerning child support that the county is obligated to provide. Strodtman suggests that the district court failed in its initial decision to acknowledge his "serious conflict of interest" with the county and disputes the court's finding that he unduly frustrated Love's compliance. But Strodtman has the burden of showing that Love's conduct unreasonably contributed to the length or expense of the proceeding. See, e.g., Geske v. Marcolina, 624 N.W.2d 813, 818 (Minn. App. 2001). Strodtman did not meet this burden. Therefore, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying attorney fees.
2. Strodtman argues that the district court's order "lacks evidence indicating how anger issues affect the children." The visitation expediter, however, specifically expressed concern about Strodtman's controlling behavior in regard to the children's visits with Love. The visitation expediter stated that Strodtman's anger "could filter down to the children which could foster repercussions that could develop in the future." The visitation expediter's concern that Strodtman's anger could affect the children adequately supports the requirement of anger-management counseling, and the district court properly adopted the expediter's recommendations.