This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Robert Stevenson, petitioner,
Filed February 24, 2004
Mower County District Court
File No. C6-02-1141
Scott Richardson, Richardson Law Office, 132 Third Avenue Northwest, Austin, Minnesota 55912 (for respondent)
Brandon V. Lawhead, Lawhead Law Offices, 301 South Main Street, Austin, Minnesota 55912 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Anderson, Presiding Judge; Stoneburner, Judge; and Hudson, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant Diana Stevenson challenges the district court’s decision to modify custody and award sole legal custody of the parties’ minor child to respondent Robert Stevenson. Because the record supports the district court’s findings that, due to changed circumstances, modification of custody is in the child’s best interests, we affirm.
Appellant and respondent dissolved their marriage in March 1999 in Utah. The parties have one minor child, a now ten-year-old daughter. Pursuant to the dissolution decree, the parties shared joint legal custody of the child, but respondent had primary physical custody. After the dissolution, respondent made plans to move from Utah to Minnesota, taking the child with him. Respondent received permission from the Utah courts to do so. Appellant also moved to Minnesota shortly afterward.
The parties have a very acrimonious and difficult relationship. Appellant has engaged in harassing behaviors toward respondent and his current wife that caused respondent to secure a restraining order against appellant. Appellant is now prohibited from any contact with respondent except as necessary to effect visitation exchanges.
On July 23, 2002, respondent moved the Mower County district court to appoint a guardian ad litem for the child, to require parenting evaluations and supervised visitation by appellant, to modify the visitation schedule, and to award him sole legal custody of the parties’ child. Appellant opposed the motion. The district court appointed a guardian ad litem and ordered evaluations of both parties.
At the evidentiary hearing held April 10, 2003, the parties, respondent’s current wife, and mental health and social services workers testified. After hearing all the testimony, the district court issued its April 24, 2003, order granting respondent’s motions and awarding him sole legal custody of the child. This appeal follows.
D E C I S I O N
This court’s review of a district court’s custody determination is limited to whether the district court abused its discretion by making findings unsupported by the evidence or by improperly applying the law. Silbaugh v. Silbaugh, 543 N.W.2d 639, 641 (Minn. 1996).
To modify custody, the district court must find a change in circumstances relating to the child or the parties, and that a modification is necessary to serve the best interests of the child. Minn. Stat. § 518.18 (d) (2002). In considering whether modification is in the child’s best interests, the court should consider whether the child’s present environment endangers the child’s physical or emotional health, and whether any dangers posed by the modification are outweighed by the advantages. Id.; see Greenlaw v. Greenlaw, 396 N.W.2d 68, 71 (Minn. App. 1986).
The district court here found that the move from Utah to Minnesota, respondent’s remarriage, the existence of a restraining order against appellant, and the increase in the frequency of the child’s counseling constitute a change in circumstances from the original custody order, that the changes adversely affected the child’s psychological health, and the parties’ inability to communicate or resolve any disputes without court intervention make sole legal custody in respondent in the child’s best interests. The district court also found that there was no evidence that the change in legal custody will be harmful to the child, and ordered that appellant have access to copies of the child’s medical, dental, and educational records.
The record supports the district court’s findings. Respondent, the child’s counselor, and the guardian ad litem each testified about the adverse effects the acrimony between appellant and respondent have on the child’s emotional health. The child’s counselor testified that she has been seeing the child frequently for counseling since October 2001, and that the child suffers from long-term subclinical depression and shows signs of anxiety and attachment problems. The counselor also testified that the child becomes upset and teary when asked to talk about the conflict between her parents. The district court did not abuse its discretion by determining that minimizing the need for contact between the parties by awarding sole legal custody to respondent is in the child’s best interests. Appellant still has parenting time with the child, and has access to information about the child’s schooling and health. Should respondent attempt to “squeeze” appellant out of the child’s life, as appellant fears, by denying her parenting time, appellant may seek recourse in the courts.