This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. ß 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In re the Custody of:
Travis Jay Killoren,
Kari Ellen Bodensteiner,
n/k/a Kari Ellen Kjorstad, et al.,
Filed March 23, 2004
Dakota County District Court
File No. F9-02-50123
Judith E. Payne, 16186 Main Avenue Southeast, Prior Lake, Minnesota 55373-1765 (for appellant)
Michael C. Black, Michael C. Black Law Office, Ltd., 265 West Seventh Street, Suite 201, St. Paul, Minnesota 55102 (for respondents)
Michael Baxter, 17645 Juniper Path, Suite 225, Lakeville, Minnesota 55044 (guardian ad litem)
††††††††††† Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge; Hudson, Judge; and Crippen, Judge.*
U N P U B L I S H E D†† O P I N I O N
††††††††††† Appellant challenges the district courtís denial of his request to change the surname of his minor child, arguing that the district court did not make the proper findings.† The district court concluded that changing the childís surname was not in the best interest of the minor child.† Because we conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion, we affirm.
Appellant, Travis Killoren, and respondent-mother, Kari Kjorstad, dated for approximately three-and-a-half years and separated in June 1999.† At the time of the break up respondent-mother was pregnant with M.K.K.† Shortly after the breakup respondent-mother began dating and moved in with respondent, Anthony Kjorstad.† M.K.K. was born on March 24, 2000.† When the child was born, respondents executed a Recognition of Parentage and respondent-mother gave M.K.K. Kjorstadís surname.†
††††††††††† In May 2000, Kjorstad had genetic testing performed to determine if he is the biological father of M.K.K.† The tests indicated that Kjorstad is not the biological father.† In October of 2001, respondent-mother approached appellant to inform him that he may be M.K.K.ís father. †Appellant was tested on October, 29, 2001, and the tests confirmed that he is M.K.K.ís biological father.† The Recognition of Parentage identifying Kjorstad as the father was subsequently vacated.† †
††††††††††† After the test established M.K.K.ís paternity, appellant began visitation with M.K.K.† In March 2002, appellant initiated an action in the district court seeking a judicial determination of parentage, custody, and a change in the childís surname to Killoren.† An evidentiary hearing was held where the parties resolved all but the name-change issue.† The district court issued findings of facts, conclusions of law, and order for judgment on February 25, 2003.† In its order, the court determined that appellant did not meet his burden of proof and it is not in the best interests of the child to change her name.†
††††††††††† Appellant moved for a new trial or amended findings.† The trial court entered an order amending judgment and denied appellantís motion for a new trial on the issue of the childís name change.† This appeal follows.
We review the district courtís decision to grant or deny a name change under an abuse-of-discretion standard.† In re Welfare of C.M.G., 516 N.W.2d 555, 561 (Minn. App. 1994).† We will sustain the district courtís findings unless they are clearly erroneous.† Pikula v. Pikula, 374 N.W.2d 705, 710 (Minn. 1985).† A district court must grant an application for a change in a minor childís name unless the court finds the change is not in the best interests of the child.† Minn. Stat. ß 259.11 (a) (2002).† But ďjudicial discretion in ordering a change of a minorís surname against the objection of one parent should be exercised with great caution and only where the evidence is clear and compelling that the substantial welfare of the child necessitates such change.Ē† In re Saxton, 309 N.W.2d 298, 301 (Minn. 1981) (quoting Robinson v. Hansel, 302 Minn. 34, 35, 223 N.W.2d 138, 140 (1974)).† ďWhen granting or denying a petition for a name change, the court must set forth clear and compelling reasons for its decision.Ē† LaChapelle v. Mitten, 607 N.W.2d 151, 166 (Minn. App. 2000) (quotation omitted), review denied (Minn. May 16, 2000).† To determine a childís best interests, the court considers various factors including:† (1) the length of time the child has had the current name; (2) the potential the name change might have to cause harassment or embarrassment; (3) the childís preference; (4) the effect the name change would have on the childís relationship with each parent; and (5) the degree of respect the present and proposed names have within the community.† Saxton, 309 N.W.2d at 301.†
Appellant contends that the district court abused its discretion by denying his request to change M.K.K.ís surname because it did not make clear findings on each of the Saxton factors.† This court has generally reversed and/or remanded the district courtís decision to grant or deny a name change when the district court clearly failed to consider the best interests of the child.† In Aitkin County Family Serv. Agency v. Girard, 390 N.W.2d 906, 908-10 (Minn. App. 1986), this court reversed the district courtís grant of a name change due to insufficient findings when the district courtís only finding was that respondent ďis desirous of changing the surnames of the children to Girard.Ē† Moreover, in In re C.M.G., this court reversed and remanded the district courtís name change determination when the district court made no findings indicating its consideration of the Saxton factors.† 516 N.W.2d at 561.
Here, while the district court did not make findings on each of the Saxton factors, the district courtís findings address the best interests of the child and address the relevant Saxton factors.† For example, the court clearly made a finding regarding how long the child had possessed her current name.† Further, the court made findings concerning the effect the name change will have on each parent and the child.† Moreover, during the evidentiary hearing both appellant and respondent-mother were asked a series of questions relating to the Saxton factors.† Finally, because of M.K.Kís age, some of the Saxton factors are not relevant, such as the childís preference.† Thus, we conclude that the district court considered the best interests of the child and set forth sufficient findings explaining its reasons for denying the application for a name change and any error in failing to individually address the Saxton factors is harmless.† See Minn. R. Civ. P. 61 (requiring harmless error to be ignored).† Based on its findings, the district court concluded that appellant did not provide clear and compelling evidence that a name change is in the best interests of the minor child.
Appellant contends that the district court erred by not changing M.K.K.ís surname to Killoren because it would be in M.K.K.ís best interest to establish a clearly identifiable connection between the child and appellant, her biological father.† Appellant argues that if M.K.K. has the surname Killoren, it will explain his presence at social events and school conferences.
But while changing M.K.K.ís name may help to prevent confusion when appellant attends social events and school conferences, keeping her current name will not prevent M.K.K. from developing a relationship with her father.† Moreover, appellant provided no evidence that keeping her current name would not be in M.K.K.ís best interests.† Rather, the district court concluded that it was in M.K.Kís best interest to keep her name because the minor child has had the last name of Kjorstad her entire life, and her primary caretakers have the name Kjorstad.† We are not persuaded that in reaching this conclusion the trial court abused its discretion.† Therefore, because the district court based its decision on the best interests of the child, and appellant did not provide clear and compelling reasons why the substantial welfare of the child necessitates a change, we conclude the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying appellantís request for a name change.†
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, ß 10.