This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In re the Custody of:
J.M.H., a minor child Antoinette Marie Dawson,
Julious Douglas Heath,
Hennepin County District Court
File No. PA 48 978
Antoinette Marie Dawson,
Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge; Kalitowski, Judge; and Klaphake, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
TOUSSAINT, Chief Judge
On appeal in this custody dispute, appellant argues that (1) the district court erred in denying her a continuance; (2) she should have been granted an evidentiary hearing for newly discovered evidence; (3) the district court assigned too much weight to information in the county’s custody report; (4) the record does not support the district court’s best-interests findings; (5) some of the evidence considered by the district court was submitted in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.507 (2004) regarding false allegations of abuse; and (6) the custody award fails to consider a violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.26, subd. 1 (2004), which prohibits depriving a person of parental or custodial rights. Because the denial of a continuance and another evidentiary hearing was within the district court’s discretion and because the record supports the award of physical custody to respondent, we affirm.
The parties have one minor child
together, J.M.H., currently age five.
The unmarried parties lived together for almost two years after J.M.H.’s
birth. Following the parties’
separation, J.M.H. lived with appellant Antoinette Marie Dawson. In the Spring of 2003, at appellant’s
request, J.M.H. went to stay with respondent Julious Douglas Heath at his home
In December 2003, appellant filed a motion to establish custody and parenting time seeking sole physical and legal custody of J.M.H. Hennepin County Family Court Services assigned Michael Weinstein, MSW, a certified child custody mediator, to perform a custody evaluation. A hearing was conducted on August 26, 2004, to review Weinstein’s report and recommendations.
Appellant argues that she understood
that the August 26 hearing “was a review hearing, [and] therefore was
unprepared for an evidentiary hearing.” Appellant
argues that she “had not determined what witnesses would be called; what
questions would be asked; how cross-examination would be conducted; or what
exhibits would be introduced.”
Consequently, appellant contends that the district court should have
granted a continuance. The granting of a
continuance is within the district court’s discretion and should be based on
the facts and circumstances surrounding the request.
At the August 26 hearing, the
district court discussed with the parties whether they agreed with Weinstein’s
report or whether another hearing was needed on the issues of physical custody
and parenting time. Appellant requested
another hearing, and the court questioned her about the evidence she wanted to
present. Appellant stated that she
wanted to present testimony by J.M.H.’s daycare provider about J.M.H.’s stay in
The district court then again
addressed the need for an evidentiary hearing.
Appellant noted that information in Weinstein’s report was based on respondent
and Tawndra’s representations; no custody evaluation had been performed in
Following that discussion, the district court declined to continue the matter, but did conduct a further evidentiary hearing that day. Both parties, Tawndra, and Weinstein testified, and appellant was allowed to cross-examine the witnesses. At the end of the hearing, the district court asked appellant if the court had heard all of the evidence that she wanted to present. Appellant replied that she wanted to make one additional statement, which the district court allowed her to make, but did not otherwise indicate any dissatisfaction with the hearing.
The district court apprised appellant of the nature of the hearing and allowed her to question witnesses. Even appellant’s own statements at the August 26 hearing indicate that she was afforded an adequate opportunity to present evidence and conduct cross-examination. Based on the lack of specificity regarding the additional evidence that appellant wanted to present, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying a continuance.
Appellant argues that the district court abused its discretion in denying her posttrial motion to make the September 2, 2004, order temporary and hold “a full evidentiary hearing” with time for adequate preparation by both parties. Appellant argues that her posttrial motion should have been granted based on newly discovered evidence. However, because appellant has not yet disclosed what additional evidence she wants to present, we conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying appellant’s posttrial motion. See Kerkhoff v. Kerkhoff, 400 N.W.2d 752, 758 (Minn. App. 1987) (even when information constitutes newly discovered evidence, reopening a judgment is not warranted unless “the new evidence is so material that it would probably produce a different” result), review denied (Minn. Mar. 25, 1987).
Next, appellant challenges several of the district court’s factual
findings. District courts have broad
discretion in determining custody matters.
Durkin v. Hinich, 442 N.W.2d 148, 151 (
First, citing conflicting evidence, appellant
argues that the evidence does not support the finding that when “Mother asked
that Father return [J.M.H.] to her in
Second, appellant argues that the evidence does not support the district
court’s finding that “Father is currently providing needed medical, dental and
psychological care for [J.M.H.] that was apparently not recognized or addressed
while she was in Mother’s care.” The
record contains evidence that respondent obtained psychological care for J.M.H.
regarding possible sexual abuse by appellant’s former boyfriend and that appellant
did not recognize the need for such care.
The record also contains evidence that J.M.H.’s primary teeth were
severely decayed, which supports the finding that appellant did not recognize
or address J.M.H.’s need for dental care.
Even if the evidence does not support the finding as to medical care,
the finding is contained in a detailed finding regarding the parties’ and
J.M.H.’s physical and mental health. The
evidence otherwise supports the finding, including the finding that “[t]he care
and stability that Father is able to provide, and his willingness to ensure
that the same is in fact provided, will likely promote [J.M.H.’s] long-term
physical and emotional development.” Any
error in the finding as to J.M.H.’s medical care was not prejudicial to appellant. To obtain relief on appeal, the party seeking
reversal must show both error and that the error was prejudicial. Midway Ctr. Assocs. v. Midway Ctr., Inc.,
Third, appellant argues that findings regarding J.M.H.’s best interests
were insufficient. We disagree. Applying relevant statutory factors, the
district court must base its custody decision on the child’s best
interests. Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd.
3(a)(3) (2004); see also Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 1(a) (2004)
(listing best-interest factors). When a
custody decision is supported with “defensible findings that address relevant
best-interests factors,” there is little room for this court to question the
district court’s balancing of those factors.
Vangsness v. Vangsness, 607 N.W.2d 468, 477 (
Appellant also raises specific objections to some of the findings on J.M.H.’s best interests. Appellant argues that in finding that respondent has been J.M.H.’s primary caretaker since April 2003, the district court failed to consider that respondent violated the law to maintain that position. Appellant argues that respondent violated Minn. Stat. § 609.507 (2004), which prohibits false allegations of child abuse with the intent to influence a custody proceeding. “The court shall consider evidence of a violation of section 609.507 in determining the best interests of the child.” Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 1a (2004).
The record contains evidence that J.M.H. may have been sexually abused by appellant’s former boyfriend. No evidence in the record indicates that respondent knew the sexual abuse allegation was false or lacked reason to believe that appellant’s former boyfriend sexually abused J.M.H. Respondent specifically denied making the allegation out of malice. The evidence in the record does not support appellant’s contention that respondent violated Minn. Stat. § 609.507.
Appellant also argues that respondent violated Minn. Stat. § 609.26, subd. 1(1), (6), (9) (2004), which prohibit depriving a person of parental or custodial rights. But respondent testified that he understood that the agreement as to the length of J.M.H.’s stay was open-ended. Respondent told Weinstein that he understood that J.M.H. might be staying with him for up to two years. He also expressed concerns about appellant’s care of J.M.H., including evidence of sexual abuse by appellant’s previous boyfriends, appellant’s instability and inability to properly parent J.M.H., and appellant’s failure to place J.M.H. as her first priority. See Minn. Stat. § 609.26, subd. 2 (2004) (affirmative defenses). There is no evidence in the record that respondent has been charged with violating Minn. Stat. § 609.26, and there is evidence that he would have an affirmative defense to any such charge. Under these circumstances, the district court did not err in declining to consider a possible violation by respondent of Minn. Stat. § 609.26, subd. 1.
Next, appellant argues that the district court failed to consider the close relationship between J.M.H. and her half-sister, S.M.D, in making its custody determination. The court, however, did recognize that J.M.H. and S.M.D. “share a strong relationship as sisters and interact well with each other.” The court also found that J.M.H. has a good relationship with both respondent and Tawndra and concluded that the factor of J.M.H.’s interaction and interrelationship with parents, siblings, and other significant persons was neutral.
Finally, appellant argues that the
evidence does not support the district court’s finding that J.M.H. was
integrated into and well-adjusted to both parties’ homes and communities and
that this factor favored neither party.
But the information provided to Weinstein by respondent and Tawndra
supports the finding. Appellant notes
that Weinstein never visited respondent and Tawndra’s home and argues that the
district court assigned too much weight to Weinstein’s report. But at the hearing, appellant pointed out
that information provided to Weinstein by respondent and Tawndra was
unconfirmed because Weinstein did not visit them in
Except for one possible nonprejudicial error, appellant’s arguments that the findings are unsupported by the evidence and that the findings are insufficient to support the custody award to respondent, lack merit. Essentially, appellant argues that the district court assigned too much weight to the information provided by respondent and Tawndra and not enough weight to her side of the story. This court may not substitute its judgment for that of the district court when reviewing custody determinations. See Lenz v. Lenz, 430 N.W.2d 168, 169 (Minn. 1988) (reversing this court’s custody decision because record adequately supported district court’s findings); see also McCabe v. McCabe, 430 N.W.2d 870, 873 (Minn. App. 1988) (recognizing that simply because the evidence also would have supported different findings does not mean the district court’s findings constitute an abuse of discretion), review denied (Minn. Dec. 30, 1988). We conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding physical custody of J.M.H. to respondent .