This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In re the Marriage of:
Roxann Joy Wohlwend Henderson, petitioner,
Mark Steven Henderson,
Filed December 20, 2005
Anoka County District Court
File No. F0-00-9507
Elizabeth A. Schading, Barna, Guzy & Steffen, Ltd.,
Janet L. Goehle, Goehle Law Office, 510 Spruce Tree Centre,
Jack D. Nelson,
Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge; Halbrooks, Judge; and Dietzen, Judge.
Appellant challenges the district court’s custody award, which grants respondent sole legal custody of their minor children. Because the award is not precluded by statute and the district court’s findings of the children’s best interests are not clearly erroneous, we affirm.
Appellant Roxann Henderson challenges the district court’s custody award to respondent Mark Henderson of sole legal custody of the parties’ two minor children, B.H., age 16, and T.H., age 12. The parties also have an emanicipated daughter who is not a subject of this appeal. The parties were married in 1981.
employed as an Assistant Administrator Technical Director at
In third grade, B.H.
was diagnosed with learning disabilities. In order to address his learning disabilities,
B.H. began attending the
After the parties’ separation in 2001, appellant made several decisions with regard to expenses for B.H. and T.H. with which respondent did not agree. And while respondent initially agreed to the home-schooling arrangement, by the time of trial in April 2004, he was opposed to it.
Prior to trial, the parties stipulated that appellant would have sole physical custody of the parties’ minor children, subject to respondent’s reasonable parenting time. The district court adopted the parties’ stipulation and awarded appellant sole physical custody on the ground that it was in the best interests of the children. With respect to legal custody, appellant sought sole custody, and respondent requested joint custody. The district court awarded respondent sole legal custody based on its conclusion that it was in the best interests of the children on several grounds, including: (1) appellant’s inability to cooperate with respondent, as well as the fact that she had made unilateral decisions with regard to the children’s education, medical, and dental needs; (2) that neither party provided a method for dispute resolution or indicated a willingness to use it if the court awarded joint legal custody; (3) that it would be detrimental to the children if appellant had sole legal authority over their upbringing because appellant does not consider respondent’s relationship with the children when she makes decisions; and (4) there was no evidence of domestic abuse as defined by Minn. Stat. § 518B.01 (2004).
Appellant moved the district court for a new trial and amended findings. The district court denied the motion but did issue an amended judgment and decree to correct clerical mistakes. This appeal follows.
A district court has broad
discretion to provide for the custody of the parties’ children. Durkin
v. Hinich, 442 N.W.2d 148, 151 (
is awarded based on a child’s best interests.
Here, appellant sought sole legal custody and respondent sought joint legal custody of the children. Appellant now argues that the record does not support the district court’s award of sole legal custody to respondent.
the parties and the district court acknowledge that the issue presented in this
case is unique because the parties previously stipulated to, and the district
court awarded, sole physical custody of the children to appellant. At the hearing on appellant’s motion for a
new trial and amended findings, the district court stated, “I don’t know that
there has been a case that gave sole legal [custody] to a non-custodial parent.” We agree that the award and the circumstances
on which it is based are unusual, and we do not find
With regard to the joint-custody factors outlined in Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 2, the district court made the following findings:
1. The ability of the parents to cooperate in the rearing of their children.
The district court found that appellant had demonstrated a “continuing inability to cooperate” with respondent and that appellant made “unilateral” decisions with regard to the children’s education, medical, and dental needs that were not in their best interests. In several instances, the district court concluded that appellant’s testimony was “not credible.” The district court also found that “[appellant] has discouraged [respondent’s] efforts to parent the minor children by engaging in a pattern of conduct designed to limit or deny his involvement.”
2. Methods of dispute resolution.
The district court found that neither party offered a dispute-resolution process to resolve the parties’ disputes. It concluded, “It is clear to this court that joint legal custody is not workable for these parties.”
3. Detriment if one parent had sole legal authority over the children.
The district court stated that appellant should not have sole legal authority over the children’s upbringing because “[appellant] has demonstrated that she does not consider [respondent’s] relationship with the minor children when making decisions.” In contrast, the district court found that respondent could consider the children’s best interests with regard to legal custody decisions “while minimizing the impact of these decisions on both parties. It is in the children’s best interests that [respondent] be granted the children’s sole legal custody so that he can make major decisions regarding the children without interference from [appellant].”
4. Domestic abuse between the parties.
The district court found no evidence of domestic abuse between the parties and commented that while appellant submitted one allegation of domestic abuse after trial, the district court found her claim to be “untimely and not credible.”
Appellant argues that she has been
the primary parent and that Minn. Stat. § 518.176, subd. 1 (2004),
precludes an award of sole legal custody to respondent because the children
will reside with her. That section
states that “the parent with whom the child resides may determine the child’s
upbringing, including education, health care, and religious training” except if
a district court has found after a hearing that the child would be endangered
or impaired. See
But, with respect to our standard of review on appeal, appellant has not shown that the district court’s findings are clearly erroneous; rather, appellant argues that the court’s findings are “inconsequential.” A reviewing court will only reverse a finding as clearly erroneous if the reviewing court is left with the definite and firm conviction that the district court made a mistake. Vangness, 607 N.W.2d at 472.
During the proceedings, the district
court had adequate opportunity to evaluate the parties and their actions. And an appellate court defers to the district
court’s credibility determinations.
While it might be a preferred result
to award joint legal custody or sole legal custody to the parent with sole
physical custody, the child-custody statutes and precedent do not require a
district court to award a party with sole physical custody some form of legal
custody. See Minn. Stat. § 518.003, subd. 3(a)(defining legal custody as “the right to determine the child’s
upbringing, including education, health care, and religious training”); Novak v. Novak, 446 N.W.2d 422, 424-25 (
On this record, the district court did not abuse its discretion by awarding respondent sole legal custody of the parties’ children.