This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).







In re the Marriage of:

Roxann Joy Wohlwend Henderson, petitioner,





Mark Steven Henderson,




Filed December 20, 2005


Halbrooks, Judge



Anoka County District Court

File No. F0-00-9507



Elizabeth A. Schading, Barna, Guzy & Steffen, Ltd., 200 Coon Rapids Boulevard, Suite 400, Minneapolis, MN 55433 (for appellant)


Janet L. Goehle, Goehle Law Office, 510 Spruce Tree Centre, 1600 University Avenue West, St. Paul, MN 55104; and


Jack D. Nelson, 1563 Portland Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55104 (for respondent)


            Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge; Halbrooks, Judge; and Dietzen, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            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. 

Respondent is employed as an Assistant Administrator Technical Director at Meadow Creek Christian School, and the parties’ children attended school at Meadow Creek.  At the time of the dissolution, appellant was a homemaker with part-time employment as a vocal instructor. 

In third grade, B.H. was diagnosed with learning disabilities.  In order to address his learning disabilities, B.H. began attending the Discovery Center in the seventh grade.  The Discovery Center is a supplemental facility at Meadow Creek.  While there is no charge for the children’s tuition at Meadow Creek as a result of respondent’s employment there, there is a charge for the Discovery Center.  Following the parties’ separation, respondent declined to pay for his one-half of the Discovery Center fee.  As a result of an outstanding charge, the children could no longer attend Meadow Creek.  The outstanding charge was resolved by stipulation in August 2002 by respondent’s agreement to pay all extra charges if the children were to re-enroll at Meadow Creek.  In addition, the parties stipulated that appellant could home-school the children.

            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 (Minn. 1989).  “[A]ppellate review of custody determinations 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) (quotation omitted).  A district court’s findings of fact will be sustained unless they are clearly erroneous.  Pikula v. Pikula, 374 N.W.2d 705, 710 (Minn. 1985).  Currently, the law “leaves scant if any room for an appellate court to question the trial court’s balancing of best-interests considerations.”  Vangness v. Vangness, 607 N.W.2d 468, 477 (Minn. App. 2000).

            Custody is awarded based on a child’s best interests.  Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 3 (2004).  Legal custody is defined as “the right to determine the child’s upbringing, including education, health care, and religious training.”  Minn. Stat. § 518.003, subd. 3(a) (2004).  When joint legal custody is sought, “[t]he court shall use a rebuttable presumption that upon request of either or both parties joint legal custody is in the best interests of the child.”  Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 2 (2004).  While joint legal custody is presumed to be in a child’s best interest, it should be granted only when “parents can cooperatively deal with parenting decisions.”  Rosenfeld v. Rosenfeld, 529 N.W.2d 724, 726 (Minn. App. 1995) (quotation omitted).

            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.

            Both 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 Minnesota caselaw that is directly on point.  But the district court did make extensive findings under Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 2, to determine that it was in the best interests of the children to award sole legal custody to respondent.  This court has affirmed an award of custody based on limited best-interests findings where the findings and the record are sufficiently extensive to permit this court to review a custody award.  Nies v. Nies, 407 N.W.2d 484, 487-88 (Minn. App. 1987).

            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 Minn. Stat. § 518.176, subd. 1.  Here, the district court never found that the children would be endangered if appellant determined their upbringing.

            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.  Id.  From its findings, we conclude that the district court was convinced that if appellant had sole legal custody of the children, she would not consider respondent’s relationship with the minor children when making decisions for them.  The district court had evidence that appellant failed to cooperate with respondent on a visitation schedule.  Respondent also accused appellant of isolating the children from him by removing the two children from the school where he works and home-schooling them.  Appellant admitted at trial that she refused to file a joint tax return with respondent (which would have preserved assets for the family) because she was not “ready” with her documents, she did not think that “it was worth the hassle” to file jointly, and she received a larger refund by filing separately.  Respondent also questioned appellant about certain items that she claimed in the budget she submitted to the court for household expenses that she did not actually pay.  And appellant obtained dental insurance through her employer but did not offer insurance to respondent because “[she] was still angry then.”

            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 (Minn. App. 1989) (concluding that because the legislature enacted Minn. Stat. § 518.003 in 1981, that section supersedes Minn. Stat. § 518.176, subd. 1, which was enacted earlier).  We therefore conclude, pursuant to Novak, that any argument based on Minn. Stat. § 518.176, subd. 1, cannot trump a decision under Minn. Stat. § 518.003 that, like this one, is otherwise supported by the record.  See Novak, 446 N.W.2d at 424-25.  If the legislature had intended to require that a parent with sole physical custody have at least some form of legal custody, it could have been more explicit.  We are not persuaded that Minn. Stat. § 518.003, subd. 3, or Minn. Stat. § 518.176 (2004) precludes this award.

            On this record, the district court did not abuse its discretion by awarding respondent sole legal custody of the parties’ children.