This opinion will be unpublished and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 Marriage of:
Nuro B. Dedefo, petitioner,
Bontu Bullo Gada,
Filed May 16, 2006
Hennepin County District Court
File No. DC 287695
Nuro B. Dedefo,
Constance S. Baillie, Central Minnesota Legal Services,
Considered and decided by Worke, Presiding Judge; Dietzen, Judge; and Collins, Judge.*
Appellant challenges the district court judgment awarding respondent sole physical and legal custody of the parties’ younger children and establishing his child-support obligation, arguing that the district court abused its discretion by (1) failing to consider the best interests of the children; (2) refusing to depart downward from the child-support guidelines; and (3) adopting respondent’s proposed order verbatim. We affirm.
Nuro Bedaso Dedefo and respondent Bontu Bullo Gada married in November 1988 in
Prior to the dissolution proceeding, the parties agreed that appellant would have sole legal and physical custody of the two older children. Based on interviews and home visits with each party, the custody evaluator analyzed the “best interests” factors in Minn. Stat. § 518.17 and recommended that respondent be granted sole legal and physical custody of M.B. and A.B. Appellant moved for a second custody evaluation, arguing that the custody evaluator was personally biased against him. The district court denied the motion, finding that the first evaluation was “lengthy and detailed[,]” and that appellant failed to demonstrate personal bias in the evaluation.
On the first day of trial, the parties stated their intent to call additional witnesses. The district court refused to allow additional witnesses because the parties, without good cause, failed to submit witness lists pursuant to a pretrial order. Only appellant, respondent, and the custody evaluator were permitted to testify during the parties’ cases-in-chief.
testimony emphasized his accomplishments, including his position as a High
Court President in
Respondent testified that, consistent with the parties’ Oromo culture, she was the primary caretaker of M.B. and A.B. Respondent admitted that appellant’s mother cared for M.B. during the day for a few months while respondent worked, but testified that the children have attended daycare since the separation. She testified that no one else from appellant’s family provided care for M.B., and that A.B. never lived with appellant or the older siblings. Respondent stated that she intended to teach the children Oromo religion and culture. Respondent documented that she earned $1,985.16 in 2004.
For rebuttal, appellant requested that his mother be allowed to testify that she was the primary caretaker for M.B. and that his two older children be allowed to testify regarding respondent’s poor parenting abilities. Respondent requested that she be allowed to call her friends to testify to her parenting skills. The district court permitted appellant’s mother to testify that she cared for M.B. while the parties were residing together, but she admitted that respondent assumed the care of M.B. when respondent returned from work. The district court denied appellant’s request to call his two older children and denied respondent’s request to call other witnesses to testify on the basis that the testimony would be cumulative.
Following trial, the district court granted appellant sole legal and physical custody of the two older children pursuant to the parties’ agreement, granted respondent sole legal and physical custody of M.B. and A.B. subject to appellant’s parenting time, and ordered appellant to pay $1,200 per month for the support of M.B. and A.B. The district court denied appellant’s motions for amended findings, a new trial, and review. This appeal follows.
D E C I S I O N
Appellant challenges the district court’s determination that granting respondent sole legal and physical custody of M.B. and A.B. is in the children’s best interests.
A. Best Interests
district court has broad discretion to provide for custody of the parties’
children. Durkin v. Hinich, 442 N.W.2d 148, 151 (
district court’s determination must be primarily based on the best interests of
the child. See Pikula v. Pikula, 374 N.W.2d 705, 711 (
Here, the district court considered each of the statutory factors for determining the best interests of the children under Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 1 (2004). On appeal, appellant challenges the district court’s findings on three of the factors.
Appellant claims that the record does not support the district court’s finding that respondent is the primary caretaker of the two younger children, contending that respondent did not have a “bigger role” in caretaking than the rest of his family. Appellant argues that, consistent with Oromo custom and tradition that “it takes a village to raise a child,” it is the family that is the primary caretaker.
Interaction and Interrelationship of the Siblings
Appellant next argues
that the district court abused its discretion by finding that a split-custody
arrangement between the older and younger siblings was in their best interests.
Although split custody is not generally
favored,the supreme court has
approved split custody in appropriate circumstances. E.g., Sefkow
v. Sefkow, 427 N.W.2d 203, 215 (
The district court concluded that it was in the younger children’s best interests to have contact with their older siblings, but that these interests would be satisfied by contact during appellant’s parenting time. The court found “no testimony or offer of proof that showed the older siblings had any closer relationship to the younger children than aunts or uncles might have.” The record supports the district court’s finding. Respondent testified that the older siblings were not actively involved in M.B.’s care for the limited time that they resided together, and that A.B. never lived with the older siblings. And the custody evaluation noted that both sibling groups were settled and established in their respective homes.
Cultural and Religious Background
Appellant argues that the record does not support the district court’s finding that respondent is better able to teach the younger children about their culture and religion. The district court found that both parties value their Oromo culture and Muslim religion, but that respondent is “the better parent for the children to teach them their Oromo culture and to guide them in their American life.” These findings are supported by the record. Respondent testified to her desire to teach the children about Islam and Oromo culture; and the custody evaluation indicated that appellant is less able to teach his children both Oromo and American traditions.
In summary, the district court’s 18-page order addressed each of the statutory factors and is adequately supported by the record. Consequently, the district court did not abuse its discretion by awarding sole physical and legal custody of M.B. and A.B. to respondent.
B. Evidentiary Rulings
contends that the district court abused its discretion by refusing to order a
second custody evaluation because the custody evaluator was personally biased
against him. The decision whether to
order a custody evaluation is discretionary with the district court. Meyer
v. Meyer, 375 N.W.2d 820, 826 (
the district court concluded that the custody evaluation in question was thorough
and did not show evidence of personal bias against appellant. The record supports this determination. The custody evaluator addressed each of the
statutory factors in Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 1. The evaluator was subject to
cross-examination, which afforded appellant the opportunity to respond to any
adverse findings or expose any biases in the evaluation. Cf.
Scheibe v. Scheibe, 241 N.W.2d 100, 100 (
contends that the district court abused its discretion by refusing to allow the
older children to testify as rebuttal witnesses about their relationship with
the younger siblings. “Procedural and
evidentiary rulings are within the district court’s discretion and are reviewed
under an abuse-of-discretion standard.” Braith v. Fischer, 632 N.W.2d 716, 721
(Minn. App. 2001), review denied (
In his offer of proof, appellant stated that the older siblings would testify against respondent by confirming her parental unfitness. It is self-evident that allowing children to testify against one parent to bolster the claims of another parent is antithetical to the “best interests” focus of custody proceedings. See Minn. Stat. § 518.166 (2004) (judges may interview children about their custodial preference); 9A Uniform Laws Annotated, Comment to Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act § 404 cmt. (purpose of interview is to let judge learn custodial preference without “subject[ing] the child to the formality of the courtroom and the unpleasantness of cross-examination”). Because appellant failed to disclose the older children as witnesses on the witness list, it was within the discretion of the district court to deny appellant’s request to call them as rebuttal witnesses. On this record, it was not an abuse of discretion to exclude the older siblings’ testimony.
argues that the district court abused its discretion when it refused to depart
downward from the child-support guidelines despite appellant’s expenses related
to the two older children. A district
court has broad discretion to provide for the support of the parties’
children. Putz v. Putz, 645 N.W.2d 343, 347 (
the district court found that appellant has the ability to pay guideline child
support, but respondent does not. The
district court did not deviate from the guidelines in applying the
split-custody formula, finding appellant’s monthly child support payment to be
$1,200. The record supports this
determination. Appellant testified that
his net monthly income is $4,000; thus, as the non-custodial parent of two
children, he is obligated under the guidelines to allocate 30% of his net
monthly income, or $1,200, to child support.
Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5(b).
Respondent had an annual income of $1,985.16, or a monthly income of
$165. Based on this monthly income, the
district court had discretion under the guidelines to set respondent’s child
support obligation at $0.
Appellant, nonetheless, argues that he was entitled to a downward departure from the child-support guidelines based on the expenses he incurs supporting the two older children. Appellant relies on two cases to support this argument. Mancuso v. Mancuso, 417 N.W.2d 668, 673 (Minn. App. 1988) (reversing child support award strictly applying the statutory guidelines where it resulted in a substantial monthly shortfall and caused hardship for obligor’s four custodial children); see Linderman v. Linderman, 364 N.W.2d 872, 875-76 (Minn. App. 1985) (declining to award child support to either party in a split-custody arrangement because of adequate resources of each parent). But these cases are distinguishable. Here, unlike Linderman, the district court found that respondent did not have adequate resources to support M.B. and A.B. without appellant’s child support, and this finding is supported by the record. And in contrast to Mancuso, the district court did not find, and there is no evidence in the record, that appellant’s child support payment created a monthly shortfall between his necessary expenses and income.
Because the record supports the district court’s finding that application of the child support guidelines was appropriate and deviation from the guidelines was unwarranted, the court did not abuse its discretion in setting the child-support award.
also argues that the district court abused its role as an impartial fact-finder
by adopting respondent’s proposed findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order. “[V]erbatim adoption of a party’s proposed
findings and conclusions of law is not reversible error per se.” Bliss
v. Bliss, 493 N.W.2d 583, 590 (Minn. App. 1992), review
denied (Minn. Feb. 12, 1993). If the record supports the findings and shows that the district court considered all of the issues, such findings are not improper. Bersie v. Zycad Corp., 417 N.W.2d 288, 292 (
* Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.