This opinion will be unpublished and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:
Steven Thomas Hennek,
Margaret Giles Hennek
n/k/a Margaret Frances Giles,
Filed August 1, 2006
Reversed and Remanded
Ramsey County District Court
File No. DM-F3-02-384
Timothy D. Lees, Hennek, Klaenhammer & Lees, P.A., 2585 Hamline Avenue North, Suite A, Roseville, MN 55113 (for petitioner/appellant)
Considered and decided by Wright, Presiding Judge; Toussaint, Chief Judge; and Ross, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant-father Steven Thomas Hennek challenges the district court’s order directing that E.H., the child of Hennek and respondent-mother Margaret Frances Giles, attend school in Giles’s district of residence rather than Hennek’s. Because the district court’s findings are inadequate to permit appellate review of its decision, we reverse and remand for particularized findings.
Hennek and Giles married in 1990. Their daughter, E.H., was born in December 1999, and they divorced in January 2003. The district court awarded them joint legal and physical custody of E.H.
In February 2004, Giles was living in
Hennek moved the district court for an order directing that E.H.
attend school in Mahtomedi. Hennek
supported the motion with the school-placement advisor’s assessment of E.H. and
other evidence purporting to show that Mahtomedi schools are superior to
An award of legal custody includes an award to
the legal custodian of “the right to determine the child’s upbringing,
including education.” Minn. Stat. §
518.003, subd. 3(a) (2004). When, as
here, parents share joint legal custody of a child, “both parents have equal
rights and responsibilities, including the right to participate in major
decisions determining the child’s upbringing, including education.”
In a typical custody dispute, custody decisions
are based on the child’s best interests and are reviewed for an abuse of
discretion, which occurs if a district court makes findings unsupported by the
evidence or improperly applies the law. Minn.
Stat. § 518.17, subd. 3(a)(3) (2004) (describing best-interests standard);
Frauenshuh v. Giese, 599 N.W.2d 153,
When joint legal custodians, like the parents
here, cannot agree on which school their child should attend, the district court
must resolve the dispute consistent with the child’s best interests. Novak,
446 N.W.2d at 424. A child’s “best interests” are defined as
“all relevant factors,” including those listed in Minn. Stat. § 518.17,
subd. 1(a)(1)-(13). Minn. Stat. § 518.17,
subd. 1(a) (2004). “The
court must make detailed findings on each of the factors and explain how the
factors led to its conclusions and to the determination of the best interests
of the child.”
Hennek contends that the district court failed to make adequately detailed findings in support of its decision that E.H.’s best interests are served by attending school in Giles’s district of residence. We believe Hennek is correct. The district court’s order contains six findings of fact. The first four provide the factual background of the school-selection disagreement; the fifth states that the differences between the school districts did not influence the decision; and the sixth concludes summarily that E.H.’s best interests are served by attending school in her mother’s home district. These findings tell us nothing of the basis for the district court’s decision, and so they do not permit effective review. Their inadequacy requires that we reverse the decision and remand for further consideration of the relevant statutory factors and preparation of particularized findings relating to these factors. See Rogge v. Rogge, 509 N.W.2d 163, 166 (Minn. App. 1993) (holding that remand is warranted when inadequate findings prevent meaningful review), review denied (Minn. Jan. 28, 1994).
It is true that the list of statutory best-interest factors is
neither exclusive nor suited to mechanical application when the district court
is addressing a child’s best interests for reasons other than awarding custody,
as here. In re Paternity of B.J.H., 573 N.W.2d 99, 102 (
Hennek also contends that the district court’s determination was
impermissibly based on Giles’s gender.
He speculates that because “[t]he only difference between these parties
[for the purpose of school selection] is gender and a small difference in
percentage of time they spend with their child,” the court’s statement that E.H.
“should be in the district where [Giles] resides” may be based on gender. Hennek offers no evidence in support of this
serious charge, and we see none in the record.
We decline to presume that the district court’s decision was based on improper
gender bias in the absence of clear record evidence, and we urge counsel to
adopt the same presumption. See Loth v. Loth, 227
Reversed and remanded.