This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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

 

STATE OF MINNESOTA

IN COURT OF APPEALS

A05-2086

 

In re the Marriage of:

Trudy Kim McBride, petitioner,

 

Appellant,

 

vs.

 

Ronnie Walter McBride,

 

Respondent.

 

Filed October 3, 2006

Affirmed

Wright, Judge

 

Pennington County District Court

File No. F0-04-536

 

Kevin T. Duffy, P.O. Box 715, Thief River Falls, MN† 56701 (for appellant)

 

Ronnie McBride, 1104 Stevens Street, Lot 4, Thief River Falls, MN 56701 (pro se respondent)

 

††††††††††† Considered and decided by Hudson, Presiding Judge; Halbrooks Judge; and Wright, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D†† O P I N I O N

WRIGHT, Judge

††††††††††† In this appeal from the district courtís order denying her motion for a new trial, appellant-mother challenges several of the district courtís findings of fact regarding the best interests of the partiesí child that support the award of sole physical custody of the child to respondent-father.† We construe the appeal to be from the underlying dissolution judgment, and we affirm.

FACTS

††††††††††† Appellant-mother Trudy McBride and respondent-father Ronnie McBride married in 1997 and had one child.† When their marriage deteriorated, mother left the marital home, taking the partiesí child out of state.† Father petitioned the district court for an order for protection (OFP), alleging that mother had physically abused the child.† A child in need of protection or services petition was filed, and mother subsequently petitioned to dissolve the marriage.† The parties stipulated to some dissolution issues but left others, including custody of the partiesí child, to be resolved by the district court. †In the judgment dissolving the partiesí marriage, the district court awarded the parties joint legal custody of their child and awarded father sole physical custody.† In an order dated September 30, 2005, the district court denied motherís motion for a new trial, and mother appealed that order.† Because father did not file a brief, we issued an order stating that, under Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 142.03, the appeal would be decided on its merits.

D E C I S I O N

††††††††††† Custody decisions of the district court must be based on the childís best interests.† Minn. Stat. ß 518.17, subd. 3(a)(3) (2004); see Minn. Stat. ß 518.17, subd. 1(a) (2004) (listing best-interests factors).† Our review of a district courtís decision as to custody is limited to determining whether the district court abused its discretion by incorrectly applying the law or by making findings of fact unsupported by the record.† Silbaugh v. Silbaugh, 543 N.W.2d 639, 641 (Minn. 1996).† Here, mother challenges several of the district courtís findings regarding the childís best interests.

I.

††††††††††† Motherís notice of appeal states that she appealed the order denying her motion for a new trial, but it did not address the dissolution judgment containing the best-interests findings that she challenges in her brief.† A notice of appeal is liberally construed in favor of its sufficiency, and it is not insufficient because of defects that could not have been misleading.† Kelly v. Kelly, 371 N.W.2d 193, 195-96 (Minn. 1985).† ď[A] notice of appeal is sufficient if it shows an intent to appeal and the order appealed from apprises the parties of the issues to be litigated on appeal.Ē† Id.† Because it is plainly evident from motherís statement of the case that this appeal would address ď[w]hether the trial court erred and abused its discretion in granting sole physical custody [of] the minor child to [father,]Ē father could not have been misled about the nature of the appeal.† We, therefore, construe this appeal to be from the dissolution judgment, which contains the findings that mother challenges.

II.

††††††††††† On appeal, we review the findings on which a custody award is based for clear error.† Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01; Ayers v. Ayers, 508 N.W.2d 515, 518 (Minn. 1993).† In doing so, we view the record in the light most favorable to the challenged findings.† Ayers, 508 N.W.2d at 521.† To successfully challenge findings of fact,

the party challenging the findings must show that despite viewing [the] evidence in the light most favorable to the [district] courtís findings (and accounting for an appellate courtís deference to a [district] courtís credibility determinations and its inability to resolve conflicts in the evidence), the record still requires the definite and firm conviction that a mistake was made.†

 

Vangsness v. Vangsness, 607 N.W.2d 468, 474 (Minn. App. 2000).† We need not ďdiscuss and review in detail the evidence for the purpose of demonstrating that it supports the trial courtís findings.Ē Wilson v. Moline, 234 Minn. 174, 182, 47 N.W.2d 865, 870 (1951).† Rather, our duty is satisfied when we consider all the evidence and conclude that the record reasonably supports the findings.† Id.; see Vangsness, 607 N.W.2d at 474-75 & n.1 (applying Wilson in dissolution case).†

††††††††††† Here, after considering the district courtís findings of fact and motherís challenges thereto, and after a thorough review of the record, we conclude that mother has not shown that the challenged findings are clearly erroneous.† We address with particularity certain arguments mother raises to contest the district courtís findings.†

††††††††††† Mother first challenges aspects of the findings addressing the childís relationship with those who may affect the childís interests.† But the focus of these findings was the partiesí relationships with their extended families, and the portions of the record that mother cites to challenge these findings do not address her relationship with her extended family.† Thus, mother fails to establish that these findings are clearly erroneous.

††††††††††† We also reject motherís challenges to the finding addressing the childís adjustment to her home, school, and community.† That finding notes that father lives in the marital home and would keep the child in her current school, while mother would move the child and put her in a new school.[1]† Motherís argument focuses on the educational portion of the finding rather than both the childís education and the childís home.† The district court carefully considered motherís contributions to the childís educational development but, consistent with caselaw supporting stability of custody, found that this factor favored father.† Cf. Frauenshuh v. Giese, 599 N.W.2d 153, 158 (Minn. 1999) (stating that caselaw and the approach taken by the legislature both ďreflect[] a settled policy view that stability of custody is usually in the childís best interestĒ); In re Weber, 653 N.W.2d 804, 811 (Minn. App. 2002) (same).† The evidence supports the district courtís finding in this regard.

††††††††††† Mother contests the district courtís finding that the best-interests factor regarding religion favors father.† But it is undisputed that mother was not affiliated with a church at the time of trial.† And although mother argues that a February 2005 report addressing fatherís religious status might be stale, motherís attorney did not address this point when cross-examining the reportís author.† Motherís argument that the judgment is internally inconsistent because, after finding that the religion factor favored father, it also stated that ď[n]either party indicated that they had any particular religionĒ does not merit reversal. †That father attends a particular church is undisputed in the record.† We decline to remand for clarification of whether father belongs to that church or merely attends without being a member.† Cf. Wibbens v. Wibbens, 379 N.W.2d 225, 227 (Minn. App. 1985) (declining to remand for de minimis error).

††††††††††† Mother also claims that the finding addressing the length of time the child has spent in a stable environment is clearly erroneous.† That finding understandably focuses on events relating to motherís departure from the home with the child and the OFP.† Because the OFP is not before us in this dissolution appeal, we do not address it on the merits.† And motherís assertion in district court that father sought the OFP to obtain an advantage in the custody dispute presented a credibility issue that the district court resolved in fatherís favor.† Because the district court is better able to assess witness credibility, we will not disturb a district courtís credibility determination on appeal.† Sefkow v. Sefkow, 427 N.W.2d 203, 210 (Minn. 1988).† Mother challenges the district courtís finding by emphasizing the stability of her home.† In doing so, she invites us to reweigh the evidence in a manner more favorable to her.† We decline this invitation.† See Vangsness, 607 N.W.2d at 477 (stating that current law ďleaves scant if any room for an appellate court to question the trial courtís balancing of best-interests considerationsĒ).† Furthermore, because both parents will contribute to the cost of raising the child, motherís greater earnings and employment capacity are of limited weight.

††††††††††† We next address motherís arguments regarding the health of the parties.† Mother argues that the district court should have found that father was not in good physical health.† But the absence of this finding is not indicative of error because the state of fatherís physical health was uncontested.† Regarding motherís challenges to the district courtís assessment of certain expert mental-health testimony and to findings regarding the partiesí mental health, we defer to district court determinations regarding the weight and credibility of evidence offered by experts.† State ex rel. Trimble v. Hedman, 291 Minn. 442, 456, 192 N.W.2d 432, 440 (1971).† Moreover, given the childís current age, it would be improper to allow the current custody determination to be driven by defects in fatherís parenting that mother asserts may manifest themselves when the child becomes a teenager.†

††††††††††† Each party hired an expert who prepared a custody report favoring the party who hired the expert.† Mother argues that the district court should have made additional findings regarding the custody reports, including when they were written and the authorsí neutrality or bias against mother.† But the dates of the reports were not contested, fatherís expert testified at trial that the trial testimony did not cause her to alter her custody recommendation, and we defer again to the district courtís assessment of the weight and credibility of expert evidence.† Hedman, 291 Minn. at 456, 192 N.W.2d at 440.† In addition, the record indicates that mother did not adequately present to the district court her assertion that fatherís expert was biased against mother.† Cf. Antonson v. Ekvall, 289 Minn. 536, 539, 186 N.W.2d 187, 189 (1971) (upholding denial of new trial motion based on a theory that had not been raised at an earlier stage of the action, stating that although the pleadings were general enough to have possibly made a claim based on the theory, the complaint contained no language that would alert anyone to a claim based on the theory, and plaintiff did not present the theory at trial).† Finally, to the extent mother argues that the report of fatherís expert was defective because the expert did not consult with mother, we observe that the expert was hired to do a home study of fatherís home, she had previously met with both parties in connection with the OFP, and she based her recommendation in this proceeding, in part, on information acquired in her earlier meetings with the parties.† The alleged defects in the report were apparent to the district court, which is exclusively responsible for determining the reportís weight and the authorís credibility.† As such, this argument does not entitle mother to relief.

††††††††††† Affirmed.



[1] Mother notes that a conclusion of law states that this factor favors ďPetitionerĒ (mother). She acknowledges that the reference to ďPetitionerĒ is a mistake, as father, the respondent in the district court, lives in the marital home.