This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. ß 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In re the Marriage of:
Trudy Kim McBride, petitioner,
Ronnie Walter McBride,
Filed October 3, 2006
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
††††††††††† 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.
††††††††††† 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 (
††††††††††† 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 (
††††††††††† On appeal, we review the findings on
which a custody award is based for clear error.†
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 (
††††††††††† 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.† 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,
††††††††††† 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,
††††††††††† 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
 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.