This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In re the Matter of:
Christine Louise Bolander,
n/k/a Christine Bolander-Moreland, petitioner,
Joel Blake DeForrest,
Filed August 21, 2007
Mille Lacs County District Court
File No. 48-F5-97-050207
John P. Guzik, Guzik Law Office,
Doug Clark, Law Offices of St. Cloud Area Legal Services, 830 West St. Germain, Suite 300, P.O. Box 886, St. cloud, MN 56302 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Ross, Presiding Judge; Toussaint, Chief Judge; and Parker, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant-mother Christine Bolander-Moreland challenges the district court’s denial of her motion to modify custody without an evidentiary hearing, arguing that the district court’s finding that she did not show a change in circumstances is clearly erroneous and that she presented a prima facie case requiring an evidentiary hearing. Because the district court’s finding is not clearly erroneous and it was not an abuse of discretion to deny mother’s motion without an evidentiary hearing, we affirm.
D E C I S I O N
We review a district
court’s decision to deny a motion to modify custody without an evidentiary
hearing for an abuse of discretion, In re
Weber, 653 N.W.2d 804, 809 (Minn. App. 2002), and a district court’s
findings of fact will not be set aside unless clearly erroneous.
The party seeking custody modification must submit an
affidavit in support of his or her motion.
In deciding whether a party
makes a prima facie case to modify custody, “the court must accept the facts in
the moving party’s affidavits as true, and the allegations do not need
independent substantiation.” Geibe v. Geibe, 571 N.W.2d 774, 777 (
Mother argues that she made a prima facie case for modification due to endangerment and that the district court’s finding that she presented no change in circumstances is clearly erroneous. Mother contends that J.L.B.’s poor performance in school, father’s allegedly unsafe home, and father’s alleged interference with her parenting time are changed circumstances that justify modification.
What constitutes changed
circumstances for custody-modification purposes is “determined on a
case-by-case basis.” Lilleboe v. Lilleboe, 453 N.W.2d 721,
First, J.L.B.’s poor performance at school is not a changed circumstance since the date of the prior order. Although mother’s affidavits detail J.L.B.’s recent poor performance at school, the district court previously found that J.L.B. struggled academically, had difficulty focusing, and displayed behavioral problems at school. Mother’s affidavits, along with nonconflicting portions of father’s affidavit, show that J.L.B.’s academic problems continue. The affidavits also show that father took steps to help J.L.B. perform in school and that the child attended summer school. The evidence also shows that J.L.B. may perform poorly intentionally due to “problems he experience[s] in his family life,” namely his parents’ obvious distain for each other. J.L.B.’s absences from school also do not show that father is not providing for J.L.B., given the child’s medical issues. Therefore we conclude that J.L.B.’s recent performance in school is not a “real change” but is part of a continuing problem resulting from his parents’ antagonistic relationship. Roehrdanz, 438 N.W.2d at 690.
Next, the fact that father’s home is not safe does not rise to a significant change in circumstances that endangers the child. Mother cites a notation in a police report, filed after she requested a “welfare check” on J.L.B., that father’s home was dirty and that J.L.B. was not properly supervised in the home. Mother also argues, without support from any specific source, that the child contracted scabies due to the home’s condition. See Weber, 653 N.W.2d at 811 (stating that an evidentiary hearing may be denied when the moving party’s affidavit is “devoid of allegations supported by any specific, credible evidence” (quotation omitted)). We hold that the single notation about father’s dirty home, and that he was asleep while J.L.B. was awake and otherwise unsupervised in the home, does not constitute evidence of a significant change in circumstances that endangers the child. The isolated description of father’s home on one evening, even if true, is not sufficient to prove a prima facie case of endangerment requiring an evidentiary hearing.
Aside from the notation in the police report regarding the home’s condition, there is no specific evidence to show that J.L.B.’s current home is unsuitable for the child or that father failed to provide for J.L.B’s physical or emotional needs. J.L.B.’s alleged crying and making statements to his mother that he wants to be with her also do not show a change in circumstances. J.L.B. continues to be stuck in the middle of his parents’ contentious relationship, and he “tries to keep them happy by telling them only what he thinks they want to hear.”
Finally, father’s alleged
interference with mother’s parenting time is insufficient to show a substantial
change in circumstances warranting an evidentiary hearing. “A denial or interference with visitation is
not controlling in a custody-modification proceeding, but such events are to be
considered along with the custody-modification standard . . . .” Sharp
v. Bilbro, 614 N.W.2d 260, 263 (
Considering mother’s argument in the context of her other allegations, father’s alleged parenting-time interference is insufficient to constitute a prima facie case for modification. Mother alleges that father interferes with her telephone contact with J.L.B. by limiting his telephone access. But even assuming mother’s allegations are true, father’s alleged conduct does not completely deprive her of telephone contact with J.L.B., and she continues to enjoy substantial parenting time, including all but two weeks of the summer, every-other weekend, one weekday afternoon, and every-other school break. Mother also raises a July 2005 incident in which father allegedly refused to return J.L.B. to mother during her summer parenting time. But that dispute arose because of an ambiguity in the district court’s parenting-time order and required the district court’s clarification. Therefore the record shows that father’s alleged parenting-time interference is not a significant change in circumstance that endangers J.L.B. and it is insufficient to warrant an evidentiary hearing.
We hold that it was not an abuse of discretion for the district court to deny mother’s motion to modify custody because she failed to present a prima facie case of endangerment. The district court’s finding that mother failed to show changed circumstances is fully supported by the record and not clearly erroneous. Moreover, the district court carefully considered the evidence and the parties’ long and difficult relationship, and neither challenges the district court’s conclusion that mother and father’s antagonism and distrust of each other continue to “prevent the parties from working together to address [J.L.B.’s] needs.” On this record, the district court properly denied mother’s motion to modify custody, and she failed to make a prima facie case requiring an evidentiary hearing.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.