This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1994)
State of Minnesota
in Court of Appeals
In Re the Marriage of:
Mary Ellen Christopherson, petitioner,
Darcy Leon Christopherson,
In Re the Matter of the Petition of:
Darcy Leon Christopherson and Mary Ellen
Christopherson to adopt Nicholas Christopherson
and Kelly Jo Christopherson.
Filed June 25, 1996
Reversed and remanded.
Washington County District Court
File No. F8904990
David R. Newcomb, Jr., Ayers & Riehm, 2330 American Bank Building, 101 East
Fifth Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for Respondent)
Wright S. Walling, Nathalie S. Rabuse, Walling & Berg, P.A., 701 Fourth
Avenue South, Suite 650, Minneapolis, MN 55415-1873 (for Appellant)
Considered and decided by Randall, Presiding Judge, Kalitowski, Judge, and
[Footnote] (1)Retired judge of the district court,
serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals
by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI,
SCHULTZ, Judge (Hon. Howard R. Albertson, District Court Trial
Appellant Darcy Leon Christopherson challenges a postdecree order denying
his motion to terminate his adoptive parental rights and child support
obligations. Appellant argues that his parental obligations to the
biological children of respondent Mary Ellen Christopherson should be
vacated because the adoption was predicated on fraud and misrepresentation.
A reviewing court is not bound by and need not give deference to a trial
court's decision on a purely legal issue. Frost-Benco Elec. Ass'n v.
Minnesota Pub. Utils. Comm'n, 358 N.W.2d 639, 642 (Minn. 1984).
Findings of fact, whether based on oral or documentary evidence, shall not
be set aside unless clearly erroneous, and due regard shall be given to the
opportunity of the trial court to judge the credibility of the witnesses.
Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01.
Appellant argues the trial court erred by failing to grant his motion to
vacate the adoption and child support order. He contends the trial court
applied the incorrect standard of proof in determining that the evidence
presented did not support a finding that the adoption was predicated on
[U]nless otherwise indicated by the legislature, the
standard of proof in all fraud cases is the
preponderance of the evidence standard.
State by Humphrey v. Alpine Air Prods., Inc., 500 N.W.2d 788, 791
Applying the ``clear and convincing'' standard of proof, the trial court
(1) found that appellant, without coercion, had willingly adopted the
children of his former spouse and (2) concluded that respondent had not
fraudulently induced appellant into adopting her children. Thereby, the
trial court denied appellant's motions to vacate his adoptive parental
rights and child support obligations.
On review of the record, we note that the circumstances surrounding the
adoption and dissolution give us great concern. We are obviously troubled
that the trial court applied the incorrect standard of proof. We are also
concerned by the trial court's findings that (1) respondent petitioned for
dissolution within one week of the finalization of the adoption, (2)
respondent did not present any evidence to contradict the timing of her
dissolution request, (3) prior to dissolution, respondent drafted a letter
disclaiming any child support from appellant, and (4) the trial court
recognized that ``something was amiss'' in this process.
The correct standard of proof for fraud is preponderance of the evidence.
We conclude, therefore, that the trial court's application of a clear and
convincing evidence standard of proof was erroneous. We do not, however,
address the denial of appellant's motions to vacate the adoption and child
support obligation. The order of the trial court is reversed, and this case
remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Reversed and remanded.