may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In Re the Marriage of:
Christopher Michael Pask, petitioner,
Susan Jean Pask,
Filed January 28, 1997
Anoka County District Court
File No. FX-94-7186
Elaine Schwartz, Schwartz & Gnewuch, Ltd., 2150 Third Avenue, Suite 30, Anoka, MN 55303 (for Respondent)
George C. Riggs, George C. Riggs & Associates, P.A., 888 Highway 10 Northeast, Blaine, MN 55434 (for Appellant)
Considered and decided by Norton, Presiding Judge, Peterson, Judge, and Forsberg, Judge.[*]
Appellant alleges that the trial court abused its discretion by concluding that the best interests of the children were served by granting respondent sole physical custody. Appellant maintains that the trial court's findings are not supported by the evidence and are not adequate to support the decision. The record demonstrates that the trial court's decision is supported by adequate findings, and the findings are supported by the evidence. We affirm.
At the dissolution trial, both father and mother testified at length regarding their parenting capabilities and relationship with the children. In addition, father and mother each called four witnesses to testify regarding their parenting abilities. Finally, Susan St. Clair, the Anoka County custody evaluator, testified that the best interests of the children would be served by awarding both parties legal custody and father sole physical custody.
An appellate court may not reverse a custody determination unless the trial court abused its discretion by making findings unsupported by the evidence or by improperly applying the law. Pikula v. Pikula, 374 N.W.2d 705, 710 (Minn. 1985). A trial court's findings must be sustained unless they are clearly erroneous. Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01. Where the evidence supports conclusions reached by the trial court, the appellate court must affirm, even if the evidence supports other conclusions as well. Sefkow v. Sefkow, 427 N.W.2d 203, 211 (Minn. 1988).
A trial court's custody determination must be based on the best interests of the children. Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 1(a) (1996).
The court must make detailed findings on each of the [best interests] factors [in section 518.17, subdivision 1] and explain how the factors led to its conclusions and to the determination of the best interests of the child
Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 1 (1996). See also Rosenfeld v. Rosenfeld, 311 Minn. 76, 82, 249 N.W.2d 168, 171 (1976) (in view of broad discretion accorded to trial court, trial court's findings must be set forth with high degree of particularity to ensure meaningful appellate review) (quoting Wallin v. Wallin, 290 Minn. 261, 267, 187 N.W.2d 627, 631 (1971)). As described below, the trial court's findings satisfy the particularity requirement, because the trial court considered each pertinent best interest factor in detail. Moreover, as required by Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 1(a), the trial court's findings and conclusions "explain how" the children's best interests are served by granting father sole physical custody. For example, the trial court concluded that father's proposed custodial home served the children's best interests, because it was permanent, while mother's proposed custodial home did not serve the children's best interests, because it was dependent upon her relationship with her boyfriend.
Mother argues that the trial court abused its discretion by granting father sole physical custody, because she was the children's primary caretaker for the majority of their lives, and father was never their primary caretaker. Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 1(a)(3). We disagree. The trial court found that the children's grandmother, mother, and father were all primary caretakers of the children at one time or another. The trial court heard evidence regarding all three parties, weighed the conflicting evidence, and made a finding. It is the proper role of the trial court to weigh conflicting testimony; the appellate court must defer to the trial court's decision. See Straus v. Straus, 254 Minn. 234, 235, 94 N.W.2d 679, 680 (1959) (trial court resolves conflicts in evidence). Furthermore, the primary caretaker factor is not to be used to the exclusion of the other factors when granting custody. Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 1(a).
Mother alleges that the trial court failed to address the adjustment the children would have to make regarding their home, school, and community if father were granted physical custody. Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 1(a)(6). We disagree. The trial court's finding did consider Melanie's adjustment to school, stating that if father were awarded physical custody, Melanie would attend school within one block of her home. This finding is supported by the evidence presented at trial, because father testified that if the children were to live with him, Melanie would attend Eisenhower Elementary School, which is across the street from his mobile home. The trial court's failure to address Bobby's adjustment to school was not clearly erroneous, because he was not enrolled in preschool at the time of the trial. Further elaboration on the children's adjustment to the community is arguably unnecessary as the children are only three and six years old. The trial court's finding must be sustained, because it is supported by the evidence and is not clearly erroneous. Pikula, 374 N.W.2d at 710.
Mother alleges that the court ignored her ability to provide the children continuity and stability in a satisfactory environment. Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 1(a)(7). We disagree. The trial court considered whether mother offered the children continuity and stability in a satisfactory environment and expressly found that mother did not offer the children such an environment, because she inappropriately disciplined the children and was verbally abusive to Melanie. The trial court's finding regarding mother's discipline and treatment of Melanie is supported by an abundance of evidence. Father and mother testified that mother disciplined the children by yelling, slapping, spanking, or biting them if they bit someone. Brenda Pask, father's sister-in-law, and Ted Pask, father's brother, testified that they disapproved of mother's discipline of Melanie. Finally, mother stated that she told Melanie, "Bobby is my favorite. It doesn't mean that Mommy loves you any less, but right now Bobby needs Mommy more than Melanie does." Mother testified that she believes the statement increased her daughter's self esteem, because it showed her daughter that she respected her enough not to lie to her.
Alternatively, the trial court found that father could offer the children stability and continuity, because he resides in the children's birth home, has a loving relationship with the children, and provides an appropriate, safe, and satisfactory environment for the children. This finding is supported by the evidence. The trial court considered each parent's ability to provide the children stability and continuity and found that father is better equipped to fill this need. We must defer to the trial court's authority to weigh the evidence, determine its credibility, and reach a decision. Sefkow, 427 N.W.2d at 211. The trial court's finding must be sustained, because it is supported by the evidence and is not clearly erroneous. Pikula, 374 N.W.2d at 710.
In addition to the three best interests factors discussed above, which mother specifically contested, mother argued that on the whole, the trial court's findings were generally inadequate and without support in the record. We disagree. The trial court produced eight pages of detailed findings regarding the children's custody. All of the findings are supported by the evidence presented to the trial court.
The trial court found that both mother and father desired sole physical custody of the children and that the parties were willing to share joint legal custody. Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 1(a)(1). Mother and father testified at trial that they desired sole physical custody of the parties' children, and both stipulated that they would agree to joint legal custody. The trial court found that the children are not of a sufficient age to express a reasonable preference for custody. Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 1(a)(2). At the time of trial, Melanie was six years old and Bobby was three years old.
The trial court found that Melanie had a moderately strong, positive involvement with her father and ambivalent involvement with her mother and that Bobby had a warm and loving relationship with his father and interacted with his mother in a positive manner. Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 1(a)(4). The trial court's finding is supported by the evidence in St. Clair's custody evaluation.
The trial court found that the children interacted with their father in a warm, loving, positive, and affectionate way and that mother and her live-in boyfriend related well to the children, but that mother was "bossy" at times. Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 1(a)(5). The trial court's finding is supported by the evidence in St. Clair's custody evaluation.
The trial court found that father could offer the children a stable home, while the stability of mother's home was dependent upon her relationship with her boyfriend and her boyfriend's father. Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 1(a)(8). Father testified that each child would have his or her own bedroom in his home if he were awarded custody. Mother testified that she and her boyfriend are living together and currently rent a home from her boyfriend's father.
The trial court found that mother and father were in good physical health. Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 1(a)(9). The trial court found that MMPI-2s indicated that: father has completed a chemical education program, is attending Alcoholics Anonymous, and has experienced 18 months of sobriety; mother's relationships with others are superficial, insincere, manipulative and opportunistic, and that mother is insensitive, irritable, impatient, and hostile; and mother's boyfriend is superficial, insincere, opportunistic, manipulative, insensitive, immature, and hostile. The MMPIs and custody evaluation support the trial court's finding verbatim.
The trial court found that mother favored Bobby and showed insensitivity to Melanie's needs and that father had successfully completed a parenting course. Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 1(a)(10). Mother testified that she told Melanie that Bobby was her favorite. Father testified that he completed the parenting class by the Fathers' Resource Center.
The trial court found there were no cultural differences which would have an impact on the custody issue in this case. Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 1(a)(11). No evidence suggests the trial court's finding is erroneous. The trial court addressed the effect on the children of an abuser, if related to domestic abuse that has occurred between the parents, and found there was no evidence of any abuse between mother and father. Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 1(a)(12). There is no evidence in the record of any abuse between the parties.
The trial court found that after mother was given temporary sole physical and legal custody of the parties' children, she was reluctant to allow father to have a meaningful relationship with the children. Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 1(a)(13). The trial court found that mother was controlling and condescending to father and that she did not view him as an equal parent, and the court stated concern that her negative attitude would diminish father's importance in the children's lives. At trial, father testified that mother refused to allow him to take the children on vacation when she was given sole legal and physical custody. Likewise, the custody evaluation stated that mother was very controlling with father regarding visitation.
The trial court considered each of the section 518.17, subdivision 1(a) factors before determining that the best interests of the children mandated sole physical custody with father. The trial court's conclusion that the children's best interests were served by granting father sole physical custody is supported by adequate findings and those findings are supported by the record. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion.
[ ]* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 2.