Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Sheryl Lyn Hayward, petitioner,
Bradley Scott Beagle,
File No. F4953161
Gerald O. Williams, Jr., Kissoon, Clugg, Linder & Dittberner, Ltd., 3205 West 76th Street, Edina, MN 55435-5244 (for appellant)
Mary Catherine Lauhead, Donald L. Enockson, 3985 Clover Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55127-7015 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge, Kalitowski, Judge, and Short, Judge.
Appellant Sheryl Lyn Hayward contests the district court's: (1) award of sole physical custody of the parties' two minor children to respondent Bradley Scott Beagle; and (2) valuation of respondent's 401(k) interest. We affirm as modified.
An appellate court will affirm a custody determination unless the district 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 district court's findings will be sustained unless they are clearly erroneous. Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01. Appellant contends the district court abused its discretion in awarding custody of their two children to respondent. We disagree.
Custody is determined by considering the best interests of the child. Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 3(a)(3) (1996). "`The best interests of the child' means all relevant factors to be considered and evaluated by the court," including the 12 factors listed in the statute. Id., subd. 1(a) (Supp. 1997). The district court's findings in this case are extensive and address each of the statutory factors as required by Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 1 (a), to determine the children's best interests.
With regard to the disputed "primary caretaker" factor of Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 1(a)(3), the district court found that appellant was the children's primary caretaker early in the marriage, but that respondent has been the primary caretaker since the parties' separation. The primary caretaker is to be determined as of the separation of the parties if the separation date is reasonably close to the actual trial; otherwise, the analysis must be adjusted accordingly. Sefkow v. Sefkow, 427 N.W.2d 203, 212 (Minn. 1988). Here the parties have been separated since the summer of 1995. Further, although the primary caretaker determination remains a best interests factor, the legislature removed its presumptive preference in 1989. Maxfield v. Maxfield, 452 N.W.2d 219, 222 (Minn. 1990). We conclude that the evidence supports the district court's finding that respondent is now the children's primary caretaker.
The court also made detailed and specific findings on each of the other relevant factors, and we conclude the district court did not abuse its discretion in making those findings. The court did not determine that appellant is an unfit parent. Rather, the court had to make a difficult choice between two suitable and loving parents. The court particularly noted the strong ties the children have to their community and schools and the benefits to them of remaining in the family home. We cannot say the district court abused its discretion by determining that it is in the children's best interests that they remain with respondent.
We also disagree with appellant's contention that the district court erred in rejecting the recommendations made by the guardian ad litem and court evaluator. The court noted that "their emphasis concentrated on the emotional responses of the children" and not on other relevant factors. Further, the district court has the discretion to resolve the conflicting testimony of witnesses. See Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01 ("due regard shall be given to the opportunity of the trial court to judge the credibility of the witnesses"); General v. General, 409 N.W.2d 511, 513 (Minn. App. 1987) (noting appellate court defers to the district court's "assessment of credibility of witnesses and the weight to be given to their testimony").
Appellant contends the district court abused its discretion by disregarding all evidence that reflected negatively on respondent and failing to give proper weight to the evidence in her favor. We disagree. The district court found that both parents love and care for their children and did not clearly abuse its discretion when assessing the weight to be given to the evidence and applying the statutory criteria.
Finally, contrary to appellant's assertion, the record indicates that the district court did not change the parties' stipulation of joint legal custody.
Affirmed as modified.