STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In Re the Marriage of:
Scott Alan Moe, petitioner,
Sandra Lynn Moe, f/k/a Sandra Lynn Erickson,
Filed November 16, 1999
Chippewa County District Court
File No. F298113
John E. Mack, Mack & Daby, P.A., 26 Main Street, New London, MN 56273 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Amundson, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Peterson, Judge.
Scott Moe challenges the district court's denial of his motion to modify custody. Because we see neither error of law nor abuse of discretion in the court's decision, we affirm.
In November 1997, Sandra Moe discovered pictures the younger child had drawn that seemed to depict oral sexual intercourse. Sandra Moe testified that she tried to discuss these pictures with Scott Moe several times. Sandra Moe also showed the drawings to the children's psychologist and reported them to Chippewa County Human Services. The psychologist, based on her viewing of the pictures as well as other "red flags," eventually concluded that the children might have been sexually abused. She further suggested that Scott Moe might have been the person abusing the children. An investigation by Chippewa County and Midwest Children's Resource Center found insufficient evidence of sexual abuse. During this time, Sandra Moe continually interfered with or withheld Scott Moe's visitation. Scott Moe testified that in 1997, Sandra Moe either denied or was late in every visitation except one.
In March 1998, Scott Moe moved to modify custody to allow him sole physical custody of both children, citing interference with visitation and unfitness of the children's environment in Sandra Moe's home. The district court denied the motion after an evidentiary hearing. Scott Moe appeals, asserting (1) that the district court abused its discretion by failing to make particularized findings on why it rejected the custody recommendations of the guardian ad litem and a court-appointed psychologist; and (2) that the court's denial of modification was not properly based on the evidence.
The district court is not, however, required to expressly address each statutory custody factor. Rosenfeld v. Rosenfeld, 311 Minn. 76, 83, 249 N.W.2d 168, 171-72 (Minn. 1976). Rather, the "findings as a whole" must "reflect that the district court has taken the statutory factors into consideration * * * in reaching its decision." Id. If the findings reflect consideration of the relevant factors, the district court need not specifically state why it rejected an evaluator's recommendation. Rutanen v. Olson, 475 N.W.2d 100, 104 (Minn. App. 1991); see also Rogge, 509 N.W.2d at 166.
The district court did not specifically explain its rejection of the modification recommendations of the court-appointed guardian ad litem and psychologist. But the district court's order and an accompanying memorandum demonstrate careful consideration of each statutory custody-modification factor. The court properly began its analysis with the statutory presumption against custody modification. The court then applied the four-prong test to determine whether this was an exceptional case warranting custody modification. Finally, the court addressed individually each of the 12 relevant best-interests-of-the-child factors. See Minn. Stat. § 518.17(a) (1998).
The guardian ad litem and psychologist both based their custody recommendations on Sandra Moe's emotional well-being and its impact on the children. The court acknowledged that "the current environment and [Sandra Moe's] extreme distrust of [Scott Moe] presents some concern and may impact the children's emotional well-being." The court concluded, however, that the impact did not rise to the level of "significantly endangering the children's emotional well-being" and that "the harm likely to be caused by a change of environment [was] not outweighed by the advantage of a change to the children." The court noted that granting Scott Moe custody would require the children to move to a different city, enroll in different schools, and disrupt the counseling programs in which the children had been participating. Although the court indicated that moving would not impose a significant degree of harm or difficulty, it found that the disadvantages of relocation outweighed the likely advantages of a custody change.
The district court's findings demonstrate a careful analysis of the statutory factors and are more than adequate to meet the particularity requirements imposed by this court and the Minnesota Supreme Court. See Wallin, 187 N.W.2d at 631; Rogge, 509 N.W.2d at 167.
While the concept of endangerment is "unusually imprecise," this court has interpreted the modification statute to require a "significant degree of danger." Ross v. Ross, 477 N.W.2d 753, 756 (Minn. App. 1991). Interference with visitation and efforts to isolate children from the noncustodial parent can support a modification of custody. See Geibe v. Geibe, 571 N.W.2d 774, 780 (Minn. App. 1997); Smith v. Smith, 508 N.W.2d 222, 227 (Minn. App. 1993). To establish danger to a child's welfare, however, a parent's conduct, including visitation interference, must result in an actual adverse effect on the child. Dabill v. Dabill, 514 N.W.2d 590, 595-96 (Minn. App. 1994). Thus, whether endangerment exists is a fact-based inquiry.
Scott Moe disputes the district court's findings that the children's present environment does not endanger them within the meaning of the statute. Our review of the record demonstrates both evidence tending to support a finding of endangerment and evidence negating a finding of endangerment. The court-appointed guardian ad litem and psychologist testified that Sandra Moe's continued custody posed emotional harm to the children. Conversely, the professionals who had been working closely with the Moes' older child through Woodland Centers and the school program testified that the current custody arrangement did not present emotional danger. Further, the record supports Sandra Moe's assertion that she was addressing the children's emotional issues with appropriate counseling. Both the court-appointed guardian ad litem and psychologist acknowledged that the children were making improvement and were essentially healthy, happy children. The court's strong admonitions that Sandra Moe must comply with future visitation scheduling indicates that the court is appropriately safeguarding Scott Moe's visitation with the children. The district court's finding of no endangerment is supported by sufficient affirmative evidence.
Scott Moe specifically disputes two findings on best-interests-of-the-child factors. See Minn. Stat. § 518.17(a) (listing statutory factors). He argues the court incorrectly found that the evidence favored Sandra Moe on the factors of "child's adjustment to home, school, community" and "length of time child has lived in stable, satisfactory environment." Minn. Stat. § 518.17(a)(6), (7). The record adequately supports the district court's findings. The children have lived in the same home and been in the same school system for their entire lives. The older child is enrolled in beneficial counseling programs through her school and through Woodland Centers. And testimony in the record supported the finding that the children's current environment is stable.
Scott Moe does not directly challenge the trial court's finding that the disadvantages of modification outweigh the advantages. But he disputes the court's predicate finding that moving the children to a new community, a new school, and new counseling programs would be disadvantageous to the children. In light of the progress in the children's current environment, it was reasonable for the district court to infer that a change would be disadvantageous to the children and that the advantages of modification did not outweigh this disadvantage.
The district court order denying modification of custody meets the particularity requirements for modification motions, and the reasons for the district court's denial are supported by the evidence. We affirm.