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Woodward v. Woodward

December 18, 2009


Appeal from the District Court of Cass County, East Central Judicial District, the Honorable Frank L. Racek, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Crothers, Justice.


[¶1] Maureen Ann Woodward appeals from two orders denying her motion to modify and limit the visitation provisions of an amended divorce judgment, granting George Woodward compensatory visitation, ordering her to undergo a parental alienation and psychological evaluation and holding her in contempt for failing to comply with the visitation provisions of the divorce judgment. We affirm the orders, concluding Maureen Ann Woodward failed to establish the district court's findings of fact are clearly erroneous or the court's actions were an abuse of discretion.


[¶2] George and Maureen Ann Woodward were married in 1986 and have three children from their marriage. The parties divorced in 2006. Maureen Ann Woodward was awarded physical custody of the children, and George Woodward was awarded reasonable visitation. George Woodward remarried in 2007 and currently works as a physician in Grand Forks. Maureen Ann Woodward continues to reside in Fargo with the children, serves as their home school teacher and has not remarried.

[¶3] In 2008, Maureen Ann Woodward discontinued visitation, claiming the children were afraid of George Woodward's new wife, and moved to amend the divorce judgment so that George Woodward could exercise limited visitation with the children only when his new wife was not present. The judicial referee denied Maureen Ann Woodward's motion, granted George Woodward's responsive motion to hold her in contempt for withholding visitation, granted George Woodward compensatory visitation and ordered her to undergo a parental alienation and psychological evaluation. The referee also ordered her to pay George Woodward's attorney fees. Upon request for review, the district court adopted the judicial referee's findings and order.

[¶4] After Maureen Ann Woodward continued to deny George Woodward visitation with the children, he again moved to hold her in contempt, and she responded with a motion to suspend visitation. The district court found her in contempt and ordered that the two remaining minor children attend counseling as needed to "transition" them for visitation. The court ordered that Maureen Ann Woodward could purge herself of contempt by complying with the visitation provisions of the amended divorce judgment.


[¶5] Maureen Ann Woodward argues the judicial referee and district court's finding that she was in contempt should be reversed because it is not supported by the evidence.

[¶6] "`Civil contempt requires a willful and inexcusable intent to violate a court order,'" and "`a complainant must clearly and satisfactorily show that the alleged contempt has been committed.'" Glasser v. Glasser, 2006 ND 238, ¶ 12, 724 N.W.2d 144 (quoting Montgomery v. Montgomery, 2003 ND 135, ¶ 18, 667 N.W.2d 611); see also N.D.C.C. § 27-10-01.1(1)(c). "A district court has broad discretion in deciding whether to hold a person in contempt, and a court's finding of contempt will not be reversed on appeal unless there is a clear abuse of discretion." Graner v. Graner, 2007 ND 139, ¶ 32, 738 N.W.2d 9. "A district court abuses its discretion if it acts in an arbitrary, unreasonable, or unconscionable manner, if its decision is not the product of a rational mental process leading to a reasoned determination, or if it misinterprets or misapplies the law." Vicknair v. Phelps Dodge Indus., Inc., 2009 ND 113, ¶ 6, 767 N.W.2d 171.

[¶7] Maureen Ann Woodward admitted during an evidentiary hearing that she denied George Woodward's court-ordered extended visitation, weekend visitation, and holiday visitation after the July 4th weekend of 2008. Although Maureen Ann Woodward claimed George Woodward's new wife was verbally abusive toward the children and the daughters were afraid of her, the judicial referee found Maureen Ann Woodward "failed to demonstrate that a visitation environment which may include [George Woodward's] current wife . . . endangers the children's physical or emotional health." We conclude the judicial referee and the district court did not abuse their discretion in finding Maureen Ann Woodward in contempt.


[¶8] Maureen Ann Woodward argues the referee's finding that her actions had undermined the relationship between George Woodward and his children is clearly erroneous.

[¶9] "`A finding of fact is clearly erroneous if there is no evidence to support it, if the reviewing court is left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made, or if the finding is induced by an erroneous view of the law.'" In re J.K., 2009 ND 46, ¶ 14, 763 ...

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