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Fleck v. Fleck

February 17, 2010

MELISSA FLECK, N/K/A MELISSA REGAN, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT
v.
TROY A. FLECK, DEFENDANT AND APPELLEE



Appeal from the District Court of Burleigh County, South Central Judicial District, the Honorable Robert O. Wefald, Judge.

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

AFFIRMED IN PART, REVERSED IN PART, AND REMANDED.

[¶1] Melissa Fleck, now known as Melissa Regan, appeals from an order denying her motion to amend a divorce judgment to grant her primary residential responsibility*fn1 for her two children and permission to move with the children to Arizona, and granting Troy A. Fleck's motion for primary residential responsibility for the children and ordering Regan to pay child support. We conclude the district court's decision to grant Fleck primary residential responsibility for the children is not clearly erroneous, but its calculation of Regan's child support obligation is erroneous as a matter of law. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for recalculation of Regan's child support obligation.

I.

[¶2] Fleck and Regan were divorced in August 2006 and their stipulated settlement agreement was incorporated into the divorce judgment. Fleck and Regan had two children during the marriage, born in 1999 and 2000, and they agreed to share "equal physical custody" and "joint legal custody" of the children. One year before the parties were divorced, Regan moved to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to take classes for 11 months in the Mount Marty College nurse anesthesia program. While attending college in Sioux Falls, Regan returned to Bismarck almost every other weekend to see the children. After completion of the 11-month program, Regan began doing her clinicals in Bismarck and attempted to spend as much time as possible with the children. Regan graduated in February 2008. During the time Regan was pursuing her studies, Fleck, a college graduate who is employed as a Burleigh County Deputy Sheriff, had the responsibility for taking care of the children and the family home.

[¶3] In March 2008, Regan married Shawn Regan, who she had met while attending college in Sioux Falls. In April 2008, the couple moved to Arizona where they had both been offered employment. Both work as nurse anesthetists at the same hospital near Phoenix, Arizona. Regan has a part-time "1099 position," in which she is "paid hourly straight" and pays her own taxes, while Shawn Regan has a full-time "W-2 position," in which he receives benefits. Regan is paid $86 per hour and her husband is paid $68 per hour plus benefits. The couple purchased a home in a gated community in the area. Since moving to Arizona, Regan has traveled to Bismarck every other two weeks to live with the children in a rented apartment and the children have traveled to Arizona periodically to spend time with Regan.

[¶4] In August 2008, Regan filed a motion to change primary residential responsibility for the children from "shared physical custody" with Fleck to "sole physical custody" with Regan. She also sought to establish a parenting time schedule and child support obligation for Fleck, and to receive permission to relocate the children to Arizona. Fleck responded with a counter-motion to amend the divorce judgment to grant him "primary physical custody" of the children and to establish a parenting time schedule and child support obligation for Regan. Following an evidentiary hearing, the district court denied Regan's motion and granted Fleck's counter-motion awarding him primary residential responsibility for the children, awarding Regan "ample" parenting time, and ordering that Regan pay $2,246 per month for child support.

II.

[¶5] Regan argues the district court's decision denying her request for primary residential responsibility and for permission to relocate the children to Arizona is clearly erroneous.

[¶6] In Maynard v. McNett, 2006 ND 36, ¶ 21, 710 N.W.2d 369, a majority of this Court explained:

We hold that a parent with joint legal and physical custody may not be granted permission to move with the parties' child, unless the district court first determines the best interests of the child require a change in primary custody to that parent. A parent with joint custody who wishes to relocate with the child must make two motions: one for a change of custody, governed by N.D.C.C. § 14-09-06.2, and one to relocate with the child, governed by N.D.C.C. § 14-09-07. The change-of-custody motion requires the party wishing to relocate to show there has been a significant change in circumstances and the best interests of the child would be served by the child's moving with the relocating parent.

The district court found that "[c]learly with [Regan's] move to Arizona and her new part-time job at the same hospital at which her husband works full time, there has been a significant change in circumstances," and the parties do not challenge this finding. See, e.g., Dietz v. Dietz, 2007 ND 84, ¶ 13, 733 N.W.2d 225 (in-state move with children may be material change of circumstances); Gietzen v. Gietzen, 1998 ND 70, ¶ 10, 575 N.W.2d 924 (in-state move with child may be viewed as significant change of circumstances); Hanson v. Hanson, 1997 ND 151, ¶ 5, 567 N.W.2d 216 (out-of-state move could be substantial change of circumstances); Van Dyke v. Van Dyke, 538 N.W.2d 197, 201 (N.D. 1995) (out-of-state move alone might support finding of significant change in circumstances); Gould v. Miller, 488 N.W.2d 42, 44 (N.D. 1992) (move to another state is made significant by N.D.C.C. § 14-09-07). Consequently, the district court properly analyzed this case under the best interests factors contained in N.D.C.C. § 14-09-06.2(1). See Jelsing v. Peterson, 2007 ND 41, ¶ 10, 729 N.W.2d 157.

[¶7] In Jelsing, 2007 ND 41, ¶ 11, 729 N.W.2d 157, we said:

We exercise a limited review of child custody awards. Eifert v. Eifert, 2006 ND 240, ¶ 5, 724 N.W.2d 109. A district court's decisions on child custody, including an initial award of custody, are treated as findings of fact and will not be set aside on appeal unless clearly erroneous. Klein v. Larson, 2006 ND 236, ¶ 6, 724 N.W.2d 565. A finding of fact is clearly erroneous if it is induced by an erroneous view of the law, if no evidence exists to support it, or if the reviewing court, on the entire evidence, is left with a definite and firm conviction a mistake has been made. Gietzen v. Gabel, 2006 ND 153, ¶ 6, 718 N.W.2d 552. Under the clearly erroneous standard of review, we do not reweigh the evidence or reassess the credibility of witnesses, and we will not retry a custody case or substitute our judgment for a district court's initial custody decision merely because we might have reached a different result. Dvorak v. Dvorak, 2006 ND 171, ¶ 11, 719 N.W.2d 362. A choice between two permissible ...


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