Appeal from the District Court of Sheridan County, South Central Judicial District, the Honorable Donald L. Jorgensen, Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kapsner, Justice.
N.D. Supreme CourtDieterle v. Dieterle, 2013 ND 71 This opinion is subject to petition for rehearing. [Go to Documents]
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AFFIRMED AND REMANDED. Opinion of the Court by Kapsner, Justice.
[¶1] Angela Dieterle appeals from a divorce judgment and challenges the district court's rulings on primary residential responsibility, parenting time, marital property and debt distribution, and spousal support. We affirm, but remand for the court to complete a parenting plan for the parties.
[¶2] Shannon and Angela Dieterle were married on February 20, 2009. It was Shannon Dieterle's first marriage and Angela Dieterle's second marriage, and she had three minor children from previous relationships, one of whom is now an adult. Shannon Dieterle was employed at Falkirk Mining Company earning approximately $70,000 annually. Angela Dieterle was self-employed as a freight broker and as a horse trainer and breeder. During the marriage, the parties had a daughter and purchased a ranch together. The parties had a domestic altercation in July 2011, and Angela Dieterle was charged with and ultimately convicted of simple assault. Shannon Dieterle brought this divorce action in August 2011.
[¶3] Following a trial, the district court awarded Shannon Dieterle primary residential responsibility for the parties' daughter and ordered Angela Dieterle to pay child support. The court awarded Angela Dieterle parenting time and directed the parties "to develop a parenting plan by and through a parenting coordinator." In distributing the marital property and debt, the court, noting the "very short term marriage of the parties," essentially awarded them the property and debt they each brought into the marriage. The court ordered the ranch they purchased together be sold and the net proceeds "be shared equally by the parties." The property distribution resulted in Shannon Dieterle receiving a net amount of $112,423.31 and Angela Dieterle receiving a net amount of $24,184.04 of the marital estate. The court also ordered Shannon Dieterle to pay Angela Dieterle rehabilitative spousal support of $750 per month for a period of twelve months.
[¶4] Angela Dieterle raises several issues relating to the district court's award of primary residential responsibility for the parties' child to Shannon Dieterle.
[¶5] Angela Dieterle argues the district court erred in awarding primary residential responsibility for the couple's daughter to Shannon Dieterle.
[¶6] A district court must award primary residential responsibility to the parent who will better promote the child's best interests. Hammeren v. Hammeren, 2012 ND 225, ¶ 6, 823 N.W.2d 482. The court has broad discretion in awarding primary residential responsibility, but it must consider all of the relevant best-interest factors under N.D.C.C. § 14-09-06.2(1). Deyle v. Deyle, 2012 ND 248, ¶ 5, 825 N.W.2d 245. We review an award of primary residential responsibility under the clearly erroneous standard of review, which does not allow us to reweigh the evidence, reassess the credibility of witnesses, or substitute our judgment for a district court's initial decision. Martire v. Martire, 2012 ND 197, ¶ 6, 822 N.W.2d 450. A court's decision awarding primary residential responsibility is a finding of fact which will not be reversed on appeal unless it is induced by an erroneous view of the law, if no evidence exists to support it, or, although there is some evidence to support it, on the entire record we are left with a definite and firm conviction a mistake has been made. Fonder v. Fonder, 2012 ND 228, ¶ 16, 823 N.W.2d 504.
[¶7] Angela Dieterle first contends the district court, in its ruling on primary residential responsibility, failed to apply the best-interest factors and made no findings of fact regarding those factors. We have explained that a court need not make separate findings of fact for each of the best-interest factors under N.D.C.C. § 14-09-06.2(1), that a court's findings regarding one factor may be applicable to another factor, and that a court need not consider irrelevant factors in its decision on primary residential responsibility for a child. See Interest of S.R.L., 2013 ND 32, ¶ 7. Although a separate finding is not required for each statutory factor, the court's findings must contain sufficient specificity to show the factual basis for the decision on primary residential responsibility. See Fonder, 2012 ND 228, ¶ 11, 823 N.W.2d 504; Hammeren, 2012 ND 225, ¶ 7, 823 N.W.2d 482; Miller v. Mees, 2011 ND 166, ¶ 12, 802 N.W.2d 153. A court's findings of fact are sufficient if they afford a clear understanding of the court's decision and assist the appellate court in conducting its review. See Rothberg v. Rothberg, 2006 ND 65, ¶ 14, 711 N.W.2d 219.
[¶8] In its decision awarding primary residential responsibility for the parties' child to Shannon Dieterle, the district court did not cite N.D.C.C. § 14-09-06.2(1) or specifically refer by name to the best-interest factors. Rather, the court found:
Throughout the Defendant's relationships with adult males, she has an established history of terminating relationships after approximately two years, and alleging domestic violence and alcohol abuse on the part of her former partners. Defendant has secured various domestic violence protection orders on a temporary basis, with the issuing Court terminating the same prior to granting permanent status for such protection orders.
Defendant has also engaged in patterns of verbal abuse towards her male partners when they fail to meet the Defendant's expectations. More recently and in the current marriage of the parties, Defendant has routinely engaged in profane verbal abuse of the Plaintiff and has extended the same to her adult son. Prior to Dillon achieving adulthood, a child protective service investigation determined the Defendant to have abused her son Dillon by striking him. In Defendant's current relationship with Shannon Dieterle, the Defendant was convicted of simple assault on June 15, 2012, in the District Court, Sheridan County, North Dakota. That conviction arose when the Defendant struck the Plaintiff and in addition thereto bit the [Plaintiff] upon the upper chest area while the Defendant was in a fit of anger and Plaintiff [was] attempting to restrain her.
The Defendant's conduct with respect to her three older children who are not from the marriage herein, is relevant to this domestic relations litigation in that said conduct is illustrative of Defendant's willful pattern to manipulate and even interfere in parenting time by the biological fathers of said children. Defendant has willfully and knowingly attempted to manipulate law enforcement authorities to restrain the biological fathers of said children from having routine parenting time with the minor children. Defendant has also asserted unsubstantiated allegations against the Plaintiff in efforts to manipulate this Court in prohibiting the Plaintiff from routine visitation with the minor child, B.D., and further employing a protection order in an effort to diminish Plaintiff's standing before this Court. The foregoing conduct of the Defendant has destroyed her credibility with this Court when not verified by outside sources.
The evidence of domestic violence presented to this Court, together with Defendant's behavioral patterns in the manipulation and interference with parenting time, precludes this Court from placement of the minor child B.D. in the primary parenting responsibility with the Defendant.
Defendant'[s] allegations of domestic violence and the statements of Defendant's 13-year-old twin daughters are not credible to establish the same. However, Defendant's encouragement of her young daughters to become involved in this divorce action in this manner does support the Court's finding that Defendant will utilize other persons to serve her purposes.
[¶9] Naturally, it would have been preferable had the district court listed the statutory best-interest factors in its analysis and stated which factors were applicable and which were not. The court's findings of fact nevertheless afford us a clear understanding of its decision. It is obvious that the court found the controlling best-interest factors in this case were N.D.C.C. § 14-09-06.2(1)(e) and (j), which address the willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child, and evidence of domestic violence, respectively. Not only is parental alienation under N.D.C.C. § 14-09-06.2(1)(e) a "significant factor" in determining primary residential responsibility, Doll v. Doll, 2011 ND 24, ¶ 27, 794 N.W.2d 425, this Court has said "a parent who willfully alienates a child from the other parent may not be awarded custody based on that alienation." McAdams v. McAdams, 530 N.W.2d 647, 650 (N.D. 1995); see also Martire, 2012 ND 197, ¶ 17, 822 N.W.2d 450, and cases collected therein. Furthermore, although there is a rebuttable presumption under N.D.C.C. § 14-09-06.2(1)(j) that a parent who has perpetrated domestic violence may not be awarded primary residential responsibility, evidence of domestic violence that does not trigger the presumption may ...