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Wanttaja v. Wanttaja

Supreme Court of North Dakota

January 14, 2016

Todd A. Wanttaja, Plaintiff and Appellee
Caroline L. Wanttaja, Defendant and Appellant

Appeal from the District Court of Dunn County, Southwest Judicial District, the Honorable William A. Herauf, Judge.

Elizabeth A. Ebert, Dickinson, N.D., for plaintiff and appellee.

Craig M. Richie, Fargo, N.D., for defendant and appellant.

Carol Ronning Kapsner, Lisa Fair McEvers, Daniel J. Crothers, Dale V. Sandstrom, Gerald W. VandeWalle, C.J.


Page 912

Carol Ronning Kapsner, Justice.

[¶1] Caroline Wanttaja appeals from a divorce judgment and from an order denying her motion to correct a clerical error or for a new trial. We conclude the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying her motion to correct a clerical error or for a new trial to address the parties' medical bills. We conclude, however, the court erred as a matter of law in failing to address child support in the divorce proceedings and abused its discretion in denying her request for attorney fees. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings.

Page 913


[¶2] Todd Wanttaja and Caroline Wanttaja were married in 2008 in Fargo and have one child together, born in 2003. The parties separated sometime in mid-2012. In June 2012, Caroline Wanttaja applied for and received public assistance, assigning medical support rights to the State. In November 2012, the State, through the Fargo Regional Child Support Unit, brought an action in Cass County on behalf of Caroline Wanttaja against Todd Wanttaja, seeking child support for the minor child.

[¶3] In January 2013, Todd Wanttaja commenced this action for divorce in Dunn County. Before the divorce action, Todd Wanttaja had moved to Killdeer, North Dakota, and Caroline Wanttaja relocated with their child to Savage, Minnesota. While the divorce action in Dunn County was pending, the parties entered into a stipulation for judgment in the Cass County child support action in March 2013, and the Cass County district court entered a judgment in April 2013 requiring Todd Wanttaja to pay Caroline Wanttaja child support.

[¶4] In October 2013, the district court in Dunn County held a trial in the divorce action. In January 2014, the court issued a decision addressing the parties' property and debt distribution, awarding Caroline Wanttaja spousal support, denying her request for attorney fees, and granting Todd Wanttaja parenting time with their child. Although the parties did not dispute an award of primary residential responsibility to Caroline Wanttaja, the Dunn County district court held it was without jurisdiction to modify the April 2013 child support award entered in the Cass County district court. Todd Wanttaja moved the Dunn County district court for clarification, asserting the court had not addressed the majority of the parties' marital debts and requesting the court identify how the marital debt should be divided.

[¶5] The district court clarified the marital property and debt distribution, allocating the marital debt equally between the parties, and issued an order for judgment in March 2014. Before entry of judgment, however, Caroline Wanttaja objected to the court's findings and conclusions, including the amount of the parties' medical debts, the denial of attorney fees, and the failure to award child support. She also offered evidence regarding various medical bills. In May 2014, the court overruled her objections and issued revised findings of fact, conclusions of law, and an order for judgment. Caroline Wanttaja moved for reconsideration, again raising issues regarding the parties' medical debt, child support jurisdiction, and attorney fees. The court denied her motion for reconsideration.

[¶6] After judgment was entered, Caroline Wanttaja moved for a new trial on the same issues. The court denied her new trial motion.


[¶7] Caroline Wanttaja argues the district court erred in failing to grant her post-trial motions to correct a clerical error or other errors regarding the amount of the parties' medical bills. She also argues the court erred in failing to grant her a new trial because the court mistakenly believed the parties had stipulated to the amount of their medical bills.

[¶8] Section 14-05-24(1), N.D.C.C., requires the district court to make an equitable distribution of the parties' property and debts. " After including all of the marital assets and debts, the district court must apply the Ruff-Fischer guidelines to divide the property." Eberle v. Eberle, 2010 ND 107, ¶ 19, 783 N.W.2d 254;

Page 914

see also Fischer v. Fischer, 139 N.W.2d 845, 852-53 (N.D.1966); Ruff v. Ruff, 78 N.D. 775, 784, 52 N.W.2d 107, 111 (1952). " Once all property and debts of the parties are included, a trial court may consider which of the parties has incurred particular debts, and the purposes for which those debts were incurred, in determining an equitable allocation of the responsibility for repayment." Schiff v. Schiff, 2013 ND 142, ¶ 14, 835 N.W.2d 810 (quoting Neidviecky v. Neidviecky, 2003 ND 29, ¶ 11, 657 N.W.2d 255).

[¶9] The district court's distribution of debts presents a finding of fact that will not be overturned unless clearly erroneous. See Mertz v. Mertz, 2015 ND 13, ¶ 25, 858 N.W.2d 292. " [F]indings of fact are presumptively correct." Hunt v. Hunt, 2010 ND 231, ¶ 8, 791 N.W.2d 164. The party challenging a court's finding of fact on appeal has the burden of showing that a finding is clearly erroneous. Rebel v. Rebel, 2013 ND 116, ¶ 17, 833 N.W.2d 442. 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, 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. Id.

[¶10] Caroline Wanttaja has not raised an issue on appeal regarding the district court's analysis under the Ruff-Fischer guidelines in distributing the parties' property and debts. Rather, she contends the court erred in denying her new trial motion on grounds of a clerical error or other error regarding the amount of the parties' medical bills or in finding the parties' had stipulated to medical debt in the amount of $3,000.

[¶11] Under N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(a), a district court may correct " a clerical mistake or a mistake arising from oversight or omission whenever one is found in a judgment, order, or other part of the record." See Kukla v. Kukla,2013 ND 192, ¶ 11, 838 N.W.2d 434. Thus, " [a] court may correct, [under] Rule 60(a), errors created by oversight or omission that cause the judgment to fail to reflect what was intended at time of trial." Kukla, at ¶ 11 (quoting Gruebele v. Gruebele,338 N.W.2d 805, 811 (N.D. 1983)). Additionally, in Travelers Cas. Ins. Co. v. Williams Co. Constr.,2014 ND 160, ¶ 22, 851 N.W.2d 164 (quoting Gisvold v. Windbreak, Inc.,2007 ...

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