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Schaffner v. Schaffner

Supreme Court of North Dakota

July 12, 2017

Paul Schaffner, Plaintiff and Appellant
v.
Teresa Schaffner, Defendant and Appellee

         Appeal from the District Court of Burleigh County, South Central Judicial District, the Honorable James S. Hill, Judge.

          Paul J. Schaffner, self-represented, Mandan, N.D., plaintiff and appellant.

          Scott A. Hager, Bismarck, N.D., for defendant and appellee.

          OPINION

          Tufte, Justice.

         [¶ 1] Paul Schaffner appeals a district court order denying his petition to modify his parenting time from supervised visitation to unsupervised. The district court denied his petition after finding Schaffner failed to show a material change in circumstances had occurred since the previous order establishing his parenting time. We affirm, concluding the district court's findings were not clearly erroneous.

         I

         [¶ 2] Paul Schaffner and Teresa Schaffner ("Hanson") have one child, N.S., who was born in 2002. In 2012, they divorced, and a district court awarded Hanson primary residential responsibility for N.S. Hanson also received a domestic violence protection order against Schaffner. In an interlocutory order, the court restricted Schaffner's parenting time with N.S. to supervised visitation and appointed a parenting coordinator to facilitate reunification between Schaffner and his child.

         [¶ 3] In 2013, Schaffner sought to modify his parenting time from supervised visitation to unsupervised. The district court found, however, that between 2012 and 2013, Schaffner had intimidated the parenting coordinator, resulting in her withdrawal from the case. The court also found Schaffner's conduct resulted in a second appointed parenting coordinator withdrawing from the case. It denied Schaffner's petition to modify his parenting time.

         [¶ 4] In 2014, Schaffner again petitioned the court to modify his parenting time. He argued he was not a danger to his child in part by submitting evidence showing he had completed a domestic violence treatment program. The district court denied Schaffner's petition, finding his treatment did not constitute a material change in circumstances. The court also found supervised visitation served N.S.'s best interests. Schaffner did not appeal the decision.

         [¶ 5] In 2016, Schaffner, acting pro se, petitioned the court for a third time to modify his parenting time. He argued his new employment as a teacher constituted a material change in circumstances. He also asked the court to remove the domestic violence protection order against him, but he withdrew his request after the court explained he would need to file a motion in the domestic violence case, not the custody case. The district court denied his petition on January 4, 2017, finding that his new employment, while an accomplishment, did not convince the court that a material change in circumstances had occurred since the previous order.

         [¶ 6] Schaffner moved the court for additional findings and a new trial, and the district court denied his motion on January 24, 2017. He appealed, including in his notice of appeal a preliminary statement of issues that encompassed both the January 4 and January 24 orders. During oral argument, Schaffner clarified that his issue on appeal was whether the district court clearly erred in its January 4 order by finding his new employment did not constitute a material change in circumstances.

         II

         [¶ 7] The first issue presented to us is whether Schaffner's appeal is properly before this Court. Hanson argues Schaffner's appeal is improper because his notice of appeal referenced the order denying his Rule 52(b), N.D.R.Civ.P. motion, which is not an appealable order. Ellendale Farmers Union Co-op v. Davis, 219 N.W.2d 829, 831 (N.D. 1974). Schaffner's notice of appeal purports to appeal an order dated January 26, 2017, which matches neither order, and encompasses issues relating to both the January 4 and January 24 orders. We treat court orders as final judgments if the district court intended the order to be a final judgment. Austin v. Towne, 1997 ND 59, ¶ 7, 560 N.W.2d 895. The district court's January 4 ...


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