from the District Court of Towner County, Northeast Judicial
District, the Honorable Lonnie Olson, Judge.
Brittany T. Wollin (argued) and Megan Essig (on brief), Grand
Forks, ND, for plaintiff and appellee.
Benjamin C. Pulkrabek (argued), Mandan, ND, for defendant and
1] Natasha Reiger appeals from a district court judgment
granting primary residential responsibility of J.Z. to
Matthew Zuraff. We affirm the district court's judgment
granting primary residential responsibility to Zuraff.
2] Reiger and Zuraff are the parents of J.Z., born in 2014.
In January 2017, Zuraff moved for primary residential
responsibility of J.Z. The district court held a bench trial
in September 2017 to decide residential responsibility of
J.Z. At the time of trial, Reiger was living in Bismarck,
North Dakota with her father, and Zuraff was living in
Parkland, Washington with his mother.
3] Social services first became involved with the family
because of a positive methamphetamine screening when J.Z. was
born. Both Zuraff and Reiger have a history of
methamphetamine use, although Reiger testified to being sober
for approximately ten months and Zuraff testified he was
sober for over three years. Both parents have criminal
histories related to drug use, and Zuraff was incarcerated
for approximately seven months after J.Z. was born.
4] Social services intervened again because Reiger left J.Z.
with her mother for days at a time, and Reiger's mother
could not locate Reiger. Zuraff was incarcerated at that
time. J.Z. was then the subject of a permanency order and
placed with Reiger's mother. J.Z. was later placed with
Reiger's father, due to Reiger's mother's health
5] Reiger testified Zuraff had been physically violent
towards her in the past. Zuraff acknowledged he and Reiger
engaged in mutual fighting and both were violent towards each
other. Zuraff denied hitting Reiger, but admitted to a
"body check" using the blunt force of his chest.
Zuraff was also previously convicted of a simple assault in
which Reiger was the victim. Reiger previously obtained a
protection order against Zuraff, which was later dismissed.
Reiger said the protection order did not result from violence
in their relationship, but from threats Zuraff made to her
6] After Zuraff was released from incarceration, he moved to
Washington and completed the interstate compact process to
obtain custody of J.Z. Social services in Washington
evaluated Zuraff and recommended J.Z.'s placement with
him. Beginning March 1, 2017, the district court approved
Zuraff to have custody of J.Z. on a trial basis and return to
Washington. Despite the district court's order, Reiger
and her father attempted to leave the courthouse with J.Z. As
a result, court staff requested a deputy sheriff to stay with
Zuraff until he was out of town. The North Dakota social
worker assigned to J.Z. declined to recommend who should be
awarded primary residential responsibility, but noted Zuraff
was previously the more appropriate and stable option.
7] After trial, the district court entered a judgment
granting primary residential responsibility to Zuraff. The
district court concluded N.D.C.C. § 14-09-06.2(1)
factors (a), (b), (d), (e), and (h) favored Zuraff. The
district court concluded factor (c) slightly favored Zuraff,
and factors (f), (g), (i), (k), and (l) were neutral.
8] Relating to factor (j), the district court concluded there
was evidence of domestic violence, but did not apply the
presumption against awarding primary residential
responsibility to Zuraff because there was not sufficient
evidence to find that the domestic violence involved serious
bodily injury. Although it did not apply the presumption, the
district court found factor (j) weighed in Reiger's
9] The district court also considered other evidence under
factor (m), questioning Reiger's dedication to parenting
J.Z. because of her lack of a relationship with another child
and relatively recent sobriety. The district court concluded
it was in J.Z.'s best interest to grant primary