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Knudson v. Knudson

Supreme Court of North Dakota

August 28, 2018

Tamra L. Knudson, Plaintiff and Appellant
Mark D. Knudson, Defendant and Appellee

          Appeal from the District Court of Divide County, Northwest Judicial District, the Honorable Paul W. Jacobson, Judge.

          Elizabeth L. Pendlay, Crosby, ND, for plaintiff and appellant.

          David M. Knoll, Bismarck, ND, for defendant and appellee.



         [¶ 1] Tamra Knudson appeals from a judgment granting her a divorce from Mark Knudson, denying her request for spousal support, and ordering her to pay child support. We conclude the district court's decision denying Tamra Knudson's request for rehabilitative spousal support is not clearly erroneous and the court did not misapply the law in calculating her child support obligation. We affirm.


         [¶ 2] Tamra and Mark Knudson were married in October 1998. Tamra Knudson had a child from a prior relationship, and Mark Knudson later adopted the child. The parties had three more children together during the marriage. In 2016, Tamra Knudson filed for divorce. Three of the parties' children were minors at the time of the divorce, and the oldest of the three minor children was seventeen years old and a senior in high school.

         [¶ 3] Tamra Knudson requested the district court award her primary residential responsibility of the parties' three minor children, child support according to the child support guidelines, and rehabilitative spousal support for six years. Mark Knudson argued spousal support was unnecessary and the parties had a prenuptial agreement that applied to the division of their property. He also requested that he be awarded primary residential responsibility of the parties' minor children and child support.

         [¶ 4] Before trial, the parties reached an agreement on the division of their property and debts. Neither party challenged the validity of the premarital agreement. The parties also reached an agreement on a parenting plan for the two youngest minor children. The parties' agreement resolved all parenting issues for the two children, other than child support. The parties agreed they would have joint residential responsibility for the two youngest children with parenting time alternating weeks. The district court adopted the parties' stipulations after the trial.

         [¶ 5] On April 25, 2017, a divorce trial was held on the remaining issues. The parties advised the district court that the only issues left to be determined were Tamra Knudson's request for spousal support, residential responsibility for the oldest minor child, and child support.

         [¶ 6] On June 13, 2017, the district court ordered that Mark Knudson be awarded primary residential responsibility of the parties' oldest minor child. Tamra Knudson was awarded parenting time every other Wednesday evening and every other weekend, with extra time during the summer. The court also entered an order denying Tamra Knudson's request for spousal support.

         [¶ 7] The parties filed proposed child support calculations and supporting briefs. On July 25, 2017, the district court ordered Tamra Knudson pay $403 per month in child support for the three minor children after the court calculated each party's child support obligation based on their net monthly income and offset the support obligations. The court also ordered Tamra Knudson's child support obligation would decrease to $57 per month after her support obligation for the oldest minor child ended.

         [¶ 8] On October 12, 2017, the district court entered findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order for judgment. The court made detailed findings and restated its prior decisions, including its decisions on residential responsibility for the children, child support, and spousal support. Judgment was subsequently entered.


         [¶ 9] Tamra Knudson argues the district court erred by denying her request for rehabilitative spousal support. She claims there was evidence establishing that she is a disadvantaged spouse with a need for rehabilitative spousal support and that Mark Knudson has the ability to pay. She contends the court's findings are not supported by the evidence and the court relied on inappropriate factors.

         [¶ 10] A spousal support decision is a finding of fact, which will not be reversed on appeal unless it is clearly erroneous. See Schmuck v. Schmuck, 2016 ND 87, ¶ 6, 882 N.W.2d 918. "A finding of fact is clearly erroneous if it is induced by an erroneous view of the law, if there is no evidence to support it, or if, after a review of the entire record, we are left with a definite and firm conviction a mistake has been made." Id. (quoting Krueger v. Krueger, 2008 ND 90, ¶ 7, 748 N.W.2d 671).

         [¶ 11] Under N.D.C.C. § 14-05-24.1, the district court may order spousal support after taking the parties' circumstances into consideration. The court must consider the needs of the spouse seeking support and the ability of the other spouse to pay. Allmon v. Allmon, 2017 ND 122, ¶ 15, 894 N.W.2d 869. The court must also consider the Ruff-Fischer guidelines, including the following factors:

[T]he respective ages of the parties, their earning ability, the duration of the marriage and conduct of the parties during the marriage, their station in life, the circumstances and necessities of each, their health and physical condition, their financial circumstances as shown by the property owned at the time, its value at the time, its income-producing capacity, if any, whether accumulated before or after the marriage, and such other matters as may be material.

Schmuck, 2016 ND 87, ¶ 6, 882 N.W.2d 918 (quoting Harvey v. Harvey, 2014 ND 208, ¶ 15, 855 N.W.2d 657); see Fischer v. Fischer, 139 N.W.2d 845, 852 (N.D. 1966); Ruff v. Ruff, 78 N.D. 775, 784, 52 N.W.2d 107, 111 (1952). The court is not required to make specific findings on each Ruff-Fischer factor, but we must be able to determine the reasons for the court's decision. Berg v. Berg, 2018 ND 79, ¶ 9, 908 N.W.2d 705. ...

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