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Swanson v. Swanson

Supreme Court of North Dakota

January 15, 2019

Roy Swanson, Sr., Plaintiff and Appellee
Gaye Swanson, Defendant and Appellant

          Appeal from the District Court of Cass County, East Central Judicial District, the Honorable Steven L. Marquart, Judge.

          Jonathan T. Garaas, Fargo, ND, for plaintiff and appellee.

          Ward K. Johnson III, Grand Forks, ND, for defendant and appellant.


          VandeWalle, Chief Justice.

         [¶ 1] Gaye Swanson appealed a judgment dividing marital property between her and her former husband, Roy Swanson. We conclude the district court's findings on division of property are not clearly erroneous. We affirm the judgment.


         [¶ 2] Gaye and Roy Swanson were married in 1969. The couple began living separately in August 2006 and in August 2016, Roy Swanson filed for divorce. After a three day trial, the district court granted the divorce based on irreconcilable differences under N.D.C.C. § 14-05-03. In considering the Ruff-Fischer guidelines, the district court weighed evidence regarding each party's fault and concluded neither party's fault would influence the property distribution.

         [¶ 3] The district court divided the marital property and awarded Roy Swanson approximately sixty-five (65) percent and Gaye Swanson thirty-five (35) percent of the marital estate. Included in Roy Swanson's property distribution was the couple's farmland inherited from his mother, the family's seed business, and nearly $1.8 million in debt. Gaye Swanson was awarded over $370, 000 worth of property, various personal and farm assets, a life insurance policy on Roy Swanson's life, and approximately $11, 000 in personal debt. Included in Gaye Swanson's distribution was property she claimed was owned by her sons and a 2007 Hummer, valued at $10, 000, Gaye Swanson claims to have owned with her son. Additionally, the court ordered Roy Swanson to pay $1, 000 per month in spousal support for five years.


         [¶ 4] On appeal, Gaye Swanson contends the district court erred by inequitably dividing the marital estate, by not considering Roy Swanson's fault in the deterioration of the marriage and the parties' finances, and in finding that she, rather than her children, owned property included in the marital estate.

         [¶ 5] This Court will not reverse the district court's decision related to property distribution unless the findings are clearly erroneous. Berg v. Berg, 2018 ND 79, ¶ 6, 908 N.W.2d 705. "A finding of fact is clearly erroneous only if it is induced by an erroneous view of the law, if there is no evidence to support a finding, or if, although there is some evidence to support it, on the entire evidence, we are left with a firm conviction a mistake has been made." Thompson v. Thompson, 2018 ND 21, ¶ 29, 905 N.W.2d 772. "This Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the findings, and the district court's findings of fact are presumptively correct." Hitz v. Hitz, 2008 ND 58, ¶ 10, 746 N.W.2d 732. A district court's "choice between two permissible views of the weight of the evidence is not clearly erroneous, and this Court will not reverse simply because it may have viewed the evidence differently." Rebel v. Rebel, 2013 ND 116, ¶ 9, 833 N.W.2d 442. On appeal, we do not reweigh conflicts in the evidence, and we give due regard to the trial court's opportunity to judge the credibility of the witnesses. Id.

         [¶ 6] Section 14-05-24(1), N.D.C.C., requires a district court to make an equitable division of the parties' marital estate. Rebel v. Rebel, 2016 ND 144, ¶ 7, 882 N.W.2d 256. "In making an equitable distribution of marital property, a court must consider all of the parties' assets." Id. "After including the parties' marital assets and debts in the marital estate," the court must consider the RuffFischer guidelines in distributing the assets:

[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.

Id. The district court is not required to make specific findings on each factor, but must explain the rationale for its decision. Berg, 2018 ND 79, ¶ 7, 908 N.W.2d 705. A district court must also explain a substantial disparity in its ...

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