Polk County District Court File No. F6-96-1758
Considered and decided by Harten, Presiding Judge, Peterson, Judge, and
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Harten, Judge
Appellant mother, acting pro se, challenges the granting of respondent father's motion to modify custody of the parties' child, the denial of her motion to remove the district court judge who granted the evidentiary hearing, and the setting of the amount of her child support obligation. Because we see no abuse of discretion in any of these determinations, we affirm.
Appellant Tammy Orendorf and respondent Wyatt Orendorf are the parents of D.O., now 17, and T.O., now 15. The parties separated while the family was living in Germany, where respondent was serving in the army. Appellant returned with the children to Minnesota. Respondent still had five months to serve in Germany when the parties' marriage was dissolved. Appellant received physical custody of the children.
Appellant became involved in a relationship with Kenny Mendez; they had a child, D., in June 1998. T.O. complained that appellant required her to spend a lot of time caring for D.
After his discharge from the army, respondent lived for a few months in Maryland, where D.O. and T.O. visited him during the summer of 1998. Respondent then moved to Ohio, and the children visited him there in the summer of 1999. During this visit, T.O. began bonding with respondent's new wife, Monika. T.O. alone went to visit respondent and his wife during the summer of 2000, because circumstances prevented D.O., then 14, from making the trip. T.O. did not want to return home from this visit; she expressed her desire to live permanently with respondent.
T.O., respondent, and respondent's wife all share an interest in horses. When respondent and his wife married in 1999, she already had a horse; after they moved to a home where they could keep horses, they purchased a second horse for respondent. T.O. returned alone to visit respondent again in 2001 because D.O. wanted to take a drivers' training course in Minnesota. During one of T.O.'s visits, respondent and his wife heard from a friend asking if they were interested in looking at some horses available for purchase. For $400, they bought a young, unbroken horse with the expectation that T.O. would care for it.
T.O. became more insistent about wanting to live with respondent, and he moved for a change in her custody. Pursuant to a temporary order, she remained in Ohio for the 2001-02 school year; except for occasional visits to appellant, she has now lived in Ohio since June 2001.
Respondent was granted an evidentiary hearing on his motion and a guardian ad litem (GAL) was appointed for T.O.*fn1 The GAL's initial report in September 2001 was based on phone and fax contact with T.O., who said she had a good relationship with respondent and his wife and definitely wanted to live with them in Ohio, where she had made friends, participated in sports, and was doing well at school. T.O. said she loved appellant, but could not live with her.
T.O. also said she had wanted to live with respondent since 1996, but was afraid to ask because "[appellant] would really be mad at her." When asked how she felt about herself since the move to Ohio, T.O. replied,
I am happy, I feel loved, I love being here. I like my school much more * * *, I feel safe, I feel needed and enjoy life now. I sleep good at night and work hard all day. People listen to me and don't judge me. I'm not afraid, and I want to live with my father and stepmother in Ohio. I ...