Dakota County District Court File No. 19-F5-02-011433.
Michael D. Blaeser, South Saint Paul, Minnesota (pro se respondent)
Beau D. McGraw, McGraw Law Firm, P.A., Lake Elmo, Minnesota (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Worke, Presiding Judge; Halbrooks, Judge; and Larkin, Judge.
Appellant-mother challenges the district court's decision to modify a prior custody order and award respondent-father sole legal custody of the children, arguing that the district court abused its discretion by (1) finding a substantial change in circumstances based on events that were known at the time of the prior custody order, (2) basing findings and conclusions on evidence that was not presented at the evidentiary hearing, (3) failing to consider all of the required factors, and (4) reaching an inequitable result. We affirm.
Appellant Julie Ann Wolf and respondent Michael David Blaeser are the parents of twin girls, born on December 1, 1999. The parties were never married. In 2002, the parties agreed to share joint physical custody and joint legal custody of the children. In 2004, Wolf accused Blaeser of sexually abusing the children. Wolf absconded with the children and withheld them from Blaeser for a period of nine days. After the children were returned to Blaeser, they were evaluated by private consultants who determined that no abuse had occurred. The children also had previously been seen by their pediatrician while in Wolf's care, and the pediatrician did not find physical signs of abuse.
The parties subsequently stipulated that Blaeser be awarded sole physical custody of the children. Wolf and Blaeser continued to share joint legal custody. The stipulation was adopted by the district court in an order dated November 6, 2006. The 2006 order provided that "[t]he parties shall confer and attempt to arrive at mutual decisions concerning the health, education, welfare, and upbringing of the children with a view to arriving at a harmonious policy to promote the children's best interests."
In 2011, Wolf moved to modify the custody order, requesting "custody of the parties' minor children." In a responsive motion, Blaeser requested sole legal custody. After a hearing on the motions, the district court denied Wolf's motion and granted Blaeser's motion on a "temporary basis." The court authorized Wolf to obtain an evidentiary hearing on the legal-custody issue, but it ruled that the award of sole legal custody to Blaeser would become permanent if Wolf did not request a hearing. Wolf requested an evidentiary hearing, which was held on June 15, 2012. Several professionals who had worked with the family testified at the hearing, including a family therapist, a parenting consultant, and a professional counselor. Wolf and Blaeser also testified.
After the hearing, the district court found that "[t]he parties have been unable or unwilling to cooperate with one-another regarding the children's health, education or religious upbringing." Noting that the parties had used two parenting consultants, a custody evaluator, two mediators, and a family program without success, the district court found that "it is clear that the parties cannot communicate or cooperate" and that "[i]t is very unlikely that the parties will be able to communicate or cooperate in the future regarding raising their children." The district court concluded that there had been a substantial change in circumstances since the initial award of joint legal custody, that the parties' failure to communicate and cooperate endangered the children's well-being, and that an award of sole legal custody to Blaeser was in the children's best interest. The court reasoned that because "joint legal custody has failed" and Wolf's motion for sole physical custody had been denied, "the only realistic option is to award sole legal custody to [Blaeser] who currently has sole physical custody." Noting that "[t]here is no evidence that the children are not doing well in [Blaeser's] care, " the district court awarded Blaeser sole legal custody of both children. Wolf appeals the district court's custody determination.
District courts have "broad discretion in determining custody matters, " and "[a]ppellate review of custody determinations is limited to whether the district court abused its discretion by making findings unsupported by the evidence or by improperly applying the law." Goldman v. Greenwood, 74 ...