In re the Marriage of: Kidane Tsadik Berhane, petitioner, Appellant,
Elleni Berhane, Respondent.
Ramsey County District Court File No. 62-FA-11-1028
Kidane Tsadik Berhane, Apple Valley, Minnesota (pro se appellant)
Lou Her, Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, Inc., St. Paul, Minnesota; and Thomas B. Hatch, Natalie I. DeBoer, Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi L.L.P., Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Hudson, Presiding Judge; Stauber, Judge; and Toussaint, Judge. [*]
Appellant-father argues that the district court abused its discretion by inaccurately determining the best interests of the children in awarding sole physical and legal custody to respondent-mother and by awarding spousal maintenance to respondent when the record shows that she is capable of self-support. We affirm.
Appellant Kidane Tsadik Berhane and respondent Elleni Berhane were married July 7, 2009. Respondent had been gainfully employed and supporting herself in Ethiopia but moved to the United States after appellant asked her to marry him in May 2009. Appellant has a bachelor's degree and works for the United States Postal Service, earning a gross annual salary of $60, 421.
The parties have two minor children who were born in February 2010 and August 2011. The parties separated in February 2011 when appellant learned that respondent was pregnant with their second child. Though both parents were heavily involved in child care prior to the couple's separation, respondent has been the primary caretaker of both children since the couple separated. After the couple separated, appellant moved into the home of friends, while respondent moved into a women's shelter. Respondent moved in with a friend after a year in the shelter, but was forced to return to the shelter when the friend was murdered by her friend's husband. The murder did not occur in the children's presence.
By court order, the Ramsey County Community Corrections Department conducted a custody and parenting-time evaluation. The parties were each interviewed twice, and the department conducted a home observation of each party. The report stated that both parents exhibited effective parenting skills during the home observations. The report concluded by recommending that respondent be awarded sole legal and physical custody of the children and that appellant be allowed parenting time as his work schedule allowed.
A two-day trial took place in May 2012. Debra Crossett of Ramsey County, who performed the custody evaluation, testified that, consistent with her report, it was in the best interests of the children for sole custody to be awarded to respondent. Multiple character witnesses testified on appellant's behalf, and both appellant and respondent testified.
In its order, the district court considered best-interests factors including the children's adjustment to home, the children's primary caretaker, the continuity of the caretaking situation, the capacity of each party to love the children, and the disposition of each parent to encourage frequent contact with the other parent. Though there had been accusations of verbal and physical abuse, the district court concluded that there was insufficient evidence that domestic abuse occurred. The district court concluded that, because respondent had been the children's primary caretaker since February 2011 and the children had adjusted well, and because the parties were unable to cooperate in the rearing of their children, it was in the best interests of the children to grant sole legal and physical custody to respondent.
The district court next considered child support and awarded respondent $1, 022 monthly of child support, as well as $18, 673 for reimbursement of past support owed for March 2011 through October 2012. The district court found that respondent did not have sufficient income or property to support herself and awarded respondent $700 per ...