Category Archives: MN Family Law Case Summary

Finding of Parental Alienation Leads Court to Modify Award of Custody

In Busch v. Christian, A14-0687 (Minn. Ct. App. Mar. 9, 2015), the Minnesota Court of Appeal upheld a decision of the trial court modifying a custody order to award sole legal and physical custody to a father because the mother had been alienating the child from the father.   In this case, the parents had never been married, but the father’s paternity was recognized soon after the child’s birth.  The initial child custody order had awarded both parties joint legal custody, with sole custody to the mother and parenting time to the father, increasing as the child got older.

Relying on Minnesota Statute section 518.18, the court found that four elements had to be established in order to modify a prior custody order:  (1) a change in the circumstances of the child or custodian; (2) modification would serve the child’s best interest; (3) the child’s physical or emotional health or emotional development is endangered by the current environment; and (4) the harm to the child likely to be caused by changing the environment is outweighed by the advantages of the change.   The court found that all four elements were met. books

The court found that there had been a sufficient change in the circumstances of the child or custodian to support modification of custody because the mother had constantly negatively referred to the father and refused as many as 29 days of parenting time since the last order and her actions caused the father’s relationship with his daughter to deteriorate.

The court found that modification was in the child’s best interests and provided a detailed analysis of the statutory factors.  The mother challenged the court’s conclusion on four of the factors.  First, the court found that the intimacy of the relationship of the parent and child favored the father, as he genuinely loved the child while the mother tried to alienate the child from the father.  The court was convinced that the mother had an unhealthy relationship with the child, noting that after the father had physical custody, the mother went to the child’s school every day to have lunch with her.  It was noted that the daughter was afraid to tell her mom that she loved her dad because of her mother’s constant negative state.

Second, the court found that the child’s adjustment to home, school, and community favored the father.  The court found that the child was better adjusted at school and with her peers after her father had custody.  It was again noted that the mother’s daily lunches with the child at school interfered with the child’s independence and were inappropriate.

Third, the court found that the continuity of a stable, satisfactory environment favored the father even though the child had lived for a longer period of time with the mother.  There was concerned that, since the change in custody to the father, the child was no longer sleeping in her own room but was sleeping with her mother when she had parenting time with her mother.

Fourth, the court found that the physical and mental health of the parents and child favored the father even though he had a recent DUI conviction because of the court’s concern that the mother because of the mother’s “persistent, uninterrupted and outrageous” interference with the father’s visitation.

It was also noted that the child had adjusted well to her father’s custody. And that she had improved in some significant aspects, including her hygiene.  Although she continued to have difficulties in school, the father had hired a tutor for her.

If you are involved in a custody dispute, you should consider retaining an experienced family law attorney who can assist you in developing a record that will support your claim for custody in light of the statutory factors.

New Minnesota Family Law Case – Rauworth v. Rauworth

In Rauworth v. Rauworth, A13-2104 (Minn. Ct. App. Feb. 2, 2015), the Minnesota Court of Appeals issued significant rulings on (1) post-trial motions; (2) permanent maintenance; and (3) attorneys’ fees.

Post-Trial Motions:  The court upheld the district court’s decision to award an increase of $570 in spousal maintenance, but reversed the district court’s decision to award retroactive maintenance.

The district court had awarded the additional $570 because of the tax consequences of spousal maintenance, which is taxable income to the spouse receiving maintenance and a deduction to the spouse paying spousal maintenance.  The court noted that the rule allowing for amendment of findings of fact requires courts “to apply the evidence as submitted during the trial of the case, and may neither go outside the record, nor consider new evidence.  The court found that the ex-wife’s post-trial exhibit should have been excluded, but that there were enough facts outside of the post-trial exhibit to support the change.  At trial, the ex-wife’s expert had testified about the tax consequences of spousal maintenance, so there was evidence from trial on the issue.  Further, the court found that the change did not unduly prejudice the ex-husband as his income was greater than his expenses, and he would be able to deduct the spousal maintenance from his income on his tax return. Symbol of law and justice in the empty courtroom, law and justice concept.

The court, however, held that the district court erred in awarding six months of retroactive maintenance, as this was a new issue filed for the first time on a motion for amended filings or a new trial.   The court noted that the ex-wife could have moved for the payment of interim maintenance under Minnesota Statute Section 518.131, subd. 1(b).

Permanent Maintenance:  The court upheld the district court’s decision in denying permanent maintenance, noting that the party seeking maintenance has the burden of proof.  In this case, the wife was awarded $600,000 in retirement funds, which would yield retirement income when she reached retirement age.  The court held that the award of rehabilitative maintenance, limited to twelve years, was fair and just because she would have access to retirement income at the end of twelve years.  The court did note that, if she were unable to meet her living expenses at that time, she would be able to bring a motion to modify the maintenance award later on.

Attorneys’ Fees:  The court held that the district had acted within its discretion in denying need-based attorneys’ fees.  The court held that the ex-wife did not show any need for attorneys’ fees as she has a full-time job, she got nearly $800,000 in marital property, and she was awarded substantial maintenance through 2025.   Based on this decision, courts are likely to deny need-based attorneys’ fees where a party has substantial income, including maintenance, and has been awarded substantial assets.

As this case illustrates, it is important to raise all relevant claims and request all relevant relief when you first file for divorce, or, at least, at trial, as it may be impossible to raise new claims after a divorce judgment is entered.  Therefore, if you are considering a divorce, consider hiring an experienced family law attorney to assist you.