Marsden F v. Jason Koop, No. 20090285.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of North Dakota
Writing for the CourtCROTHERS, Justice.
Citation2010 ND 196,789 N.W.2d 531
Decision Date19 October 2010
Docket NumberNo. 20090285.
PartiesSerena MARSDEN f/k/a Serena Koop, Plaintiff and Appellant v. Jason KOOP, Defendant and Appellee.

789 N.W.2d 531
2010 ND 196

Serena MARSDEN f/k/a Serena Koop, Plaintiff and Appellant
v.
Jason KOOP, Defendant and Appellee.

No. 20090285.

Supreme Court of North Dakota.

Oct. 19, 2010.


789 N.W.2d 532

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Patti Jo Jensen, East Grand Forks, MN, for plaintiff and appellant.

Bradley Wayne Parrish, Grand Forks, ND, for defendant and appellee.

CROTHERS, Justice.

[¶ 1] Serena Marsden, formerly known as Serena Koop, appeals a district court judgment awarding primary residential responsibility of the parties' minor children to Jason Koop and dividing the marital property. 1 We affirm.

I

[¶ 2] Serena Marsden and Jason Koop were married on June 10, 2000, and have two children together: A.J.K. was born in 2003, and A.S.K. was born in 2006. Marsden and Koop had marital difficulties and started marital counseling in May 2008. Marsden met Chris Norquay in June 2008 and began a relationship with him in June or July 2008. Marsden gave birth to G.W.N. in 2009. Chris Norquay is G.W.N.'s father. All the children are enrolled with the Canadian Indian Affairs as members of the Fairford First Nations in Manitoba, Canada.

[¶ 3] Marsden is a Canadian citizen and a United States resident. She is employed as a child protection worker for Grand Forks County Social Services. Koop is a United States citizen and is employed as a machinist for Northern Valley Machines in East Grand Forks, Minnesota. In August 2008, Marsden filed for divorce from Koop, and Koop moved out of the marital home. During the separation, the children resided with Marsden in the marital home, and Koop had parenting time with his children.

[¶ 4] The case was tried on July 29, 2009. At trial, evidence and testimony revealed that in 2003, Marsden inherited a one-third interest in a home and a business in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, after the death of her father. Marsden has two siblings. Marsden and her brother bought their sister's interest in the home with their inheritance money.

[¶ 5] Koop testified that he received a $8,000 loan from his father and that he spent $5,000 of it on attorney's fees. He testified the remaining $3,000 was used for living expenses. He included the $8,000 loan under his property and debt listing. He also testified that he does not have a

789 N.W.2d 536

payment schedule or a written agreement for the repayment of the loan, but that he and his father have a mutual understanding.

[¶ 6] On August 3, 2009, the district court issued its findings of fact, conclusions of law, order for judgment, and judgment, granting the divorce, finding Koop was not G.W.N.'s father and awarding Marsden her maiden name. The court issued additional findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order for an amended judgment on September 23, 2009. The amended judgment was filed on October 26, 2009. The court awarded primary residential responsibility of A.J.K. and A.S.K. to Koop with parenting time to Marsden and provided that the parties share decision-making responsibility. Marsden was ordered to pay child support to Koop. The district court divided the property, giving Koop the marital home in Grand Forks and Marsden the property in Winnipeg. It awarded Marsden the interest in her deceased father's business, a United States checking account, and a Canadian savings account, subject to a payment of $18,500 to Koop to equalize the property and debt distribution. The court ordered each party to be responsible for his or her own attorney's fees.

[¶ 7] Marsden appeals, arguing the district court clearly erred by (1) awarding primary residential responsibility of the children to Koop; (2) including the $8,000 loan Koop received from his father as a marital debt; and (3) including the home and business interest Marsden inherited in the marital estate.

II

[¶ 8] “An award of [primary residential responsibility] is a finding of fact which this Court will not disturb unless it is clearly erroneous.” McAllister v. McAllister, 2010 ND 40, ¶ 13, 779 N.W.2d 652 (quoting Interest of D.P.O., 2003 ND 127, ¶ 6, 667 N.W.2d 590). “Under N.D.R.Civ.P. 52(a), a finding of fact is clearly erroneous only if it is induced by an erroneous view of the law or, although there is some evidence to support it, on the entire record we are left with a definite and firm conviction a mistake has been made.” McAllister, at ¶ 13 (quotation omitted). This Court has explained the standard of review in a primary residential responsibility determination:

“Under the clearly erroneous standard of review, we do not reweigh the evidence or reassess the credibility of the witnesses, and we will not retry a custody case or substitute our judgment for a district court's initial custody decision merely because we might have reached a different result. This is particularly relevant for custody decisions involving two fit parents.

“A district court cannot delegate to a[n] ... independent investigator its authority to award custody to the parent who will promote the best interests and welfare of the child. The district court has discretion to determine what weight to assign to the custody investigator's conclusions. The district court does not have to, nor should it, regard a custody investigator's recommendation as conclusive.”

Heinle v. Heinle, 2010 ND 5, ¶¶ 6-7, 777 N.W.2d 590 (quotations and citations omitted). The district court cannot arbitrarily disregard the custody investigator's report and testimony. McAdams v. McAdams, 530 N.W.2d 647, 650 (N.D.1995).

[¶ 9] An initial custody determination requires that the district court award primary residential responsibility of children to the parent who will better promote the best interests and welfare of the children. See Klein v. Larson, 2006 ND 236, ¶ 7, 724 N.W.2d 565. In determining

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the best interests of the children, the court must consider all of the relevant factors in N.D.C.C. § 14-09-06.2(1). Bernhardt v. Harrington, 2009 ND 189, ¶ 6, 775 N.W.2d 682.

[¶ 10] The district court found factors (a), (b), (c), (g), (h), (i), (j), (k), and ( l ) favored neither parent, no factor favored Marsden, and factors (d), (f), and (m) favored Koop. The court did not specifically include statutory factor (e) in its analysis and alphabetically designated the remaining factors so that its factors (e) through ( l ) correspond with the statutory factors (f) through (m). Where necessary for us to refer to the statutory factors, we use the correct alphabetical designations.

III

[¶ 11] Marsden argues the district court clearly erred in its analysis of the best interest factors by arbitrarily disregarding the custody investigator's testimony and report, failing to give appropriate weight to her primary residential responsibility of the children since August 2008, failing to consider the children's cultural background, erroneously separating the half-siblings, failing to consider the best interests of the children under the factors and making findings not supported by or contrary to the evidence. After extensive review of the record, we conclude the district court's findings of fact are not clearly erroneous.

A

[¶ 12] Marsden argues the district court erred awarding Koop primary residential responsibility when it arbitrarily disregarded the testimony and contrary recommendation of the custody investigator.

[¶ 13] The district court is not required to follow a custody investigator's recommendation and has the discretion in deciding what weight to assign to the investigator's conclusion. Wolt v. Wolt, 2010 ND 26, ¶ 9, 778 N.W.2d 786. Rather, the district court should take a custody investigator's report into consideration, but the court must come to its own conclusion. Id.

[¶ 14] In discussing the custody investigator's conclusion and recommendation, the district court found under factor (m):

“The award of physical custody is a very difficult decision in this case as both Serena and Jason are very capable parents. The custody investigator recommends that physical custody of the children be awarded to Serena. This recommendation is based on the investigator's conclusion that Serena assumes more of the day-to-day care and needs of the children and that Serena provides more emotional support for the children than Jason. While Serena may have provided more of the day-to-day care of the children at the onset of the divorce, the evidence does not show that Jason ever failed to provide the necessary care for the children or that he is incapable of providing for their care and needs.

....

“The Court finds that the evidence establishes that Jason is very capable of providing the necessary care for his children, without the assistance of his parents or others.”

The custody investigator's report also is cited by the court in findings under factor (f).

[¶ 15] In its opening remarks at trial, the district court informed the parties that it had read the custody investigator's report twice. In its findings under factor (m), the district court noted that it considered the custody investigator's recommendation and that it provided its reasons for reaching a different conclusion. We conclude the district court did not arbitrarily

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disregard the custody investigator's recommendation and testimony.

B

[¶ 16] Marsden argues the district court failed to give weight to her primary residential responsibility for the children for the year prior to trial. She also contends “Jason was not an active father” and “Jason was also deficient in simple parenting tasks” so that residential responsibility of the children should be awarded to Marsden rather than to Koop. Marsden did not argue that the district court misapprehended her intention to move to Winnipeg from North Dakota or that it misapplied the law regarding relocation.

[¶ 17] Under factor (d), the district court found:

The length of time the child has lived in a stable satisfactory environment and the...

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22 practice notes
  • Deyle v. Deyle, No. 20120157.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of North Dakota
    • November 30, 2012
    ...we might have reached a different result. This is particularly relevant for custody decisions involving two fit parents.” Marsden v. Koop, 2010 ND 196, ¶ 8, 789 N.W.2d 531 (quoting Heinle v. Heinle, 2010 ND 5, ¶ 6, 777 N.W.2d 590). [825 N.W.2d 249] [¶ 5] “District courts must award primary ......
  • Keita v. Keita, No. 20110252.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of North Dakota
    • November 27, 2012
    ...findings should be stated with sufficient specificity to enable this Court to understand the basis for its decision. See Marsden v. Koop, 2010 ND 196, ¶ 21, 789 N.W.2d 531. [¶ 6] “[O]ur statutes and case law recognize that [parenting time] with a noncustodial parent may be curtailed or elim......
  • Klundt v. Benjamin, No. 20180419
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of North Dakota
    • June 27, 2019
    ...our judgment for a district court’s initial custody decision merely because we might have reached a different result." Marsden v. Koop , 2010 ND 196, ¶ 8, 789 N.W.2d 531 (quoting Heinle v. Heinle , 2010 ND 5, ¶ 6, 777 N.W.2d 590 ). "This is particularly relevant for custody decisions involv......
  • Hageman v. Hageman, No. 20120183.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of North Dakota
    • February 26, 2013
    ...¶ 12, 790 N.W.2d 476. The court must decide which parent will “better promote the [child's] best interests and welfare.” Marsden v. Koop, 2010 ND 196, ¶ 9, 789 N.W.2d 531. In awarding primary residential responsibility, the court considers the best interest factors under N.D.C.C. § 14–09–06......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
22 cases
  • Deyle v. Deyle, No. 20120157.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of North Dakota
    • November 30, 2012
    ...we might have reached a different result. This is particularly relevant for custody decisions involving two fit parents.” Marsden v. Koop, 2010 ND 196, ¶ 8, 789 N.W.2d 531 (quoting Heinle v. Heinle, 2010 ND 5, ¶ 6, 777 N.W.2d 590). [825 N.W.2d 249] [¶ 5] “District courts must award primary ......
  • Keita v. Keita, No. 20110252.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of North Dakota
    • November 27, 2012
    ...findings should be stated with sufficient specificity to enable this Court to understand the basis for its decision. See Marsden v. Koop, 2010 ND 196, ¶ 21, 789 N.W.2d 531. [¶ 6] “[O]ur statutes and case law recognize that [parenting time] with a noncustodial parent may be curtailed or elim......
  • Klundt v. Benjamin, No. 20180419
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of North Dakota
    • June 27, 2019
    ...our judgment for a district court’s initial custody decision merely because we might have reached a different result." Marsden v. Koop , 2010 ND 196, ¶ 8, 789 N.W.2d 531 (quoting Heinle v. Heinle , 2010 ND 5, ¶ 6, 777 N.W.2d 590 ). "This is particularly relevant for custody decisions involv......
  • Hageman v. Hageman, No. 20120183.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of North Dakota
    • February 26, 2013
    ...¶ 12, 790 N.W.2d 476. The court must decide which parent will “better promote the [child's] best interests and welfare.” Marsden v. Koop, 2010 ND 196, ¶ 9, 789 N.W.2d 531. In awarding primary residential responsibility, the court considers the best interest factors under N.D.C.C. § 14–09–06......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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