Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
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Janet Gerving appealed a judgment granting Ben Gerving a divorce and distributing their marital property. Janet argued the district court’s property distribution was clearly erroneous because it was not equitable and the court did not adequately explain the substantial disparity. The North Dakota Supreme Court determined the district court was attempting to keep the farming operation viable and respect the parties’ desire to keep the real property available for the parties’ children, "but there are other ways it can be accomplished with an equitable distribution and without limiting the distribution to Janet Gerving based on what Ben Gerving can afford to pay." The Court was left with a "definite and firm conviction a mistake was made, and concluded the district court's property distribution was clearly erroneous. The matter was thus remanded for the court to make an equitable property division. The Court affirmed the district in all other respects. View "Gerving v. Gerving" on Justia Law

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Erica Sims appealed a judgment granting her a divorce from Larry Sims. She argued the district court’s parenting time decision was clearly erroneous, the court erred in determining the value of certain marital property, the court erred by failing to award her spousal support, and the court erred by ordering her to reimburse Larry for half of the airfare he incurred related to missed parenting time. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court’s property valuations, parenting time, and spousal support decisions were not clearly erroneous. However, the Court determined the court erred by failing to include all of the parties’ stipulated terms related to the property distribution in the judgment without providing an explanation why the provisions were excluded, the court erred in determining the amounts Larry was required to reimburse Erica pursuant to the interim order, and the court abused its discretion by ordering a remedial contempt sanction without finding Erica in contempt. The matter was thus remanded for further proceedings. View "Sims v. Sims" on Justia Law

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Trevor Rustad appealed an amended judgment modifying a previous parenting plan. Mary Baumgartner cross-appealed an order denying her motion to modify parenting time. The parties had two minor children together, L.J.B., born in 2017, and L.B.R., born in 2015. The district court awarded primary residential responsibility to Baumgartner and parenting time to Rustad. Finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Rustad v. Baumgartner" on Justia Law

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This was an appeal stemming from a divorce action commenced in 2017. The only issue was division of the parties’ marital property. Included as part of the parties’ marital property was Myron Axtman’s Hess pension. The pension benefits commenced on February 1, 2015, at which time Axtman began receiving $2,891.60 per month. Myron Axtman appealed an amended judgment distributing the parties’ marital property. Axtman argued the district court abused its discretion in amending the judgment, and the court amended judgment under N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(a) without providing proper notice. The North Dakota Supreme Court determined Rule 60(a) was a proper mechanism for the court to amend the judgment to correct the mistake resulting from its oversight and omission, but the court did not provide notice to the parties it was considering amending judgment pursuant to Rule 60(a). However, the court’s error was considered harmless because, after the court amended the judgment, Axtman brought a “Motion to Vacate Order on Motion for Relief from Judgment.” In his motion, Axtman argued the district court erred in amending the judgment under Rule 60(a) because the original judgment’s failure to divide the pension payments received by Axtman during the pendency of the divorce was not a clerical mistake or a mistake arising from oversight or omission, which was the argument he raised on appeal to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court determined Axtman was aware the district court recognized it failed to take into consideration the payments Axtman received during the pendency of the divorce in the original judgment, and that Amy Axtman was attempting to amend the judgment to account for the payments Axtman received during the pendency of the divorce. The court’s error in not providing notice did not require reversal. Thus, the Court affirmed judgment. View "Axtman v. Axtman" on Justia Law

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George Voigt appealed a judgment establishing paternity and primary residential responsibility. Voigt and Brenna Nelson were never married, but had one daughter, S.M.V., born in 2013. Voigt filed a complaint to establish paternity and parental responsibility in October 2018. In March 2019, Voigt sought interim relief, requesting equal residential and decision making responsibility. In April 2019, the district court ordered that the parties have joint residential responsibility and joint decision making on an interim basis. At trial, Voigt requested joint and equal residential responsibility and decision making authority. Nelson requested primary residential responsibility and decision making authority as determined by the court. The court awarded Nelson primary residential responsibility and decision making authority for non-emergency healthcare decisions. Voigt received parenting time and joint decision making in other aspects. On appeal, Voigt argued the district court’s award of primary residential responsibility and decision making authority for non-emergency healthcare decisions was clearly erroneous and the court abused its discretion by adopting the recommendations from a biased parenting investigator. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Voigt v. Nelson" on Justia Law

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Daniel Raak appealed a district court order: (1) denying his post-judgment motion to redistribute property and request for an evidentiary hearing; and (2) finding him in contempt and from a third amended judgment modifying his child support obligation. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court dismissed as untimely Raak’s appeal of the order denying his motion to redistribute property and request for a hearing. The Supreme Court concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion by finding him in contempt, but erred in determining the parties’ child support obligations. The Supreme Court therefore reversed and remanded to the district court for further proceedings to recalculate child support based on the parties’ monthly net income, the number of children eligible for support and the child support guidelines. Because the Supreme Court remanded, the district court in its discretion could reopen the record to address the issues Raak raised on appeal regarding its child support determination. View "Jacobs-Raak v. Raak, et al." on Justia Law

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Samantha Schweitzer appealed a district court order dismissing her petition for a child custody order. Schweitzer and Blake Miller have one child together, born in Wisconsin in 2014. Schweitzer had primary custody of the child after the child’s birth. On January 6, 2017, Schweitzer and the child moved from Wisconsin to North Dakota. On January 13, 2017, Miller petitioned in Wisconsin for joint custody and parenting time. After an August 2018 hearing, the parties stipulated they would have joint custody of the child and Schweitzer would move to Madison, Wisconsin. The Wisconsin court entered an order on the basis of the parties’ stipulation. In January 2019, Schweitzer petitioned for an emergency child custody order and initial child custody determination or modification of child custody determination in North Dakota. Miller moved to dismiss the petition, arguing the district court did not have subject matter jurisdiction to decide Schweitzer’s petition. Miller claimed the Wisconsin court had jurisdiction to decide custody issues relating to the child. The North Dakota district court determined it lacked jurisdiction to decide Schweitzer's petition, and the North Dakota Supreme Court concurred with that judgment. View "Schweitzer v. Miller" on Justia Law

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Wendy Willprecht appealed and Kevin Willprecht cross-appealed a judgment granting the parties a divorce, distributing the marital estate, awarding primary residential responsibility for the parties’ children, and ordering child support. After review of the trial court record, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court’s property distribution was not clearly erroneous, but the court erred in calculating Kevin's child support obligation. View "Willprecht v. Willprecht" on Justia Law

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T.P.-G. appealed the termination of her parental rights. On appeal, T.P.-G. argued she was denied due process and the juvenile court erred by denying her request to appear by telephone. A petition for involuntary termination of parental rights to a child, A.P.D.S.P.-G., was filed in the juvenile court. After a trial date was set, the mother, T.P.-G, filed a request to appear by phone because she lived in Wisconsin. The court denied the request. At trial, counsel stated T.P.-G. wished to contest the termination, regardless of whether she was able to attend the trial. Counsel stated T.P.-G. regretted being unable to attend, but T.P.-G. was saving her money to travel to see A.P.D.S.P.-G. for his birthday. After trial, the juvenile court found A.P.D.S.P.-G. was a deprived and abandoned child and terminated T.P.-G.’s parental rights to the child. Finding no due process violation, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed termination. View "Interest of A.P.D.S.P.-G." on Justia Law

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Jason Martodam appealed an amended divorce judgment and an order denying his motions for contempt and to amend the amended judgment. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court did not err in entering the interim order, denying his ex parte motion, and denying his motions for sanctions. The Court concluded the court did not err in awarding primary residential responsibility to Crystal Martodam and did not abuse its discretion in not holding her in contempt and in excluding exhibits that he had offered. Furthermore, the Supreme Court concluded the court did not err in failing to order a parenting investigator and in calculating child support. The trial court erred in allowing the minor children to decide whether to have parenting time. The amended judgment was affirmed as modified, as was the subsequent order denying the motions. View "Martodam v. Martodam" on Justia Law