Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
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K.M.E. appealed an order extending a guardianship over her biological child J.O. L.O. and S.O. were granted guardianship of J.O. and his stepsister, I.E. L.O. and S.O. were J.O.’s maternal grandparents. K.M.E. was J.O.’s biological mother, and her husband, K.R.E., was J.O.’s stepfather and I.E.’s biological father. Before the petition for guardianship was filed, K.M.E. and K.R.E. left J.O. in the care of L.O. and S.O. “for an indefinite period of time” and did not make plans to resume physical custody. The juvenile court noted K.M.E. and K.R.E. “failed to provide food, shelter, and medical attention to adequately provide for the minor child’s needs since June 1, 2017.” The court took judicial notice of four pending criminal matters with pending bench warrants against K.M.E. and four more against her husband. The court suspended K.M.E.’s rights of custody over J.O. “due to her lack of stability, pending criminal charges, and inability to properly care for and nurture the minor child and to provide a stable living environment.” The court appointed L.O. and S.O. as guardians over J.O. for an unlimited duration under N.D.C.C. 27-20-36. At the same time, L.O. and S.O. sought guardianship and were appointed guardians of I.E. I.E. later returned to K.M.E. and K.R.E.’s home. After K.R.E. petitioned the juvenile court and L.O. and S.O. did not object in the related case, the guardianship over I.E. was terminated. However, with regard to the petition to terminate the guardianship for J.O., at a hearing, J.O. stated he did not want contact with his mother, and wanted to continue living with L.O. and S.O. The court ultimately found K.M.E. did not meet her burden of presenting evidence the circumstances that lead to the guardianship no longer existed. Accordingly, the petition to terminate was denied. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court found the trial court did not err in extending J.O.'s guardianship; judgment was affirmed. View "Interest of J.O." on Justia Law

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Thomas Kaspari appealed when the district court ordered him to pay spousal support in his divorce from Jean Kaspari until her death or remarriage. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court erred as a matter of law because its award of spousal support was for an unlimited period of time. The Court vacated the spousal support portion of the judgment and remanded for the district court to reconsider the issue in light of the Supreme Court's opinion. View "Kaspari v. Kaspari" on Justia Law

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Dakota Bee appealed a criminal judgment entered on a conditional plea of guilty, reserving the right to appeal a district court order denying her motion to suppress evidence. Burleigh County Social Services (BCSS) contacted the Bismarck Police Department requesting assistance in removing a child from Bee’s care. Officers accompanied BCSS social workers to Bee’s residence and informed her that they were there to remove her child. Bee refused, backing up into the home, picking up the child, and then running towards the rear of the home. Officers pursued Bee through the home and out the back door. Fleeing out the back, Bee fell while holding the child, and officers separated her from the child. After Bee had been detained outside the residence, a social worker entered the residence to obtain personal belongings for the child, and an officer followed. Once the officer was inside, the social worker pointed out a glass smoking pipe. Bee was subsequently charged with Child Neglect; Possession of Methamphetamine; Possession of Drug Paraphernalia; and Refusal to Halt. The district court found that the officers entered “the residence with BCSS to retrieve personal belongings for the child” after Bee had been detained and the child was in BCSS’s custody. The court further found that the officers observed the glass smoking device on a shelf in plain view. The court concluded the officers’ actions did not violate Bee’s Fourth Amendment rights. On appeal, Bee argued the court erred in concluding that her Fourth Amendment rights were not violated when the officers entered her home. The North Dakota Supreme Court found that during the first entry to the residence, the officers observed nothing that Bee sought to suppress. The second entry of the residence was justified only by a need to collect clothing and other personal items needed by the child. Because the search was concededly warrantless and no exception applies, the Court concluded Bee was entitled to claim the protection of the exclusionary rule. The district court erred by denying Bee’s motion to suppress the results of the warrantless search. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded to allow Bee to withdraw her guilty plea. View "North Dakota v. Bee" on Justia Law

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Ben Gerving appealed an amended divorce judgment and parenting plan. He argued the district court’s distribution of marital assets and debts was clearly erroneous. Janet Gerving argued the appeal was frivolous and she was entitled to costs and attorney’s fees. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the amended divorce judgment and parenting plan, and determined Ben Gerving's arguments on appeal were "not so groundless or devoid of merit that they were frivolous." Janet's request for fees was thus denied. View "Gerving v. Gerving" on Justia Law

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Mary Orwig appealed and Steven Orwig cross-appealed a divorce judgment distributing the parties’ property and awarding Mary spousal support. Mary argued the district court erred in determining the value of certain property, distributing the parties’ assets, and failing to award her permanent spousal support. Steven argued the court erred by ordering him to pay Mary's attorney’s fees. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s property division and spousal support award, but reversed its attorney’s fees award. The matter was remanded for reconsideration of fees. View "Orwig v. Orwig" on Justia Law

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Shannon Belgarde appealed an order denying her motion to vacate a divorce judgment, which was entered pursuant to a stipulation. Shannon Belgarde (formerly Paulson) and Kristofor Paulson married in 2013. They divorced on December 4, 2019 based on a stipulated settlement agreement signed by both parties and filed with the district court on November 12, 2019. Neither party was represented by counsel during the drafting or execution of the settlement agreement. Belgarde moved to vacate the divorce judgment under N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(b), arguing the judgment should be vacated on the grounds of duress, newly discovered evidence, fraud, misrepresentation, misconduct, and because the divorce stipulation was so one-sided as to be unconscionable. Belgarde argued she relied on Paulson’s statements regarding future reconciliation when she signed the settlement agreement. She stated she did not realize these statements were false until she discovered evidence of an alleged affair. Belgarde also argued the divorce stipulation was so one-sided as to be unconscionable. Belgarde submitted affidavits and several exhibits in support of her motion. Finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Paulson v. Paulson" on Justia Law

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Cory Davis appealed a district court order denying his motion for Rule 60(b), N.D.R.Civ.P., relief from a judgment. In September of 2019 Tracy Davis served Cory with a summons and complaint for divorce. Cory did not prepare or serve a formal answer. On October 14, 2019, the district court issued an order for mediation. The parties attended mediation without final resolution of their case. After a mediation closing form was filed the court issued a scheduling order and notice of bench trial for January 23, 2020. On December 13, 2019, Tracy filed a motion for default judgment. That same day she served Cory with the motion by mail. On December 23, 2019, the district court issued an order granting default judgment, along with judgment by default. On January 8, 2020, Cory filed an answer and counterclaim, notice of motion for relief from judgment, and brief in support of motion for Rule 60 relief, arguing he did not receive the time required under N.D.R.Ct. 3.2 to respond to Tracy's motion for default. On appeal of the denial of relief, Cory argued the court erred in denying his motion because the judgment was entered prior to the expiration of his time to respond under N.D.R.Ct. 3.2(a). After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court reversed and remanded with instructions to vacate the default judgment and provide Cory an opportunity to respond consistent with N.D.R.Ct. 3.2(a)(2). View "Davis v. Davis, et al." on Justia Law

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Kevin Willprecht appealed an amended judgment altering his child support and spousal support obligations. Kevin argued the district court erred in awarding spousal support without reconsidering the Ruff-Fischer guidelines, by failing to analyze Wendy Willprecht’s spousal need as reflected by her living expenses, and because the spousal support award exceeded Kevin's ability to pay. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court reversed and remanded the district court’s spousal support award for further proceedings: "Although the district court concluded a new income disparity arose because of step-down provisions being added to the child support obligation, it failed to adequately assess Kevin Willprecht’s ability to meet the new obligation for spousal support." View "Willprecht v. Willprecht" on Justia Law

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Daniel Stoddard appealed a district court order and judgment amending the parenting plan between Stoddard and Christina Singer for their minor child, M.S.S. Stoddard presented twelve issues, contending the district court erred in its determination a change in primary residential responsibility was unwarranted. The North Dakota Supreme Court reduced Stoddard’s issues to the four arguments addressed in its opinion, and ultimately affirmed the district court’s order and judgment . Stoddard did not meet his burden of proof regarding: primary residential responsibility; not appointing a parenting investigator; and delaying the emergency hearing. The Court reversed the district court’s order preventing Stoddard from proceeding on a psychological parent claim related Singer's child from a previous relationship, J.B.G. View "Stoddard v. Singer" on Justia Law

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Terry George appealed a domestic violence protection order entered against him, claiming the district court erred, without properly explaining the factual basis for its decision, in finding that a preponderance of the evidence supported that actual or imminent domestic violence had or would occur. Nicole Lindstaedt and George dated for approximately four years. They lived together and had a child in common. In February 2020, Lindstaedt petitioned for a domestic violence protection order against George, alleging he choked her, punched her, threatened to kill her, and forced her to have sex with him. After a hearing, the district court found George had committed domestic violence and issued a protection order against him. The order prohibited George from having contact with Lindstaedt for two years. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court’s finding of domestic violence was not induced by an erroneous view of the law, nor was the Court left with a definite and firm conviction a mistake has been made. The Supreme Court's review of the record showed Lindstaedt presented sufficient evidence for the district court to find domestic violence by recent physical harm and nonconsensual sex. The Supreme Court therefore affirmed the domestic violence protection order. View "Lindstaedt v. George" on Justia Law