Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
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Tim O’Keeffe appealed district court orders denying his motion to terminate spousal support and awarding attorney’s fees to Kari O’Keeffe. Because the district court erred in concluding spousal support was rehabilitative rather than permanent, the North Dakota Supreme Court reversed the order denying Tim O’Keeffe’s motion to terminate spousal support. The Court affirmed the award of attorney’s fees. View "O'Keeffe v. O'Keeffe" on Justia Law

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Abbey Gifford appealed a judgment granting her and Brian Woelfel equal residential responsibility for their minor child and determining child support. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court erred by including an “automatic” change of custody provision that purported to modify the original residential responsibility decision without consideration of the child’s best interests at the time of a potential move. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Woelfel v. Gifford" on Justia Law

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Brandi Koffler appealed a second amended judgment modifying Beau Koffler’s child support obligation. She argued the district court erred by finding there was a material change in circumstances warranting a modification of child support. After review of the facts specific to this case, the North Dakota Supreme Court reversed and remanded, concluding the court’s finding of a material change in circumstances warranting modification of the child support obligation was clearly erroneous. View "Koffler v. Koffler" on Justia Law

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Alysha Instasi appealed a district court judgment dismissing her motion to amend a Washington child custody judgment for lack of jurisdiction. Instasi and Jeremy Hiebert had two children. In December 2015, a judgment was entered in Washington relating to residential responsibility, parenting time, and child support. In July 2018, Instasi moved to amend the Washington judgment in North Dakota district court. In an affidavit supporting the motion, Instasi stated that she and the children have been living in North Dakota since October 2015. The district court entered a default judgment after Hiebert failed to respond to Instasi’s motion. In June 2019, Hiebert moved to vacate the default judgment, arguing the North Dakota court lacked jurisdiction to decide Instasi’s motion to amend the Washington judgment. After a hearing, the court vacated the default judgment and dismissed Instasi’s motion. The court concluded it lacked jurisdiction to modify the initial child custody determination made in Washington. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed dismissal for lack of jurisdiction in North Dakota. View "Instasi v. Hiebert" on Justia Law

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Donna Wald appealed an amended divorce judgment valuing and distributing hers and Gerard Wald’s marital property. She also appealed a postjudgment order denying her motion for contempt or redistribution of property. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed, concluding the district court did not clearly err in valuing and distributing the parties’ marital property. View "Wald v. Wald" on Justia Law

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Aimee Norby and Robert Hinesley were the parents of a child born in 2012. In 2014, Norby filed and served a complaint seeking primary residential responsibility over the child. Norby was awarded primary residential responsibility, and Hinesley was awarded parenting time. In March 2019, Norby married Lyle Anderson. Anderson worked as a diesel mechanic in the Williston, North Dakota, area. Anderson grew up in Smithville, Missouri, and owned a home there. Smithville was a town of approximately 10,000 people about twenty minutes north of Kansas City, Missouri. Norby and Anderson resided in Williston with the Norby’s and Hinesley’s child. Hinesley also lived in Williston. Norby filed a motion to relocate to Smithville with the child. Hinesley opposed Norby’s motion and filed a motion to change primary residential responsibility or modify parenting time. The district court denied Norby’s motion to relocate. On appeal, Norby argued the district court erred in denying her motion, that the district court’s findings under the two Stout-Hawkinson factors were clearly erroneous. She argued the evidence demonstrated an out of state move had prospective advantages that would improve her and the child’s quality of life. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded sufficient evidence supported the district court’s finding on factor one. Norby also argued the district court’s findings were clearly erroneous because there was no indication the move was premised upon an effort to limit Hinesley’s parenting time. The Supreme Court concluded sufficient evidence supported the district court’s finding on factor two. The Court thus affirmed denial fo Norby's motion to relocate. View "Norby v. Hinesley, et al." on Justia Law

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Kathleen and Thomas Varty divorced in 2011. In August 2017, Thomas moved to terminate spousal support to Kathleen. The district court reduced his obligation and Kathleen appealed. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. Kathleen moved under Rule 60(b) of the North Dakota Rules of Civil Procedure for relief from judgment, alleging that during the marriage Thomas obtained shares in a “phantom” stock plan from a former employer. She claimed she was entitled to half of the $72,400 sale proceeds received by Thomas in February 2016. Thomas opposed the motion, arguing the stock had no value on the date of the divorce and did not become vested until after the divorce. After a hearing, the district court granted Kathleen relief from judgment and awarded her half of the net proceeds Thomas received. On appeal, Thomas argued the district court abused its discretion when considering Kathleen's untimely filed reply brief, when it granted Kathleen's untimely request for oral arguments, and when it found it was unconscionable for Thomas to exclusively enjoy the benefits from the stock accrued during the marriage. Further, he claimed it was clearly erroneous for the court to order Thomas to pay Kathleen one-half of the net proceeds from the stock, and the court erred as a matter of law and abused its discretion when it did not set aside the entire 2011 judgment. The North Dakota Supreme Court found that the district court concluded the agreement was free from fraud and that it would be unconscionable not to give Kathleen half of the stock. The Supreme Court found the district court did not explain the terms of the marital termination agreement and how not receiving 50% of the stock made the stipulation and resulting judgment as a whole so one-sided and created such hardship that it was unconscionable. Therefore, the district court abused its discretion by misinterpreting or misapplying the law; judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Varty v. Varty" on Justia Law

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Nathanael Brown appealed the issuance of a domestic violence protection order which enjoined him from having contact with Flavia Brown and restricted his right to possess firearms. In late September 2019, Flavia Brown petitioned the district court for a protection order against Nathanael. The court issued a temporary protection order and an order for hearing procedure which set a hearing for October 9, 2019. The order for hearing procedure stated evidence would be taken by affidavit only and a party seeking to cross-examine an affiant must notify the opposing party at least twenty-four hours before the hearing. On the day before the hearing, Nathanael Brown filed notice of appearance and a request to continue the hearing. On the day of the hearing, he filed notice of cross-examination. At the time scheduled for the hearing, the district court denied Nathanael's requests for continuance and cross-examination because they were untimely under the order for hearing procedure. At the outset of the hearing, Nathanael objected to the district court’s affidavit procedure, arguing that it would deny him due process and a “full hearing” under N.D.C.C. 14-07.1-02. The district court denied Nathanael permission to cross-examine Flavia about her affidavit or to present any of his own evidence. The court accepted Flavia's affidavit and granted the domestic violence protection order preventing Nathanael from having contact with Flavia Brown for two years. Because the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded Nathanael was denied a full hearing under N.D.C.C. 14-07.1-02(4), the protection order was reversed and the matter remanded for a full hearing. View "Brown v. Brown" on Justia Law

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Alicia Wisnewski appealed a divorce judgment distributing property, awarding spousal support, declining to award attorney’s fees, determining parenting time, decisionmaking responsibility, and child support. Alicia argued the district court’s findings on domestic violence were insufficient and the finding that the statutory domestic violence presumption was rebutted was clearly erroneous. She also argued the court erred in determining joint decisionmaking responsibility, distributing property, allocating debts, failing to award attorney’s fees, and in determining child support and spousal support. After review of the facts specific to this case, the North Dakota Supreme Court had difficulty finding support in the record for some of the trial court's decisions with respect to all issues Alicia raised. The Court affirmed with respect to the spousal support decision, but remanded for supplemental findings for generally all other issues. View "Wisnewski v. Wisnewski" on Justia Law

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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