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Dustin Beaulieu, Plaintiff and Appellee v. Deann S. Birdsbill

June 6, 2012

DUSTIN BEAULIEU, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLEE,
v.
DEANN S. BIRDSBILL, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE THIRD JUDICIAL CIRCUIT MOODY COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA THE HONORABLE TIM D. TUCKER Judge

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wilbur, Justice

CONSIDERED ON BRIEFS ON MAY 21, 2012

[¶1.] The trial court granted Father's request for a change of child custody from Mother to Father. Mother appeals arguing that the trial court abused its discretion in concluding that compelling circumstances warranted the separation of siblings. We affirm.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

[¶2.] Deann Birdsbill and Dustin Beaulieu share one child, N.B., born December 14, 2004. Deann and Dustin never married, but lived together for approximately two years. When Deann and Dustin ended their relationship, Deann retained custody of N.B. However, Deann and Dustin did not have a court ordered custody agreement or any written custody agreement. Sometime after Deann and Dustin separated, Deann entered into a romantic relationship with Ferland Knight. Deann's relationship with Knight produced N.B.'s half-sister, A.K.

[¶3.] In March 2011, Dustin filed an action requesting the trial court to grant him custody of N.B. At trial, Dustin introduced evidence indicating that Deann was providing N.B. with an unstable environment. Dustin testified that he noticed several different males present in Deann's home on the occasions that he picked up and dropped off N.B. It is undisputed that, since her relationship with Dustin, Deann also had a short-lived marriage to Preston Freeman. Deann and Freeman's marriage was annulled six months after it took place.

[¶4.] Deann also testified that her relationship with Knight was abusive. One abusive incident resulted in the arrest of both Deann and Knight for assault. Deann and Knight were each intoxicated at the time of the incident. Two abusive incidents resulted in trips to the emergency room. After one abusive incident, N.B. saw blood on Deann's face.

[¶5.] Several times Deann contacted Dustin for help. One time, Deann called Dustin because she was stranded at a gas station in Iowa with A.K., who was approximately six months old at the time. Deann purchased a bus ticket to Sioux Falls, where Dustin met Deann and allowed her and A.K. to stay with his family for several weeks until Deann was able to obtain financial assistance and move out on her own. Another time, Dustin drove Deann home after an altercation with another female at a bar. Upon arriving at her home, Deann exited Dustin's car, ripped a mirror off the car and threw it through his car window. Deann later pleaded guilty to vandalism.

[¶6.] In contrast, Dustin presented evidence showing that he would provide N.B. a stable environment. Dustin has resided in Flandreau for six years, where members of his family also reside. Dustin has been employed full-time with the same company for approximately four and a half years. Dustin and his partner, Kiya, both testified that they maintain a sober household, free from both drugs and alcohol.

[¶7.] The trial court granted Dustin custody reasoning that, although both parents are fit, Dustin would provide N.B. with "heightened stability." The trial court also found that the "heightened stability" Dustin would provide was a compelling reason to separate N.B. from her half-sibling A.K. In reaching this conclusion, the trial court noted that it "considered the domestic violence in [Deann's] home and the concerns with [Deann's] alcohol use." Deann appeals.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶8.] As we recently stated in Simunek v. Auwerter:

We review child custody decisions under the abuse of discretion standard of review. Fuerstenberg v. Fuerstenberg, 1999 S.D. 35, ¶ 22, 591 N.W.2d 798, 807 (citations omitted). "An abuse of discretion occurs in a child custody proceeding when the trial court's review of the traditional factors bearing on the best interests of the child is scant or incomplete." Kreps v. Kreps, 2010 S.D. 12, ¶ 25, 778 N.W.2d 835, 843 (quoting Pietrzak v. Schroeder, 2009 S.D. 1, ¶ 37, 759 N.W.2d 734, 743). "[W]e . . . uphold the trial court's findings of fact unless they are clearly erroneous." Kreps, 2010 S.D. 12, ΒΆ 25, 778 N.W.2d at 843 (citations omitted). Findings of fact are ...


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