IN RE THE PARENTING OF N.M.V., Minor Child, DUSTIN E. CROSS, Petitioner and Appellant, and ERIN VERPLOEGEN, Respondent and Appellee.
Submitted on Briefs: October 5, 2016
FROM: District Court of the Twelfth Judicial District, In and
For the County of Hill, Cause No. DR-11-21 Honorable Daniel
A. Boucher, Presiding Judge COUNSEL OF RECORD:
Appellant: Jeremy S. Yellin, Attorney at Law, Havre, Montana
Appellee: Brian Lilletvedt, Bosch, Kuhr, Dugdale, Martin
& Kaze PLLP, Havre, Montana
Patricia Cotter, Justice
Dustin E. Cross appeals from the Findings of Fact,
Conclusions of Law, and Final Visitation Plan entered by the
Montana Twelfth Judicial District Court, Hill County,
awarding him visitation rights but denying him a parental
interest in N.M.V., a minor child and daughter of Cross's
former girlfriend, Erin J. Verploegen. We affirm.
The issue on appeal is whether the District Court abused its
discretion in denying Cross a parental interest in N.M.V.
Cross and Verploegen began dating in December 2001, less than
one year after N.M.V. was born. N.M.V.'s biological
father, Roger Gonzales, has had no contact with N.M.V. and
his whereabouts are currently unknown. Verploegen and N.M.V.
moved into Cross's Bozeman townhome in June 2003. During
the time they lived together in Bozeman, Verploegen made all
critical decisions about N.M.V.'s upbringing, including
decisions about healthcare, daycare, and the everyday rules
N.M.V. was to abide. Cross worked long hours and most
weekends, but he would read to N.M.V. at night and picked her
up from daycare once or twice when Verploegen was
unavailable. Cross paid the rent on the townhouse while
Verploegen paid utilities and bought groceries.
In the summer of 2004, Cross bought a house in Churchill,
Montana, near Bozeman. Cross changed jobs after moving to
Churchill, and claimed that he began to play a more active
role in parenting N.M.V. Cross testified that he and
Verploegen discussed what school N.M.V. would attend. He also
said he began picking up N.M.V. from daycare more often,
cooking food for her, and disciplining her. Verploegen
continued to pay for utilities and groceries after the move
to Churchill, but in 2007, she began paying an additional
$500 per month in rent to Cross. From time to time,
Verploegen and Cross discussed marriage and Cross's
adoption of N.M.V., but those talks subsided in 2009 when
Cross and Verploegen broke up and Verploegen and N.M.V. moved
to Havre, Montana. In February 2011, Cross petitioned the
District Court for a parenting interest in N.M.V. pursuant to
§ 40-4-228(2), MCA. The District Court denied
Cross's petition. He appeals.
We review a district court's findings of fact for clear
error, and we will affirm findings if they are supported by
substantial credible evidence. Kulstad v. Maniaci,
2009 MT 326, ¶ 51, 352 Mont. 513, 220 P.3d 595.
Ultimately, the language of § 40-4-228(2), MCA, is
permissive and a district court's ruling is
discretionary. Thus, under these circumstances, we will
overturn the district court only if it abused its discretion
or if ...