Lalaine V. BLANCO, Appellant,
Mario L. BLANCO, Respondent.
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
George R. Carter, Las Vegas, for Appellant.
Carol A. Menninger, Las Vegas, for Respondent.
Amber Robinson, Las Vegas; Kristine Brewer, Las Vegas; Silverman, Decaria & Kattelman, Chtd., and Michael V. Kattelman, Reno, for Amicus Curiae Family Law Section of the State Bar of Nevada.
BEFORE THE COURT EN BANC.
In this divorce case, the wife was representing herself and failed to comply with several of the husband's discovery requests. As a consequence, the district court entered a default divorce decree against her as a sanction. We must decide the propriety of such case-concluding discovery sanctions in divorce proceedings, particularly in those cases involving child custody. We hold that it is not permissible to resolve child custody and child support claims by default as a sanction for discovery violations because the child's best interest is paramount and compels a decision on the merits.
As for the division of community property and debt, we conclude that the court must make an equal disposition as required by statute. Regarding all other claims, the court may enter a default, but only after a thorough evaluation and express findings of whether less severe sanctions are appropriate. Here, because the district court did not make any express findings as to appropriateness of less severe sanctions before entering the default, we reverse the default divorce decree and remand for further proceedings.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Mario and Lalaine Blanco were married in 1989, and they have four children. Lalaine filed a complaint for divorce, and Mario filed an answer and counterclaim. By their pleadings, the parties requested resolution of child custody and support, spousal support, property division, and attorney fees. Lalaine sought primary physical custody and $600 in monthly child support, while Mario requested joint physical custody and $2,552 in monthly child support. Lalaine's complaint requested that neither party pay spousal support, whereas Mario sought $1,000 in monthly spousal support for ten and one-half years. Both parties sought the division of the parties' community property, an award of attorney fees, and the permission to claim the children as exemptions on their respective income tax returns. Mario also asked that Lalaine maintain health insurance for the children and for him until he could obtain his own coverage.
Child custody was, for the most part, resolved through mediation. The parties entered into a stipulation and order for custody on June 3, 2011 (June custody order). Under that order, the parties agreed to joint legal custody of their two children, who were still minors at that time. As to physical custody, Mario was to have visitation at least three days each week, with ...