This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).






In Re the Marriage of:


Anna Marie Patient, petitioner,





Paul Michael Patient,



Filed April 11, 2000

Affirmed in Part, Reversed in Part, and Remanded

Davies, Judge


Washington County District Court

File No. F4971169


Roger A. Christianson, John M. Gearin, 386 North Wabasha St., Suite 600, St. Paul, MN 55102-1308 (for respondent)


James J. Lawton III, 1100 West Seventh St., St. Paul, MN 55102 (for appellant)


            Considered and decided by Randall, Presiding Judge, Davies, Judge, and Halbrooks, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            In this dissolution proceeding, appellant challenges the trial court’s property division and award of attorney fees.  We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.


Appellant Paul Michael Patient and respondent Anna Marie Patient were married in July 1979.  They had three children.  Respondent petitioned for dissolution of the marriage in March 1997.  Although the parties entered into a stipulation on some issues, a trial addressed several contested issues.  After trial, the court denied appellant’s motion for amended findings or a new trial on the contested issues.  This appeal followed.



            Appellant argues that the trial court abused its discretion in the following respects:  in awarding monetary assets in a way inconsistent with the parties’ stipulation; in valuing the homestead; in awarding the homestead to respondent, but giving appellant only a no-interest lien; and in awarding marital and nonmarital property.  Finally, appellant challenges the award of attorney fees to respondent.

A.        Division of Monetary Assets

            A trial court has broad discretion in dividing property.  Rutten v. Rutten, 347 N.W.2d 47, 50 (Minn. 1984).

There must be a clearly erroneous conclusion that is against logic and the facts on record before this court will find that the trial court abused its discretion.



            Appellant argues that the trial court abused its discretion in failing to follow the parties’ stipulation, which provided that their pensions, IRAs, and savings bonds would be divided equally but that all other “disclosed monetary assets” would be awarded to the party in whose name they were held.

            The stipulation specifically listed for equal division respondent’s IRA account through Northwest Airlines (containing Northwest Airlines stock), appellant’s employee retirement account through 3M Company, and his IRA account.  But appellant’s 3M Voluntary Investment Plan and ESOP account are not listed in the stipulation.  Because the parties had stipulated to an equal division of all similar retirement and investment accounts, the trial court interpreted the stipulation to mean that, because the monies in the ESOP account were invested during the course of the marriage, the account was, under the stipulation, a marital asset and to be divided equally between the parties, rather than being a “disclosed monetary asset” to be awarded solely to appellant.

            An equal division of investment and retirement accounts is presumptively fair in a long-term marriage.  See Minn. Stat. § 518.58, subd. 1 (1998) (marital property to be equitably divided between divorcing parties); Miller v. Miller, 352 N.W.2d 738, 742 (Minn. 1984) (equal division of assets accumulated through joint efforts is appropriate for long-term marriage).  Moreover, a party to a dissolution is not considered to have abandoned all right to an asset unintentionally omitted.  Brink v. Brink, 396 N.W.2d 95, 97 (Minn. App. 1986).

            In light of these applicable rules, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in interpreting the stipulation to require that appellant’s 3M Voluntary Investment Plan and ESOP account be divided equally between the parties, as were similar assets.

B.        Valuation of Homestead

            The court calculated appellant’s nonmarital interest in the homestead at 34% and concluded that appellant’s unsubstantiated opinion of its value did not support his assertion that he had a 59% nonmarital interest in the homestead.

While this court need not defer to a trial court’s legal conclusion about the marital or nonmarital nature of property, it must affirm the findings of fact supporting that conclusion unless they are clearly erroneous.


Freking v. Freking, 479 N.W.2d 736, 739 (Minn. App. 1992).  We give due regard “to the opportunity of the trial court to judge the credibility of the witnesses.”  Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01.

            Appellant argues that the trial court erroneously ignored his testimony regarding the current value of the homestead and its value when the parties married in 1979.  The trial court accepted the opinion of respondent’s certified real-estate appraiser, who stated that the property was worth $126,000 at the time of trial.  Respondent also submitted the real-estate tax roll for the year of the parties’ marriage, indicating that the assessed value of the homestead at that time was $46,950.  Although appellant asserted that the property was currently worth $155,000 and had been worth $74,000 when the parties married, he presented no expert appraisal, only a market analysis, to support his assertion.

            An appellate court will not reverse a trial court’s valuation of an asset unless it is “clearly erroneous on the record as a whole.”  Hertz v. Hertz, 304 Minn. 144, 145, 229 N.W.2d 42, 44 (1975).  An appellate court does not require the trial court to be exact in its valuation of assets; “it is only necessary that the value arrived at lies within a reasonable range of figures.”  Johnson v. Johnson, 277 N.W.2d 208, 211 (Minn. 1979).  The record supports the trial court’s valuation, which also properly took into account the down payment appellant made in May 1975, the reduction in the mortgage before the parties’ marriage, and the doubling in value of the home since its purchase.

            Appellant next argues that the trial court erred in dealing with his payment of $10,000 to his first wife for her interest in the homestead.  Appellant argues that he paid that amount from his own funds, whereas respondent testified that appellant borrowed the money from his mother and that respondent herself then worked extra hours to repay appellant’s mother.  Neither party had records to substantiate their conflicting accounts, but only because appellant failed to comply with the court’s order to produce canceled checks that respondent asserted would prove her contribution.  In the absence of documentary evidence, the trial court accepted respondent’s version of the facts.  Mindful of the deference to be given the trial court’s opportunity to assess the credibility of witnesses, we conclude that the court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the $10,000 was ultimately paid from marital funds.  See generally Doering v. Doering, 385 N.W.2d 387, 390-91 (Minn. App. 1986) (affirming trial court’s credibility-based finding that a party had traced nonmarital asset).

            We conclude that the record supports the trial court’s calculations of the parties’ relative interests in the homestead.

C.        Award of Homestead Occupancy to Respondent

            Appellant also argues that the court erred in awarding occupancy of the homestead to respondent; appellant argues that respondent had a lesser interest in the property than he did, having only an equitable interest versus his fee ownership.

            The trial court found that the property comprised marital and nonmarital interests as defined in Minn. Stat. § 518.54, subd. 5 (1998), and as clarified in Schmitz v. Schmitz, 309 N.W.2d 748, 750 (Minn. 1981), and its progeny.  The property was in part marital, based on the parties’ application of marital funds to reduce the mortgage indebtedness and to repay appellant’s mother’s $10,000 loan.  Also, marital efforts increased the property value during their 19-plus-year marriage.  See Minn. Stat. § 518.58, subd. 1 (“conclusively presumed that each spouse made a substantial contribution to the acquisition of income and property while they were living together”).

            Minnesota courts have approved “awarding possession of the homestead to the custodial parent and postponing its sale until the children are emancipated.”  Goar v. Goar, 368 N.W.2d 348, 351 (Minn. App. 1985)).  Accordingly, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in awarding possession to the custodial parent, respondent, subject to a lien reflecting appellant’s nonmarital and marital interests.

D.        Lien Interest

            Appellant contends the trial court abused its discretion in designating his fixed lien on the homestead as interest-free.  A fixed lien (i.e., a specific dollar amount) requires the trial court to either award a reasonable rate of interest on the lien or make specific findings as to why no interest was awarded.  Thomas v. Thomas, 407 N.W.2d 124, 127 (Minn. App. 1987).  Here, the trial court placed a fixed lien on the homestead, but neither awarded interest for the period between division and receipt nor explained why such interest was not awarded.  We remand to enable the trial court to either provide for reasonable interest on appellant’s share or make specific findings as to why interest is not being awarded.

E.        Division of Personal Property

            Appellant asserts that the trial court awarded respondent many household items in her possession that were his nonmarital property.  The distribution of household goods and furnishings will only be overturned upon a showing that the trial court abused its discretion.  Schmitz, 309 N.W.2d at 750; see Minn. Stat. § 518.58, subd. 1 (allowing trial court to award household furnishings to “either spouse” regardless of “whether or not [those furnishings were] acquired during the marriage”).

            The trial court divided equally the items that were so divisible and made a commonsense division of other items.  Appellant has provided no evidence that the order was inequitable or that he had inadequate opportunity to present his case.  The trial court did not abuse its discretion in dividing the parties’ personal property.


            “Generally, the award for attorney fees [based on Minn. Stat. § 518.14] lies in the discretion of the court.”  Katz v. Katz, 408 N.W.2d 835, 840 (Minn. 1987).  An award of attorney fees will not be upset absent an abuse of discretion.  See id.

            Appellant argues that the trial court abused its discretion in awarding respondent $750 in attorney fees and costs incurred in conjunction with efforts that led to discovery of an IRA account with R.J. Steichen worth $7,882.03.  We conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in awarding conduct-based attorney fees and costs made necessary by appellant’s lack of cooperation regarding this asset.

            Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.