This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. ß 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In Re the Marriage of:
Deborah Jean Schmidt, f/k/a
Deborah Jean Fjellanger, petitioner,
John Lien Fjellanger,
Reversed and remanded
Olmsted County District Court
File No. F0-91-3465
JoMarie L. Morris, Klampe, Delehanty & Morris, 300 First Avenue Northwest, Rochester, MN †55901 (for respondent)
Richard K. Hocking, Richard K. Hocking, P.A., 7570 West 147th Street, Apple Valley, MN† 55124 (for appellant)
††††††††††† Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge, Davies, Judge, and Peterson, Judge.
††††††††††† Appellant challenges the district courtís order requiring him to sign a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO), arguing that the district court abused its discretion by requiring him to execute the QDRO because (a) there was no motion pending before the district court to modify the existing dissolution judgment and decree; and (b) even if there was a motion to modify the existing dissolution decree, the district court cannot order him to sign the QRDO because respondent has no interest in his retirement plan.† We reverse and remand for additional findings.
††††††††††† In February 1993, appellant John Lien Fjellanger and respondent Deborah Jean Schmidt, f/k/a Deborah Jean Fjellanger, were divorced by stipulated judgment and decree of dissolution.† Pursuant to the decree, respondent was awarded a 50% marital interest in appellantís accrued benefits in his IBM retirement plan, which included his IBM Core Retirement Plan and the Personal Retirement Provision (PRP).† The decree further provided that respondentís attorney was to draft a QDRO to transfer respondentís 50% interest in appellantís IBM retirement plan.
††††††††††† Respondentís attorney died before the QDRO was drafted.† Respondentís current counsel drafted a QDRO transferring respondentís interest in appellantís IBM retirement plan.† The QDRO includes a provision that states:
The Alternate Payee/Petitioner shall be treated as a surviving spouse of the Participant/Respondent for the purpose of the qualified pre-retirement spouse protection benefit.† The Participant shall immediately elect the pre-retirement spouse option as provided for in the Plan.† The Participant shall be required to execute and do all things necessary to carry out the requirements of this paragraph.† The Alternate Payee shall be treated as the surviving spouse of the Participant for the purposes of the qualified pre‑retirement spouse protection benefits regardless of the elections annually made by Participant.†
Appellant refused to execute the QDRO, arguing that it awarded property to respondent that was contrary to the award in the stipulated decree.
††††††††††† In July 1998, respondent moved the district court for an award of child-support and medical-expense arrearages, as well as for an order directing appellant to return and sign the QDRO.† During an October 1998 motion hearing, appellantís attorney expressed concern over the pre-retirement spouse protection (PRSP) provision that was included in the QDRO and respondentís attorney agreed to provide appellantís attorney with more information regarding the provision.† Respondentís attorney contacted IBMís QDRO administrator, who responded with a letter that provided in pertinent part:
[T]he Pre-Retirement Spouse Protection (PRSP) provision of paragraph J of the order will provide that the alternate payee receive 50% of her QDRO awarded benefits as a PRSP benefit with respect to Core benefits.† This is the standard plan offering of PRSP to an alternate payee.† With respect to the PRP, the alternate payee would most likely receive her entire QDRO awarded allocation of the PRP since it is available as an immediate lump-sum payment.
If the participant predeceases the alternate payee prior to retirement, the alternative payee will not receive any benefits unless the QDRO provides an award of PRSP to the alternate payee.
The participantís current spouse would receive the remaining PRSP benefit after application of the QDRO in the event of the participantís death prior to retirement.
As far as the IBM Retirement Plan is concerned, the language regarding the PRSP is only required in the QDRO.† It does not have to be in the Judgment and Decree itself.
† ††††††††† On December 29, 1998, the district court issued an order granting respondentís motion for child-support arrearages but denying his motion for medical-expense arrearages.† The QDRO was not addressed because the district court apparently believed that the issue had been resolved.
††††††††††† Subsequently, respondent again moved the district court for an order requiring appellant to sign and return the QDRO, which included the PRSP provision.† On December 1, 1999, the district court granted respondentís motion to require appellant to
sign within 30 days of this Order the Qualified Domestic Relations Order relating to [husbandís] IBM PRP and core pension benefits as drafted to include PRSP protection for [wife].
D E C I S I O N
††††††††††† A district court has broad discretion regarding the property settlement in dissolution proceedings, and an appellate court will not modify the district courtís decision absent a clear abuse of discretion.† Miller v. Miller, 352 N.W.2d 738, 741-42 (Minn. 1984).† If the district courtís determination has a reasonable and acceptable basis in fact and principle, this court must affirm.† DuBois v. DuBois, 335 N.W.2d 503, 507 (Minn. 1983).†
††††††††††† Appellant argues that the district court abused its discretion by requiring him to execute the QDRO because (1) there was no motion pending before the district court to modify the existing dissolution decree; and (2) even if there was a motion to modify the existing dissolution decree, the district court cannot order him to sign the QRDO because respondent has no interest in his retirement plan.† On the other hand, respondent contends that the district court did not abuse its discretion in ordering appellant to sign the proposed QDRO because (1) the district court retained jurisdiction to establish the QDRO; and (2) the PRSP provision merely clarifies the terms in the original decree.†
††††††††††† The district court may not modify a division of property after the original judgment has been entered and the time for appeal has expired.† Erickson v. Erickson, 452 N.W.2d 253, 255 (Minn. App. 1990).† But a district court may issue appropriate orders implementing or enforcing a provision of a dissolution decree.† Potter v. Potter, 471 N.W.2d 113, 114 (Minn. App. 1991).† A district court may clarify and construe an ambiguous or uncertain dissolution decree so long as it does not change the partiesí substantive rights.† Ulrich v. Ulrich, 400 N.W.2d 213, 218 (Minn. App. 1987).† A clarification does not result in a judgment different from the original, but instead ďserves only to express more accurately the thought which, at all times, the judgment intended to convey.Ē† Stieler v. Stieler, 244 Minn. 312, 320, 70 N.W.2d 127, 132 (1955).† Additionally, a district court may amend a dissolution decree if property was unintentionally omitted from a dissolution decree.† See Neubauer v. Neubauer, 433 N.W.2d 456, 461 n.1 (Minn. App. 1988) (recognizing that pension benefits omitted from initial property division could be divided as ďomitted propertyĒ), review denied (Minn. Mar. 17, 1989).
††††††††††† Here, the district court granted respondentís motion to require appellant to sign a QDRO relating to his IBM retirement benefits, which included a PRSP provision that was not mentioned anywhere in the stipulated decree.† Although the district court did not make any written findings of fact in support of its decision, it did note on the record that:
Given that there was a negotiated settlement on this, it seems to me that the original judgment and decree was designed to equitably divide the assets of the parties, including retirement benefits, and that the purpose of the PRSP ó what it serves to do is it ó without any detriment to [appellant] it preserves some of the equity that [respondent] has obtained through the settlement.† And I think that it is within the intent of the agreement that that be included.
This is a finding regarding the terms of the partiesí stipulated judgment.† See Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01 (allowing district courtís recorded statements to be treated as findings of fact).
† ††††††††† Considering these findings, we are unable to determine the rationale and authority that the district court used in granting respondentís motion to require appellant to sign the QDRO, which contained a provision that was not mentioned in the partiesí stipulated decree.† It is possible that the district court was attempting to clarify what it believed to be an ambiguous or uncertain dissolution decree.† However, it appears unlikely that the district courtís order can be construed as a clarification because the stipulated decree, while it explicitly refers to PRP and IBM Core Retirement benefits, does not mention the PRSP benefit.† The district court may have believed that the PRSP was part of the 50% marital interest that respondent was awarded in appellantís retirement benefits.† But the district court never made a finding whether the PRSP was part of appellantís IBM core or PRP retirement benefits or whether it was, instead, a separate and distinct property interest.† It is also possible that the district court was attempting to amend the dissolution decree because it believed that the PRSP interest was unintentionally omitted from the stipulated decree.† Because the district courtís findings are insufficient to support the district courtís order, we must reverse and remand for additional findings.† Whether to reopen the record on remand shall be discretionary with the district court.
††††††††††† Reversed and remanded.†