This opinion will be unpublished and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: Karen Jean Gross,
Kevin John Gross,
Dodge County District Court
File No. FX98391
Jill I. Frieders, O’Brien, Ehrick, Wolf, Deaner & Maus, L.L.P., Suite 611 Marquette Bank Building, 206 Broadway South, P.O. Box 968, Rochester, MN 55903-0968 (for respondent)
David W. VanDerHeyden, VanDerHeyden and Ruffalo, P.A., 1915 Highway 52 No., Suite 218 Marketplace Center, P.O. Box 6535, Rochester, MN 55903-6535 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge, Anderson, Judge, and Foley, Judge.*
Appealing from a dissolution judgment, appellant argues that the district court made clearly erroneous and inadequate spousal maintenance findings of fact, and that the district court abused its discretion in dividing marital property and denying his request for attorney fees. We affirm the district court’s determinations concerning appellant’s mental health, property distribution, and attorney fees. But because the district court failed to adequately address statutory factors that would otherwise allow us to assess its decision to deny spousal maintenance, on that issue, we remand.
Appellant Kevin Gross and respondent Karen Jean Gross were married in 1981 and have no children. Respondent-petitioner works as a surgical nurse and earns gross annual income of $94,625. Appellant, trained as an auto mechanic and electrical technician, has worked for a number of manufacturing companies and currently earns gross annual income of $30,480 from employment at a metal fabrication company. Throughout the marriage, appellant managed the parties’ farm and horse breeding operation.
The parties lived in an older farmhouse on several acres of land. As equestrian and outdoor enthusiasts, the parties acquired some property of value, including five horses. But the parties’ dining, clothing, furniture, vehicle purchases and camping vacations suggest that the parties lived a comfortable, though not affluent, rural lifestyle. Appellant occasionally suffers from severe bouts of depression. He takes anti-depressant medication as needed and continues to see a physician. Appellant testified that, at the time of trial, he was feeling “pretty good,” and that his depression did not affect his earning ability.
The district court denied appellant’s request for maintenance, finding that his monthly income of $2,006 met his reasonable monthly needs of $2,000 per month based on the moderate standard of living established during the marriage. The district court divided the martial property and debt, including respondent’s outstanding education loans. The district court further found that appellant’s income and property allowed him to pay his own attorney’s fees. Appellant contested each of these determinations in a motion for new trial, amended findings of fact and conclusions of law. The district court denied the motion for new trial and made only minor amendments to its findings of fact and conclusions of law. Appellant now challenges the final judgment.
D E C I S I O N
Appellant first argues that the district court abused its discretion by failing to award spousal maintenance because the underlying findings of fact were not supported by the evidence in the record. A district court has broad discretion in determining spousal maintenance, and this court will not overturn the district court’s decision absent an abuse of discretion. Erlandson v. Erlandson, 318 N.W.2d 36, 38 (Minn. 1982). Before this court may determine there has been an abuse of discretion, it must find that the district court resolved the matter in a manner that is against the logic and facts on the record. Rutten v. Rutten, 347 N.W.2d 47, 50 (Minn. 1984). That the record might support findings other than those made by the district court does not render the findings clearly erroneous, and we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the findings and defer to the district court’s credibility determinations. Vangsness v. Vangsness, 607 N.W.2d 468, 474 (Minn. App. 2000.)
A spouse seeking maintenance must make a showing of both insufficient property and financial need. Lyon v. Lyon, 439 N.W.2d 18, 22 (Minn. 1989). A district court may award spousal maintenance if it finds the spouse seeking maintenance is otherwise unable to provide for his or her needs, considering the standard of living established during the marriage. Minn. Stat. § 518.552, subd. 1 (1998); Lyon, 439 N.W.2d at 22. The maintenance statute states that an order shall be in amounts and for periods of time as the district court deems just after considering all the relevant factors set out in the statute. Minn. Stat. § 518.552, subd. 2 (1998). There are eight statutory factors, but the basic issue is the financial needs of the recipient and his or her ability to meet those needs balanced against the financial condition of the obligor. Erlandson, 318 N.W.2d at 39-40.
The district court made detailed findings of fact addressing many of the required statutory factors. There are, however, some findings of fact with which appellant correctly finds fault. Appellant claimed reasonable monthly expenses of $2,620. The district court found appellant’s reasonable monthly expenses to be $2,000, but did not make findings that explain why it rejected appellant’s claim. The evidence shows respondent claimed reasonable monthly expenses of $3,947.05. The district court wholly accepted respondent’s claimed needs, again without explanation. The district court concluded that appellant had sufficient property and ability to support himself “consistent with the standard of living established during the marriage,” which the district court found was “moderate.”
The unexplained $1,947.05 disparity between the parties’ reasonable needs compels us to remand because we are unable to assess the district court’s use of its discretion over spousal maintenance. See Videen v. Peters, 438 N.W.2d 721, 723-24 (Minn. App. 1989) (holding that even where the record supports the district court's decision, the failure to make specific findings compels a remand), review denied (Minn. June 21, 1989). The inadequate findings do not answer the question of why respondent’s reasonable needs were nearly double those of appellant’s when both parties’ needs were to be based on the same marital standard of living.
Respondent, at oral argument, suggested that the education debt service accounts for the disparity, but the monthly payment on that debt is only $350. While the explanation may lie in the district court’s rejection of appellant’s claimed need, the district court made no findings suggesting that appellant’s testimony was not credible or that his expenses were unreasonable. Absent specific findings concerning the parties’ expenses or credibility, the district court's finding that appellant is not in need of maintenance is conclusory. See Barrett v. Barrett, 394 N.W.2d 274, 277 (Minn. App. 1986) (rejecting finding wife could earn a living where the finding was conclusory). Accordingly, we remand the issue of maintenance to allow the district court to fully address appellant’s need for maintenance in light of the parties’ standard of living. See Stich v. Stich, 435 N.W.2d 52, 53 (Minn. 1989) (remanding maintenance where dissolution court found parties' incomes but not their expenses or obligor's ability to provide maintenance).
We also conclude that the district court clearly erred by finding that appellant “presented no evidence” that further education could increase his income. Appellant testified that he could earn an additional $5,000 per year if he earned an Associate of Science degree from a local community college. While this may be scant evidence, it is more than “no evidence,” and shows the district court made a clear error against the logic and facts in the record. We remand to allow the district court to determine the weight and credibility of this evidence as part of its evaluation of appellant’s maintenance claim.
Appellant also disputes the district court’s finding that his depression was due to marital difficulties and did not affect his earnings. By the time of trial, however, appellant said he was “feeling pretty good,” and said his depression did not affect his ability to earn income. Appellant’s earnings history supports his testimony, and the medical evidence shows that the marriage was a source of his depression. The record amply supports the district court’s findings of fact concerning appellant’s mental health, and we hold that those findings were not clearly erroneous.
Because the absence of findings on the marital standard of living and reasonable expenses, together with the erroneous education finding, prevent us from determining whether the district court abused its discretion in denying all maintenance, we remand for the limited purpose of allowing the district court to make adequate findings of fact and, if necessary, award spousal maintenance.
Appellant next claims that the district court abused its discretion by requiring him to share respondent’s student loan obligations, contending that he received no benefit from that debt. Debt is apportionable as part of a marital property settlement, and a district court's apportionment of marital debt is reviewed for abuse of discretion. Justis v. Justis, 384 N.W.2d 885, 888-89 (Minn. App. 1986), review denied (Minn. May 29, 1986). Division of martial property need not be mathematically equal, only just and equitable. Id. at 888. Because district courts are guided by equitable principles, "a party to a dissolution may be held liable for marital debts even though the other party receives the benefit * * * ." Dahlberg v. Dahlberg, 358 N.W.2d 76, 80 (Minn. App. 1984). The district court did not abuse its discretion. Appellant enjoyed the fruits of respondent’s enhanced nursing salary, made possible by the loans that allowed her to obtain her nursing degree. Even had he not received any benefit from the loans, the district court, by requiring, in equity, that appellant share the burden of respondent’s student loan debt, would have been within its discretion.
Finally, appellant contends that the district court abused its discretion by failing to award him attorney fees. An award of attorney fees is almost entirely in the discretion of the trial court. Solon v. Solon, 255 N.W.2d 395, 397 (Minn. 1977); see also Minn. Stat. § 518.14, subd. 1 (1998) (providing that district courts may award attorney fees if the fees are necessary for good-faith assertion of a party’s rights, will not contribute to the length and expense of proceedings, and if the party from whom fees are sought has means to pay fees and the party seeking fees does not).
In declining to award fees, the district court considered both parties’ income and property, and concluded that both had sufficient assets from which to pay their own fees and costs after division of the marital property. After carefully reviewing the record, which shows that appellant has annual income of more than $30,000 and marital assets of more than $80,000, we conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying appellant need-based attorney fees. See, e.g., Reinke v. Reinke, 464 N.W.2d 513, 516 (Minn. App. 1990) (no abuse of discretion where financial situations of the parties, after the property award, allowed each to pay their own fees).
Affirmed in part and remanded.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.