This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).






Big Stone County, ex rel, and
Heather Ann Carrington f/k/a

Heather Ann Gibson, petitioner,


Eugene William Gibson,



Filed January 9, 2001


Crippen, Judge


Big Stone County District Court

File No. F098128



William J. Watson, Big Stone County Attorney, 37 N.W. Second Street, Ortonville, MN 56278 (for respondent Big Stone County)


Bruce W. Klopfleisch, Martin, Nelson, Glasrud & Klopfleisch, P.A., 109 East Sixth Street, P.O. Box 66, Morris, MN 56267 (for respondent Gibson)


Ronald R. Frauenshuh, Jr., 129 N.W. Second Street, Ortonville, MN 56278 (for appellant)


            Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge, Crippen, Judge, and Peterson, Judge.




U N P U B L I S H E D    O P I N I O N




Appellant Eugene Gibson challenges the trial court’s child-support award, contending that the court erred by refusing to reform the judgment, which was based on the parties’ marital-termination agreement.  Because appellant has shown no elements of fraud or mistake that would justify reformation, we affirm.



Appellant and respondent Heather Carrington divorced in December 1998. Their November 1998 marital-termination agreement provided that the parties would have joint legal custody of their child, that respondent would have physical custody, and that appellant would have reasonable and liberal visitation.  The agreement specifically reserved the issue of child support.  The agreement also included an integration clause and provisions in which appellant specifically waived his right to counsel and acknowledged that he fully understood the agreement. 

The county sued appellant for child support when respondent applied for child-care benefits.  At the child-support hearing, appellant claimed that he did not understand the termination agreement because he was not represented by an attorney at the time.  He argued that the trial court should reform the agreement to award joint physical custody and then award support on that basis.  The court denied his motion to reform the agreement, awarded support based on the guidelines, and awarded retroactive child support.  Appellant now argues that the trial court erred in refusing to reform the agreement and in its determination of child support under the statutory guidelines.



“The sole relief from the [dissolution] judgment and decree lies in meeting the requirements of Minn. Stat. § 518.145, subd. 2.”  Shirk v. Shirk, 561 N.W.2d 519, 522 (Minn. 1997).  This statute permits relief for mistake, newly discovered evidence, fraud, or release.  Minn. Stat. § 518.145, subd. 2 (2000).  The trial court’s findings of whether the judgment was prompted by mistake or fraud will not be set aside unless they are clearly erroneous, and the court’s decision whether to vacate the judgment will be upheld unless the court abused its discretion.  Hestekin v. Hestekin, 587 N.W.2d 308, 310 (Minn. App. 1998).

I.  Fraud

Appellant contends that the retroactive child-support award was fraudulent because the absence of a support obligation was tied to all the provisions of the marital-termination agreement.  But the agreement contained no representation that appellant would be free from a support obligation.  In fact, the agreement contained a specific warning that the county could “seek to establish child support for purposes of reimbursement for [public] benefits at any time.”  The agreement also expressly reserved the issue of child support and stated that either party could “bring a motion at anytime in the future to have child support established.”

Most importantly, appellant provides no evidence that respondent or the county made different promises about child support.  See Kornberg v. Kornberg, 542 N.W.2d 379, 388 (Minn. 1996) (finding no fraud where the record contained no evidence of intentional misrepresentations, that the court was misled, or that the property settlement was unfair). 

II.        Mutual Mistake

Claiming a mutual mistake of the parties in their marital-termination agreement, appellant argues that both parties failed to appreciate that respondent would have sole-physical custody.  He also contends that neither knew the consequences of a sole-custody arrangement, citing Frauenshuh v. Giese, 599 N.W.2d 153 (Minn. 1999), as establishing for the first time the importance of custody labels. Respondent was not mistaken about the custody arrangements, and appellant reads more into Frauenshuh than the case suggests.

Frauenshuh determined that a non-custodial parent in a sole-physical-custody situation could move to alter custody only upon a showing of danger to the child, in spite of a stipulation stating a best-interests standard—the standard that would be applied in a joint-physical-custody situation.  Id. at 157-58.  The case abides by a custody label only in dealing with a stipulation that attempts to contradict a statute governing changes of custody.  More importantly, Frauenshuh does not preclude looking past a label in circumstances where it does not reflect the real custodial arrangement.  And the sole-physical-custody designation may not govern in circumstances where the parties have shared or nearly shared care of the child.  See Tweeton v. Tweeton, 560 N.W.2d 746, 749 (Minn. App. 1997) (finding the “simple fact that each parent provides an equal part of the custodial care for the children dictates” that child support be awarded as though the parties shared joint-physical custody), review denied (Minn. May 28, 1997); Lutzi v. Lutzi, 485 N.W.2d 311, 315 (Minn. App. 1992) (finding that the substance of the custody arrangement prevails over the label). 

Appellant’s mistake argument fails because there is no basis in this record for a finding that appellant cares for the child nearly half of the time.  Consequently, there is no mistake in not labeling the arrangement as joint-physical custody.  Furthermore, this court has stated that the unanticipated consequences of a settlement are not appropriate grounds to vacate a judgment.  Hestekin, 587 N.W.2d at 310; see also Redmond v. Redmond, 594 N.W.2d 272, 275 (Minn. App. 1999) (stating that a party “may not seek modification of a property division based on changed circumstances”); cf. Newman v. Fjelstad, 271 Minn. 514, 519, 137 N.W.2d 181, 185 (1965) (concluding that an unknown consequence of an injury known at the time of settlement was not sufficient justification for setting aside the settlement on the ground of mutual mistake).

III.       Unilateral Mistake

Appellant contends that the court should grant relief for his misunderstanding because he signed the marital-termination agreement, which respondent’s attorney drafted, without the benefit of counsel.  Appellant fails at the outset to point out where the mistake occurred.  As the trial court found, the marital-termination agreement is vitally clear about custody.  It states that respondent “is awarded physical care, custody and control of the minor child” and that appellant “is awarded reasonable and liberal visitation.”  Appellant has not claimed he does not understand the concepts of primary care and visitation.  Moreover, the child-support clause specifically reserves the issue and warns that either party or the county may seek to have child support established at any time.

We have expressed concern about the summary practices of courts accepting stipulations when the parties proceed without counsel.  Hestekin, 587 N.W.2d at 310-11.  In spite of those concerns, we cannot grant relief without some showing of mistake.  Appellant does not suggest that the agreement is not clear on its face, only that he thought he would not have to pay child support retroactively, despite the warning on the face of the agreement.  The court does not set aside agreements based on unilateral expectations.  Kubiszewski v. St. John, 518 N.W.2d 4, 7 (Minn. 1994).  Also, appellant has failed to show that he does in fact have joint custody.  In short, he has not shown cause for relief from the judgment.

Because we find no mistake or problem with the weight given by the trial court to the child-custody label, we find that the court properly awarded child support based on the guidelines.  A trial court has broad discretion to provide for the support of the parties’ children, and this court will not reverse the trial court’s decision on child support unless that question was resolved in a manner that is against logic and the facts on record.  Rutten v. Rutten, 347 N.W.2d 47, 50 (Minn. 1984).