This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In Re the Marriage of:
John S. Dawson, petitioner
Stacy J. Dawson,
Filed April 17, 2001
Affirmed as modified
Houston County District Court
File No. F899194
James R. Forsythe, Streater & Murphy, P.A., 64 East Fourth Street, P.O. Box 310, Winona, MN 55987-0310 (for respondent)
Jeri A. Urbanski, Parke O'Flaherty, Ltd., 201 Main Street, Tenth Floor, P.O. Box 1147, La Crosse, WI 54601-1147 (for appellant)
R. A. RANDALL, Judge
On appeal of this dissolution matter, appellant argues that the district court erred by (a) failing to impute income to respondent for support purposes; (b) failing to deviate from the guidelines in consideration of the children's standard of living; and (c) imputing income to her for child-care expense purposes. We affirm as modified.
Respondent John Dawson was an electrician at TD Padesky Electric (Padesky) at the time he filed for dissolution of his marriage on March 8, 1999. Seven months later he lost his job. Respondent later took a master electrician licensing exam needed to start his own business. This business, Three-Phase Electric (Three-Phase), returned to respondent a net monthly wage of $1,271.46, about half of what he earned at Padesky.
Although appellant Stacy Dawson previously earned a master's degree in special education, she neither worked in that field nor worked anywhere full-time while married. After respondent filed for dissolution but before he lost his Padesky job, appellant quit her part-time work to pursue an associate degree in computer programming. With this degree she expected to earn $39,000 a year, nearly tripling her net yearly income of $13,824.
The district court granted appellant sole physical custody of the couple's two children and based respondent's support obligation on his new, lower level of income. The court used this figure because it found respondent's move to Three-Phase constituted a bona fide career change. Respondent was ordered to pay $381.44 per month in support pursuant to the guidelines, as well as an additional 20% to extinguish arrears. The district court ordered appellant to pay $321.28 of the monthly $510 child-care expense. No motion for a new trial was made. This appeal followed.
The record does not reflect and the parties do not assert that a motion for a new trial was made before the district court. Therefore, this court's review is limited to whether "the evidence sustains the findings of facts and whether such findings sustain the conclusions of law and the judgment." Erickson v. Erickson, 434 N.W.2d 284, 286 (Minn. App. 1989) (citation omitted).
Appellant argues that the district court erred by failing to impute income to respondent for support purposes. Imputed income is an estimate of earning ability based on earnings history, education, job skills, and the "availability of jobs within the community for an individual with the parent's qualifications." Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5b(d) (2000). In relevant part the statute provides:
If the court finds that a parent is voluntarily unemployed or
underemployed * * * [child] support shall be calculated based on a
determination of imputed income. A
parent is not considered voluntarily unemployed or underemployed upon a showing
by the parent that the unemployment or underemployment * * * represents a bona
fide career change that outweighs the adverse effect of that parent's diminished income on the child * * * .
The record includes testimony that respondent had long thought of starting his own business and discussed the idea with many individuals, including appellant. Indeed, respondent's undisputed testimony was that his departure from Padesky was precipitated by his attempt to solicit business away from the company. After losing his job, respondent immediately applied to take the exam necessary to become an electrical contractor. The Three-Phase venture realized a pre-tax profit of $8,243.35 over its first four months. The record contains sufficient evidence to support the district court's finding of a bona fide career change.
Appellant argues that the district court failed to consider whether this career change "outweighs the adverse effect of that parent's diminished income on the children." Id. The district court found that respondent "made a bona fide career change within the meaning of" the statute. There is no authority requiring the court to make additional written findings on "diminished income." The record indicates that Three-Phase has the potential to grow and that respondent will be liable for more child support if it does. We conclude that there is sufficient evidence to support the finding that respondent's career change outweighed any claimed adverse effect on the children.
Appellant argues that the district court erred by failing to consider the children's standard of living as required by Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5(c)(3) (2000). In the present case, the district court adhered to the statutory support guidelines and did not make specific findings regarding the children's standard of living. A court adhering to the support guidelines need not specifically address this factor. Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5(i) (2000). Furthermore, it need not make written findings explaining its refusal to deviate. State ex rel. Rimolde v. Tinker, 601 N.W.2d 468, 471 (Minn. App. 1999). We conclude the evidence supports the district court's findings and that those findings support adherence to the guidelines.
Appellant argues that the district court erred in imputing income to her for child-care purposes. The district court shall allocate child-care costs
to each parent in proportion to each parent's net income * * * after the transfer of child support * * * unless the allocation would be substantially unfair to either parent.
Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5(b) (2000). The district court imputed income to appellant because she was "voluntarily unemployed despite having the ability and education to earn substantial income." Thus, the court determined that it was "fair and equitable * * * to impute" the income she realized before quitting her jobs to pursue a degree in another field.
We find it inequitable that income was imputed to appellant when she made a career change when it was not imputed to respondent. Implicit in the district court's findings are that both parents are changing careers. There is nothing to indicate that appellant's change is not bona fide. There is undisputed evidence that upon completing her degree appellant could expect to earn $39,000 a year, nearly a three-fold increase over her former net income. This possible increase is more certain than the unpredictability of respondent's self-employment income.
Ultimately, while we reject the district court's reasoning behind imputing income to appellant, we affirm the district court's allocation of child-care expenses on the ground that it is fair and equitable. "If the [district] court arrives at a correct decision, that decision should not be overturned regardless of the theory upon which it is based." Witcher Constr. Co. v. Saint Paul Fire and Marine Ins. Co., 550 N.W.2d 1, 8 (Minn. App. 1996) (quoting Brecht v. Schramm, 266 N.W.2d 514, 520 (Minn. 1978)), review denied (Minn. Aug. 20, 1996). The evidence sustains the district court's allocation of child-care expenses because a 100% allocation to respondent, as appellant urges, would be substantially unfair. Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5(b).
The record shows that on a modest monthly net take-home pay of $1,271.46, the court ordered respondent to pay $381.44 in child support. The court then allocated to respondent $188.72 as child-care expenses. That brings respondent's monthly burden to $570.16, which is 45% of his net take-home pay. The court also ordered respondent to pay an additional 20% of his support obligation to extinguish arrearages. That brings respondent's total obligation to over half his net take-home pay. Once the arrearages are extinguished, he will continue paying 45% of his net pay.
Appellant argues that respondent should pay 100% of the monthly $510 child-care expense; in other words, $891 a month (not counting arrearage payments) from an obligor with a monthly net income of $1,271. We realize that every dollar of expense that appellant must pay will be a burden. But we also realize, as the district court did, that every dollar respondent must pay is a burden as well. Both parties are operating on limited incomes and there are multiple children to raise. We cannot be critical of a district court that did not require an obligor to pay 70% of his limited net monthly take-home pay for child support and child-care expenses. The district court's allocation directly followed the controlling statute, which states that child-care costs are assigned to each parent in proportion to their net income (after the transfer of child support) unless the allocation would be substantially unfair. Accordingly, we conclude the district court properly allocated child-care expenses.
Affirmed as modified.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.