This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
In Re the Marriage of:
Mark D. Schneider, petitioner,
Jewel A. Schneider,
Filed April 10, 2001
Washington County District Court
File No. F382107768
Tom Lee, Law Office of Tom Lee, P.A., 2589 Hamline Avenue North, Suite B, Roseville, MN 55113 (for appellant)
Michael D. O'Neill, Brian M. Meloy, O'Neill, Grills & O'Neill, P.L.L.P., W1750 First National Bank Building, 332 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Harten, Presiding Judge, Crippen, Judge, and Hanson, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant challenges the district court’s refusal to terminate his stipulated obligation to provide medical insurance coverage for respondent. He alleges that (1) the stipulation incorporated into the judgment is ambiguous regarding medical coverage and should be amended to clarify that his obligation ceased when respondent became employed and could obtain coverage under her employer’s plan and (2) there has been substantial change in circumstances because respondent is now self-supporting. We affirm.
Appellant Mark D. Schneider and respondent Jewel A. Schneider entered into a marital termination agreement on August 23, 1982. The agreement was incorporated into the judgment, which ordered appellant to “continue to provide medical and hospitalization insurance coverage for the Respondent * * * through his employer and at his expense.” The judgment did not set any time limits for this obligation.
At the time of the judgment, respondent was unemployed and appellant was employed full time at Control Data Corporation, where medical and hospitalization insurance was available to him at no cost. After February 1994, respondent held several jobs that provided medical and hospitalization coverage at no cost to her. During such times, respondent did not seek medical and hospitalization insurance from appellant. Currently, however, the only coverage available through respondent’s employer would require her to pay $200 per month and would exclude coverage for pre-existing conditions.
On July 20, 2000, respondent filed a motion requesting that the district court (1) order appellant to pay her medical insurance and (2) award her attorney fees. Appellant filed a counter-motion, requesting that the district court (1) deny appellant’s motions, (2) amend the judgment to eliminate his obligation to provide medical and hospitalization insurance and (3) award him attorney fees. Specifically, appellant requested that the judgment be amended to read as follows:
(1) That neither party is awarded spousal maintenance (alimony) from the other either past, present or future, and that the same is hereby forever waived. The Court is divested of jurisdiction to modify the maintenance provisions herein.
(2) That each party shall provide for their own health and dental insurance coverage at their own expense.
On August 28, 2000, the district court granted respondent’s motions, awarding her attorney’s fees and costs of $750, and denied appellant’s counter-motions. This appeal followed.
Whether a stipulated judgment is ambiguous is a legal question. See Head v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 449 N.W.2d 449, 452 (Minn. App. 1989) (interpreting provisions in dissolution judgment regarding insurance coverage), review denied (Minn. Feb. 21, 1990); Halverson v. Halverson, 381 N.W.2d 69, 71 (Minn. App. 1986) (interpreting stipulated provision in judgment). If a judgment is ambiguous, a district court may construe or clarify it. Stieler v. Stieler, 244 Minn. 312, 318, 70 N.W.2d 127, 131 (1955). “[I]f language is reasonably subject to more than one interpretation, there is ambiguity.” Halverson, 381 N.W.2d at 71 (citation omitted). Absent ambiguity, however, it is not proper for a court to interpret a stipulated judgment. Starr v. Starr, 312 Minn. 561, 562-63, 251 N.W.2d 341, 342 (1977).
The stipulation in question required that respondent “continue to provide medical and hospitalization insurance coverage for the Respondent * * * through his employer and at his expense.” Appellant contends that the provision is ambiguous because it does not include a time limitation. This argument is without merit.
The obligation to provide medical insurance is treated as a form of spousal maintenance. Hughes v. Hughley, 569 N.W.2d 534, 536 (Minn. App. 1997). Appellant acknowledges that Minnesota law does not require any time limit on spousal maintenance. Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 3 (2000) provides:
Unless otherwise agreed in writing or expressly provided in the decree, the obligation to pay future maintenance is terminated upon the death of either party or the remarriage of the party receiving maintenance.
Accordingly, the absence of a time limit in the stipulated judgment on the obligation to provide medical coverage does not make the provision ambiguous.
Appellant’s argument that a modification of the maintenance award is justified by a substantial change in circumstances is somewhat vague. The only change he cites is that respondent is now employed and has access to medical and hospitalization insurance through her employer. However, respondent has shown that the only coverage available through her employer would require her to pay $200 per month and would not cover pre-existing conditions. Thus, while respondent’s needs may have decreased, they have not been eliminated.
Appellant relies upon Minn. Stat. § 62A.21, subd. 2(a) (2000) to argue that once the insured’s former spouse is covered under her own plan, the insured’s obligation ceases. Minn. Stat. § 62A.21, subd. 2a provides:
Every policy described in subdivision 1 shall contain a provision which permits continuation of coverage under the policy for the insured's former spouse and dependent children upon entry of a valid decree of dissolution of marriage. The coverage shall be continued until the earlier of the following dates:
(a) the date the insured's former spouse becomes covered under any other group health plan; * * * .
(Emphasis added.) This statute does not limit the duration of appellant’s obligation to pay for respondent’s medical insurance, but only imposes a limitation on the obligation of insurance companies who offer health insurance coverage in Minnesota.
Because the stipulated judgment is not ambiguous, and appellant has failed to show any material change in circumstances relative to respondent’s need for health insurance coverage, the district court did not err in ordering appellant to provide medical and hospitalization insurance for respondent.