This opinion will be unpublished and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 COURT OF APPEALS

C6-00-1352

 

 

In Re the Marriage of:  Paul L. Jackson,

petitioner,

Appellant,

 

vs.

 

Margaret L. Guthrie,

Respondent.

 

 

Filed May 1, 2001

Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded

G. Barry Anderson, Judge

 

Ramsey County District Court

File No. F698809

 

 

Susan C. Rhode, Joani C. Moberg, Moss & Barnett, P.A., 4800 Wells Fargo Center, 90 South Seventh Street, Minneapolis, MN  55402-4119 (for appellant)

 

Judith L. Oakes, J. Oakes & Associates, 2589 Hamline Avenue North, Suite C, St. Paul, MN  55113 (for respondent)

 

            Considered and decided by G. Barry Anderson, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Halbrooks, Judge.


U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

G. BARRY ANDERSON, Judge

            In this appeal from an amended marital dissolution judgment and from an order denying a motion for amended findings or a new trial, appellant argues that the district court abused its discretion in: (1) failing to award him spousal maintenance, and (2) setting appellant’s child-support obligation.  Respondent also filed a notice of review challenging the district court’s award of attorney’s fees to appellant.  We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand. 

FACTS

                  Appellant Paul L. Jackson and respondent Margaret L. Guthrie were married on October 6, 1984.  At the time of the marriage, appellant was employed full-time as a technical support representative and computer technician for Dayton’s Corporation.  Respondent was a full-time registered nurse at Minneapolis Children’s Hospital. 

            In 1985, appellant moved to a position with the University of Minnesota as a computer and electronics technician.  The same year, respondent left work to attend medical school.  While respondent attended medical school, appellant provided the primary financial support for the couple. 

            The parties’ first child was born on March 22, 1989, as respondent was finishing her last year of medical school.  In June 1989, respondent began her medical residency.  At this time, the parties agreed that appellant would begin working half-time in order to care for the child while respondent completed her residency.  Respondent acknowledges that she relied on appellant to curtail his employment so they could have children. 

            In June 1992, respondent completed her residency and began working part-time for River Valley Clinics.  This position became full-time in January 1993.  Appellant left his job with the University of Minnesota in 1993 to care for the child and maintain the home. 

            The parties adopted a second child, a baby boy, in June 1995, shortly after his birth.  For the first six months, appellant cared for the child full-time.  The child was then introduced to daycare a few days per week.  When the two boys were not in school or at daycare, they were at home with appellant. 

            In the latter part of 1997, respondent decided she would cut back her work schedule.  At the same time, appellant was determined to re-enter the workforce.  In April 1997, appellant began working full-time.[1]  In December 1997, respondent reduced her work hours to 75% time, or three days per week. 

            Appellant filed for dissolution of the marriage on March 27, 1998.  The parties separated on August 1, 1998, and, following trial, the district court entered judgment dissolving the marriage on January 20, 2000. 

            Following entry of judgment, appellant sought amended findings of fact and conclusions of law, or alternatively, a new trial, arguing that the district court had abused its discretion by failing to award appellant spousal maintenance, and by failing to depart downward from child support guidelines for a longer period in calculating appellant’s support obligation.  Appellant also argued that the district court erred in its findings of fact regarding the increase of the parties’ incomes.  By order dated June 1, 2000, the district court denied appellant’s motion, with the exception of amending the findings of fact regarding appellant’s income.[2]  This appeal now follows.

D E C I S I O N

I.          Spousal maintenance

            Appellant argues that the district court abused its discretion when it denied him a spousal-maintenance award because its findings of fact related to respondent’s income were erroneous.  We review a district court’s maintenance determinations under an abuse-of-discretion standard.  Dobrin v. Dobrin, 569 N.W.2d 199, 202 (Minn. 1997); Erlandson v. Erlandson, 318 N.W.2d 36, 38 (Minn. 1982).  The district court has broad discretion in deciding whether to award maintenance and in determining its duration and amount.  Erlandson, 318 N.W.2d at 38.  The district court’s resolution of the maintenance issue must be “against logic and the facts on record before this court will find that the trial court abused its discretion.”  Rutten v. Rutten, 347 N.W.2d 47, 50 (Minn. 1984). 

            A court may grant either spouse maintenance if it finds that the spouse seeking maintenance:

            (a) lacks sufficient property, including marital property apportioned to the spouse, to provide for reasonable needs of the spouse considering the standard of living established during the marriage, especially, but not limited to, a period of training or education, or

            (b) is unable to provide adequate self-support, after considering the standard of living established during the marriage and all relevant circumstances, through appropriate employment, or is the custodian of a child whose condition or circumstances make it appropriate that the custodian not be required to seek employment outside the home. 

 

Minn. Stat. § 518.552, subd. 1 (2000).  Spousal maintenance is essentially determined by balancing the ability of one spouse to pay against the needs of the other spouse.  Erlandson, 318 N.W.2d at 39; see also Minn. Stat. § 518.552, subd. 2(g) (2000) (“the ability of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought to meet needs while meeting those of the spouse seeking maintenance” is a factor to be considered).  The district court denied maintenance to appellant, finding that appellant “is able to provide adequate self support, considering the standard of living during the marriage and all relevant circumstances.” 

            The court found appellant to have a net monthly income of $2,568, with reasonable monthly expenses of $2,938, producing a deficit of $370 per month.  These figures do not include guideline child-support payments, which would further increase appellant’s monthly deficit.  Respondent was found to have a net monthly income of $3,744.50, with reasonable monthly expenses of $3,779, producing a deficit of $34.50 per month. 

Though appellant argues that income figures for respondent should be higher, the court’s findings are supported by the record.  Underlying factual findings are set aside only if they are clearly erroneous.  McCulloch v. McCulloch, 435 N.W.2d 564, 566 (Minn. App. 1989).  In order to successfully challenge a district court’s findings of fact, the party challenging the findings

must show that despite viewing that evidence in the light most favorable to the trial court’s findings * * * the record still requires the definite and firm conviction that a mistake was made. 

 

Vangsness v. Vangsness, 607 N.W.2d 468, 474 (Minn. App. 2000). 

            While the record establishes appellant’s inability to meet his monthly expenses, respondent’s inability to pay maintenance is also supported by the record.  Given respondent’s inability to pay maintenance, the district court did not abuse its discretion by not awarding appellant maintenance. 

II.        Child support

            The court ordered appellant to pay guideline child support[3] beginning on October 1, 2000, and granted a temporary downward departure from the guidelines until that time.  The court found that a temporary downward departure from guideline support for a one-year period was in the best interests of the children, “because it [would] permit [appellant] to become better established financially and professionally.”  Appellant challenges the short duration of this guideline departure determination, contending he has insufficient income to cover his monthly expenses, and asserting the disparity in incomes between himself and respondent. 

            The district court has broad discretion in determining a child support obligation and “a reviewing court will affirm such a determination if it has ‘an acceptable and reasonable basis in fact.’”  Desrosier v. Desrosier, 551 N.W.2d 507, 509 (Minn. App. 1996) (quoting Bliss v. Bliss, 493 N.W.2d 583, 586 (Minn. App. 1992), review denied (Minn. Feb. 12, 1993)).  Here, the district court’s findings do not support such a limited departure from the guidelines. 

            The record shows (a) appellant lacks “sufficient income to meet his needs and has incurred substantial debt”; (b) appellant’s reasonable monthly expenses exceed his net monthly income, even without considering his child support obligation; (c) it will take “two to five years” for appellant to reach an income level that will render him solvent; and (d) respondent’s financial circumstances are less unfavorable than appellant’s.  On this record, the justification for setting appellant’s support obligation at a sub-guideline amount for only one year is neither explained nor clear.  Therefore, we remand the support issue for the district court to extend appellant’s sub-guideline support obligation or to explain its decision to set the duration of the deviation at a length that will not resolve the financial problems indicated by the findings. 

III.       Attorney’s fees

            Respondent challenges the district court’s award of attorney’s fees, contending that the court failed to make the requisite findings required by statute.  Minn. Stat. § 518.14 (2000), provides that:

[T]he court shall award attorney fees, costs, and disbursements in an amount necessary to enable a party to carry on or contest the proceeding, provided it finds:

(1) that the fees are necessary for the good-faith assertion of the party’s rights in the proceeding and will not contribute unnecessarily to the length and expense of the proceeding;

(2) that the party from whom fees, costs, and disbursements are sought has the means to pay them;  and

(3) that the party to whom fees, costs, and disbursements are awarded does not have the means to pay them. 

 

Id. at subd. 1(1)–(3).  The decision to award attorney’s fees rests almost entirely within the discretion of the district court.  Solon v. Solon, 255 N.W.2d 395, 397 (Minn. 1977).  The court must make specific findings of the factors on which an award of attorney’s fees was made or denied.  In re Marriage of Richards, 472 N.W.2d 162, 166 (Minn. App. 1991). 

            Because we conclude that the court’s findings regarding attorney’s fees satisfy the requirements of the statute, respondent’s argument is without merit.  Nevertheless, we remand the issue of attorney’s fees to the extent the amount of the fees are based on appellant’s need, so that the district court has the opportunity to reconsider its determination in conjunction with correcting the child-support findings. 

            Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

 



[1] Prior to re-entering the workforce in April 1997, appellant had had no employment outside the home between August 1993 and March 1997. 

[2] In its original judgment and decree, dated January 20, 2000, the court found appellant’s monthly net income was $2,787.  On June 1, 2000, the court amended this finding to $2,568. 

[3] Guideline support for appellant is 30% of his net income.  Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5(b) (2000).