This opinion will be unpublished and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

C6-01-129

 

In Re the Marriage of:

Jeanne Marie Wendel, petitioner,

Respondent,

 

vs.

 

Bradley James Wendel,

Appellant.

 

Filed August 14, 2001

Affirmed
Toussaint, Chief Judge

 

Dakota County District Court

File No. F89513513

 

Wayne Alan Jagow, 350 West Burnsville Parkway, Suite 625, Burnsville, MN 55337 (for respondent)

 

Jane Binder, 510 Marquette Avenue, Suite 700, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for appellant)

 

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

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

TOUSSAINT, Chief Judge

            Under the terms of the parties’ 1996 stipulated judgment, appellant Bradley James Wendel agreed to pay respondent Jeanne Marie Wendel $1,750 per month in spousal maintenance “until further order of the Court,” respondent’s death, or respondent’s remarriage, “whichever event first occurs.”  In August 1999, appellant first moved to terminate his maintenance obligation, claiming (1) there has been a significant change in circumstances due to respondent’s cohabitation with a man from whom she receives financial support; (2) respondent has failed to rehabilitate herself; (3) respondent has received maintenance for more than one-half the length of the parties’ 11-year marriage; and (4) respondent operates a business that generates a significant amount of cash.  The district court denied appellant’s modification motion and respondent’s subsequent motion for attorney fees.  Both parties appeal.

            Because the parties’ stipulation obligates appellant to pay permanent spousal maintenance and because the district court properly exercised its discretion in determining that, although both parties earn significantly more than at the time of the dissolution, appellant has failed to establish that a change in circumstances makes his prior maintenance obligation unreasonable and unfair, we affirm.  Because the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying respondent’s request for attorney fees, we affirm on that issue also.

D E C I S I O N

            Modification of spousal maintenance is within the district court’s broad discretion and will not be reversed absent an abuse of discretion.  Stich v. Stich, 435 N.W.2d 52, 53 (Minn. 1989).  Such an abuse occurs when the district court resolves the matter in a manner that is “against logic and facts on the record.”  Rutten v. Rutten, 347 N.W.2d 47, 50 (Minn. 1984).

            The statute governing modification of maintenance provides in pertinent part:

The terms of an order respecting maintenance or support may be modified upon a showing of one or more of the following:  (1) substantially increased or decreased earnings of a party; (2) substantially increased or decreased need of a party * * *; (3) receipt of assistance * * *; (4) a change in the cost of living for either party * * *, any of which makes the terms unreasonable and unfair.

 

Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(a) (2000).  The moving party bears the burden of showing that a substantial change has occurred rendering the original maintenance award unreasonable and unfair.  Hecker v. Hecker, 568 N.W.2d 705, 709 (Minn. 1997).

            When a maintenance obligation is based on the parties’ prior stipulation, deference is given to the stipulation because it represents the parties’ voluntary settlement of their financial rights and obligations.  Claybaugh v. Claybaugh, 312 N.W.2d 447, 449 (Minn. 1981); Sieber v. Sieber, 258 N.W.2d 754, 757 (Minn. 1977).  A district court faced with a request to alter the terms of a negotiated agreement must exercise its discretion “carefully” and “reluctantly.”  Beck v. Kaplan, 566 N.W.2d 723, 726 (Minn. 1997).  Even where substantial changes have occurred, the parties may be held to their original negotiated agreement when no evidence is offered to show that these changes could not have been anticipated at the time it was made.  Id.

            Appellant first argues that “the parties intended that respondent would rehabilitate and that appellant’s spousal maintenance obligation would end.”  He claims that he only agreed to pay maintenance until respondent finished her education and obtained employment as an interior designer.  The district court determined that “[a]lthough not labeled as such, the award of spousal maintenance in the original Judgment and Decree was in the nature of permanent maintenance” and that the parties’ stipulation did not require respondent to rehabilitate.  We agree.

            Based on the plain language of the parties’ stipulation, appellant agreed to pay permanent spousal maintenance.  His obligation has no termination date and continues until respondent’s death, remarriage, or further order of the court.  See Gales v. Gales, 553 N.W.2d 416, 422 (Minn. 1996) (leaving award of maintenance open in duration effectively makes award permanent in nature).  In addition, a recipient of permanent maintenance is not obligated to rehabilitate herself or become self-sufficient so as to relieve her former spouse from his maintenance obligation.  Schroeder v. Schroeder, 405 N.W.2d 267, 269 (Minn. App. 1987).  The district court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to alter the plain terms of the parties’ 1992 stipulation.

            Appellant next argues that substantial changes in circumstances have occurred that make it unreasonable and unfair to require him to continue to pay spousal maintenance to respondent.  In particular, he claims that immediately after the parties’ marriage dissolution, respondent began cohabiting with another man and began to operate a business with a significant cash flow.  He insists that respondent now has resources that were not anticipated at the time of the divorce and that allow her to meet her reasonable expenses, thus eliminating her need for maintenance.

            The district court determined that appellant was aware of respondent’s relationship with this other man at the time the parties entered into their stipulation.  In addition, the court properly considered respondent’s needs separately from the expenses attributable to her significant other.  See Sieber, 258 N.W.2d at 758 (meretricious relationship cannot form basis for reducing or terminating maintenance, unless that relationship reduces former spouse’s needs by improving her economic well-being or otherwise reducing her financial needs).  Thus, the district court did not abuse its discretion in rejecting appellant’s claim that respondent’s relationship with this other man warranted modification of maintenance.

            The district court also made findings on the parties’ incomes and agreed that there had been a substantial change in circumstances because both parties “are earning significantly more than at the time of the dissolution.”  The court properly attempted to determine respondent’s income, given evidence that she and her significant other commingle their earnings and that unreported income is sometimes deposited into her checking account.  Despite both parties’ objections to these findings, the district court did not clearly err in determining respondent’s income.  See Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01 (findings upheld unless clearly erroneous).

            The district court further determined that although the changes in the parties’ incomes were substantial, they did not make the terms of the stipulated judgment unreasonable and unfair.  Where a recipient’s increase in income is anticipated or necessary to allow the recipient to make ends meet, it alone does not justify a reduction in maintenance.  See Tuthill v. Tuthill, 399 N.W.2d 230, 232 (Minn. App. 1987) (where amount of maintenance awarded clearly indicates that it was presumed recipient would have another source of income, recipient’s employment foreseeable); James v. James, 397 N.W.2d 587, 590 (Minn. App. 1986) (same).  Here, at the time of the dissolution, respondent was 38 years old, working part time and earning a net monthly income of $580.  Even with her receipt of $1,750 in maintenance, the parties had to have anticipated that respondent would need to increase her income in order to meet her needs.  Thus, the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the increase in the parties’ incomes did not make the terms of the prior maintenance award unreasonable and unfair.

            Finally, by notice of review, respondent argues that the district court abused its discretion in denying her requests for attorney fees based on the disparate incomes of the parties.  See Minn. Stat. § 518.14, subd. 1 (2000) (authorizing award of need-based attorney fees in dissolution cases).  Because the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying respondent’s requests for fees, we affirm.  See Kitchar v. Kitchar, 553 N.W.2d 97, 104 (Minn. App. 1996) (“A [district court’s] refusal to award attorney fees will not be reversed absent a clear abuse of discretion.”), review denied (Minn. Oct. 29, 1996).

            Affirmed.