This opinion will be unpublished and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
In re the Marriage of: Lori Ann Edblad, n/k/a Lori Ann Johnston,
Gerald Wayne Edblad, Jr.,
Filed January 29, 2002
Stearns County District Court
File No. F700733
Lori Ann Johnston, 5051 Boulder Drive, Hermantown, MN 55811 (pro se appellant)
John R. Koch, Reichert, Wenner, Koch & Provinzino, P.A., 501 St. Germain, P.O. Box 1556, St. Cloud, MN 56302 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Anderson, Presiding Judge, Crippen, Judge, and Willis, Judge.
G. BARRY ANDERSON, Judge.
This appeal arises from a marriage dissolution case. Because the district court did not clearly err in making its findings of fact and did not abuse its discretion in making conclusions of law, we affirm.
Gerald Edblad (respondent) and Lori Johnston (appellant) were married in 1986. The parties have three children. Marriage-related problems arose and appellant asked respondent to move out of the family home, which he eventually did in January 1999. The parties filed for divorce. The district court found appellant had a need for temporary spousal maintenance, but it also found respondent was not able to pay any spousal maintenance.
After the parties separated, appellant and the children continued to live in the family home until they relocated to Duluth. While residing in the home, appellant remodeled the home and paid for materials and expenses for the remodeling.
The parties did not agree on several issues in their divorce proceedings. Among these issues were: (1) the valuation of the parties’ retirement accounts; (2) whether tax rebates from 1998 and 1999 should be treated as marital or non-marital property; (3) whether appellant would receive spousal maintenance; and (4) whether appellant would receive attorneys fees. The district court decided each of these issues adversely to appellant.
Following the trial, appellant moved to amend the findings under Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.02, or in the alternative, for a new trial pursuant to Minn. R. Civ. P. 59.01. Appellant’s motion asked the court to specifically find whether appellant should be covered by respondent’s family health care insurance. At the motion hearing, respondent’s counsel did not object to the insertion of language allowing appellant to be covered by respondent’s health care insurance. Although other issues were argued, only the health care insurance provision in the judgment was amended by the district court. The district court denied appellant’s subsequent motion, again dealing with health insurance, and this appeal followed.
I. Valuation of Marital Assets
A trial court must value marital assets as of the date of the initially scheduled prehearing settlement conference, unless the parties agree on a different date or “the court makes specific findings that another date of valuation is fair and equitable.” Minn. Stat. § 518.58, subd. 1 (2000). The pretrial conference was initially scheduled for June 16, 2000. The trial court’s valuation of assets and findings of fact will not be set aside on appeal unless they are clearly erroneous. See Hertz v. Hertz, 304 Minn. 144, 145, 229 N.W.2d 42, 44 (1975). Once marital assets have been valued, the trial court has broad discretion in dividing those assets and, absent an abuse of discretion, its division must stand. Rutten v. Rutten, 347 N.W.2d 47, 50 (Minn. 1984); see also Desrosier v. Desrosier, 551 N.W.2d 507, 510 (Minn. App. 1996) (reviewing district court’s selection of valuation date under abuse-of-discretion standard).
Here, appellant challenges the district court’s valuation of both parties’ retirement accounts. The district court valued appellant’s retirement accounts at $20,700, and valued respondent’s retirement account at $55,829.06.
A. Appellant’s Retirement Accounts
The district court found appellant’s accounts were worth $16,000 and $4,700, respectively. This is consistent with appellant’s testimony and a letter to the court confirming these amounts. Therefore, the district court’s valuation of these accounts is not clearly erroneous. See Vangsness v. Vangsness, 607 N.W.2d 468, 472 (Minn. App. 2000) (discussing clearly erroneous standard for reviewing findings of fact). Moreover, even if this court were to accept the $16,457.56 and $4,850 valuations as suggested elsewhere in the record, we cannot say that, on this record, the resulting difference in valuations would compel an alteration of the property distribution. See Wibbens v. Wibbens, 379 N.W.2d 225, 227 (Minn. App. 1985) (refusing to remand for de minimis error); see also Minn. R. Civ. P. 61 (requiring harmless error to be ignored).
B. Respondent’s Retirement Account
The district court used an August 2, 1999 letter, offered by appellant, from the agency administrating respondent’s retirement account to, value the account at $55,829.06. Appellant did not dispute the valuation at trial or in any post-trial submissions. The district court reached a reasonable conclusion based on the evidence offered. See Snesrud v. Instant Web, Inc., 484 N.W.2d 423, 428 (Minn. App. 1992) (factual findings reversed only if appellate court is of “definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made”; on appeal, evidence must sustain findings and findings must support conclusions made by trial court), review denied (Minn. June 17, 1992). Therefore, the district court did not clearly err by valuing respondent’s retirement account at $55, 829.06.
Whether property is marital or nonmarital is a question of law, which we review de novo, but facts underlying the finding that property is marital will not be set aside unless clearly erroneous. White v. White, 521 N.W.2d 874, 877 (Minn. App. 1994) (citation omitted). This court recently held that income tax rebates acquired after marriage, but before valuation, are marital property. Fitzgerald v. Fitzgerald, 629 N.W.2d 115, 120-21 (Minn. App. 2001); see also Minn. Stat. § 518.54, subd. 5 (2000) (“All property acquired by either spouse subsequent to the marriage and before the valuation date is presumed to be marital property regardless of whether title is held individually” or in coownership.); Rundell v. Rundell, 423 N.W.2d 77, 81-82 (Minn. App. 1988) (affirming conclusion that tax refunds acquired during marriage were marital assets); Crace v. Crace, 396 N.W.2d 877, 881 (Minn. App. 1986) (same holding), review denied (Minn. Jan. 27, 1987).
Appellant received the tax rebates before the valuation date. Therefore, the district court did not err in concluding that the tax rebates were marital property.
Appellant disputes the district court’s denial of spousal maintenance. A district court’s spousal maintenance determination will not be disturbed absent an abuse of discretion. Erlandson v. Erlandson, 318 N.W.2d 36, 38 (Minn. 1982). Here, the district court found appellant was not entitled to spousal maintenance because respondent could not afford to make such payments.
When making a spousal-maintenance award, the district court must consider “the ability of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought to meet needs while meeting those of the spouse seeking maintenance.” Minn. Stat. § 518.552, subd. 2(g) (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 39-40.
The district court considered appellant’s need and respondent’s ability to pay maintenance. Testimony at the trial suggested respondent’s income was insufficient to accommodate any maintenance award. Because respondent’s ability to pay is a relevant consideration in determining spousal maintenance, the district court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to award appellant spousal maintenance.
“The allocation of the federal tax exemptions is within discretion of the trial court.” Crosby v. Crosby, 587 N.W.2d 292, 298 (Minn. App. 1998) (citation omitted), review denied (Minn. Feb. 18, 1999). “As a general rule, the custodial parent is entitled to claim a dependent child as a dependency exemption * * * .” Kriesel v. Gustafson, 513 N.W.2d 9, 13 (Minn. App. 1994) (citing Gerardy v. Gerardy, 406 N.W.2d 10, 14 (Minn. App. 1987)).
In this case, the district court awarded two tax exemptions to appellant and one (for the parties’ youngest child) to respondent. Appellant claims that she is entitled to all three exemptions under federal law. The supreme court has observed:
The Internal Revenue Code states that upon dissolution of a marriage the parent with primary custody of a minor child is entitled to claim the child as a dependent. 26 U.S.C. § 152(e)(1) (2000). The code does not preclude state district courts from allocating tax dependency exemptions to a noncustodial parent incident to the determination of child support and physical custody.
Rogers v. Rogers, 622 N.W.2d 813, 823 (Minn. 2001).
Here, the district court found that it was “in the best interest of the children to provide each parent an opportunity to claim dependency tax exemptions.” We conclude that there is no reason to disturb this finding because awarding respondent a tax exemption benefits the parties collectively by reducing respondent’s taxable income and increasing his ability to pay child support.
Appellant is not satisfied with the district court’s order, which requires respondent to include appellant as an insured on his health care insurance. The result reached by the district court’s order balances appellant’s need for health care coverage while at the same time avoiding unlimited liability for respondent. The result reached by the district court is well within its discretion and we will not disturb it.
Appellant contends that the district court abused its discretion by refusing to award need-based attorney fees. Awarding attorney fees and expenses is a matter within the district court’s broad discretion. Frederiksen v. Frederiksen, 368 N.W.2d 769, 778 (Minn. App. 1985). An attorney-fees determination will rarely be overturned on appeal. Burns v. Burns, 466 N.W.2d 421, 424 (Minn. App. 1991). In determining whether an award of attorney fees is appropriate, a court should consider the party’s need for financial assistance to enable that party to protect its rights in the dissolution proceeding. See Minn. Stat. § 518.14, subd. 1(1) (2000); Fredericksen, 368 N.W.2d at 778.
Here, the district court denied appellant’s request for attorney fees without making findings. One of the factors considered in awarding fees evaluates whether the party awarded the fees has the means to pay them. Minn. Stat. § 518.14, subd. 1(3) (2000). After the division of property and the sale of the parties’ home, appellant will have the funds to pay her attorney fees. Appellant’s request for need-based attorney fees was without merit and was properly denied.
Appellant claims that the district court had a conflict of interest because the district court judge knew respondent on a professional level and that this prejudiced the court’s decision. But the district court judge notified appellant that he knew respondent before the trial. Appellant’s counsel acknowledged that the judge could be impartial and fair. Furthermore, the district court afforded appellant the chance to ask for another judge, and she declined the opportunity. Appellant has waived this argument. See Thiele v. Stich, 425 N.W.2d 580, 582 (Minn. 1988).