This opinion will be unpublished and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:
Judith Lee Fletcher, petitioner,
Robert Barclay Fletcher,
Filed April 23, 2002
Ramsey County District Court
File No. F7-99-003213
Daniel W. Fram, Peterson, Fram & Bergman, 50 East Fifth Street, Suite 300, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent)
Gregory P. Seamon, 7650 Currell Boulevard, Suite 300, Parkwood Place, Woodbury, MN 55125 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Randall, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Huspeni, Judge.*
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
R.A. RANDALL, Judge
Appellant-husband challenges respondent-wife's permanent spousal maintenance award, alleging (a) the district court overestimated the parties' marital standard of living, (b) the district court's finding of wife's reasonable monthly expenses and her health are not supported by the record, (c) the court improperly placed the burden of proof on husband to show wife did not need maintenance, and (d) wife is able to meet her reasonable expenses. We affirm.
In April 2001, appellant Robert Fletcher petitioned the district court to dissolve his 40-year marriage to respondent Judith Fletcher. The parties had a long-term, traditional marriage. Appellant worked outside the home while respondent was a homemaker who stayed home and raised the parties' two children. Appellant handled the parties' finances throughout the marriage. Due to strict budgeting and wise investment, the parties' assets at the time of dissolution were valued at $1,392,584. Per the parties' stipulation, respondent was awarded $692,292 in assets, which included the parties' home and a 1999 Toyota Camry. In addition to the remaining marital assets, appellant was awarded non-marital assets he inherited following his mother's death. The court also awarded respondent $2,500 per month for permanent spousal maintenance. The court found that respondent lacks sufficient resources to meet her reasonable monthly expenses; respondent is unlikely to find gainful employment because of her age (61 at the time of dissolution), lack of education, and lack of work experience; and appellant has the ability to pay maintenance while meeting his own needs. Appellant now challenges the district court's decision to award respondent spousal maintenance.
D E C I S I O N
An appellate court reviews the district court's spousal maintenance award under an abuse of discretion standard. Dobrin v. Dobrin, 569 N.W.2d 199, 202 (MInn. 1997). For an appellate court to conclude that the district court abused its discretion, the district court's factual findings must be "against logic and the facts on record." Rutten v. Rutten, 347 N.W.2d 47, 50 (Minn. 1984) (citation omitted).
The district court may award spousal maintenance to a party if it finds that the party 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 * * * , 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.
Minn. Stat. § 518.552, subd. 1 (a) (b) (2000).
When determining the amount and duration of spousal maintenance, the district court must consider all relevant factors, including those listed in Minn. Stat. § 518.552, subd. 2 (2000). Among the statutory considerations are the financial needs of the party seeking maintenance, the ability of the party from whom maintenance is sought to meet his or her own needs while meeting those of the party seeking maintenance, and the standard of living established during the marriage. Id. The overarching principle for determining whether spousal maintenance is appropriate is the balancing of one party's ability to pay against the other party's needs. Erlandson v. Erlandson, 318 N.W.2d 36, 39 (Minn. 1982).
At trial, respondent argued that her reasonable monthly expenses are approximately $5,300. The district court found that her reasonable monthly expenses are $4,700. The court found that respondent's gross monthly income is $3,726, which will increase to $4,430 at age 65. The court did not make a specific finding regarding respondent's net monthly income, but one can infer from the record that the figure is around $2,300 because the court found that respondent's total available monthly income is $4,800, which includes $2,500 for spousal maintenance ($4,800 - $2,500 = $2,300).
Appellant submitted documents to the district court that demonstrated his reasonable monthly expenses are $2,288. The district court did not make a specific finding on appellant's reasonable monthly expenses. Instead, the court found that appellant's net monthly income is $5,700 and, after paying $2,500 per month in spousal maintenance, appellant will have "more than enough to meet his reasonable monthly needs." Accordingly, one can infer that the district court found appellant's reasonable monthly expenses to be lower than $3,200 ($5,700 - $2,500 = $3,200).
Appellant does not challenge his ability to pay $2,500 for spousal maintenance while meeting his own monthly needs. Instead, appellant's main contention is that respondent inflated her monthly expenses and that the court's award was not based on the parties' actual marital standard of living.
I. Standard of Living
The marital standard of living is part of the spousal-maintenance analysis and is referenced in the maintenance statute as a required consideration. See Minn. Stat. § 518.552, subds. 1(a), 1(b), 2(c). The marital standard of living encompasses one's basic survival needs as well as lifestyle needs.
The district court found that the parties' enjoyed a "moderate standard of living." As appellant points out, the parties spent approximately $74,000 per year while married, which averages out to approximately $6,100 per month. According to appellant's expense reports, these monthly expenses included approximately $1,900 per month for investments. There is no indication that the parties were spending beyond their means, especially in light of appellant's admitted control over the parties' finances and his aggressive and systematic investments during the marriage. As respondent points out, the parties adjusted gross income increased from approximately $81,000 in 1995 to approximately $180,000 in 1999, when investment returns are included. Although appellant takes issue with the district court's discussion of appellant's control of the finances and his restriction of the parties' expenditures, the court merely was pointing out that the parties had the means to reallocate funds to other areas rather than using a large portion of their income to invest each month. Contrary to appellant's assertion, the district court was not punishing appellant for his frugality. Instead, the court was pointing out that the parties had enough income each month to spend it in any number of ways.
Appellant seems to argue that respondent should spend her income in the same manner as he did while the parties were married. There is no support for this contention. Instead, respondent is free to spend her money, including spousal maintenance, in the manner she sees fit as long as the district court finds that respondent's monthly expenses are reasonable. Respondent needs spousal maintenance to meet her reasonable monthly needs. Appellant has the ability to pay reasonable maintenance.
Appellant challenges a number of respondent's monthly expenses. Appellant, however, failed to consider that, unlike their monthly expenses while married, respondent's projected expenses do not include allocations for investments or cash and credit card transactions. While the parties were married, these combined expenses were approximately $2,700 per month. As discussed above, respondent chose to reallocate those expenditures to other areas post-marriage.
First, appellant claims that respondent exaggerated some of her monthly expenses. For instance, appellant argues that respondent's projected expenses of $100 per month for telephone service, $80 per month for lawn care and snow removal, and $175 per month for clothing are unreasonable because, during their marriage, the parties typically spent $52 per month for telephone service, spent less than $10 per month for lawn care and snow removal, and together spent only $125 per month for clothing. Appellant also takes issue with a number of respondent's expenses that the parties' never incurred while married, such as $18 per month for a cellular telephone, $178 per month for a cleaning service, $200 per month for mental therapy, and $500 per month for travel expenses. Finally, appellant asserts that respondent's reasonable monthly expenses should not include allocations for speculative expenses such as $500 per month for home maintenance and $300 per month for a future car payment once respondent decides to replace her current vehicle.
While we understand appellant's arguments, we are mindful that they are based on household expenses while the parties were living together as a single unit. Respondent testified that she now has a bad back that impedes her from performing physical labor, including cleaning the house, maintaining the lawn, and shoveling snow. Appellant helped with those chores while they were living together. Respondent testified that she became depressed and experienced increased stress because of the parties' separation. As a result, she lost a significant amount of weight, which required her to replace her wardrobe and seek help from a therapist to work through her mental health issues. Respondent testified that she acquired a cell phone and installed a security system because she is more concerned about her safety now that she is living alone. Both parties agreed that their home was burglarized in recent years and that the burglary occurred while respondent was in the home.
Regarding house maintenance, no home is maintenance free, and respondent testified in detail that the house needed major repairs, including a new roof, new carpets, repair work on the porch, and updating the electrical system so that it meets code requirements. Appellant conceded to a certain extent that the house is in need of repair. It is not unreasonable for a single woman to budget for home maintenance and security; matters of less concern when she was living with a spouse.
Appellant asserts that respondent's testimony alone was not enough to demonstrate her reasonable monthly expenses; instead, appellant contends that respondent had to provide documentary evidence. We disagree. The maintenance statute does not require documentary evidence, and the district court informed appellant that it does not require a party to submit receipts (they can be helpful but are not required) for every expense. Respondent testified at trial regarding her reasonable monthly expenses. It was within the district court's province to evaluate her credibility. See Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01 (stating deference must be given to district court's opportunity to judge credibility of witnesses).
The district court specifically found that respondent is "suffering from reoccurring back problems." The court also found that respondent "has been receiving psychological therapy to address the emotional issues arising from the parties' marital relationship as well as other issues." Appellant testified that during the parties' marriage he helped with housework, especially vacuuming, maintaining the lawn, and shoveling snow. Respondent is 61 years old, and, considering her health problems, it is not unreasonable for her to hire outside help to assist her in performing house maintenance tasks that require physical labor now that appellant is no longer living in the home. It is not unreasonable for her to seek help for dealing with the divorce, to replace a wardrobe after she lost a significant amount of weight, and to take steps to protect her security, such as buying a cell phone and installing a home security system. Based on the parties' testimony and the court's specific findings, we conclude that the court's findings relating to respondent's expenses are supported by the record.
We understand appellant's objections to respondent's projected expenses of $500 per month for travel and $300 per month for a vehicle replacement. Respondent testified that she is traveling more because she needs the support of friends and family to help her survive the parties' divorce. She also testified that her mother is ill so she is traveling to see her more often. Appellant points out that respondent has the equivalent of a new car. Respondent currently drives a 1999 Toyota Camry with a limited number of miles on it. She testified, however, that she would like to replace her vehicle in the next couple of years because she wants to ensure, now that she is living on her own, that she has reliable transportation that is still under warranty. Appellant has not shown that the district court clearly erred in finding that respondent's testimony is credible.
We note that the home repairs and travel expenses, along with some of the expenses discussed above, are temporary and once respondent's circumstances change, appellant can move the district court to modify the maintenance award. See Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2 (2000) (stating party may move to modify maintenance upon a showing that a party's earnings have substantially increased or decreased or a party's needs have substantially increased or decreased). For instance, once respondent completes the home repairs, it may be that she will no longer need $500 per month for home maintenance. Once respondent is able to replace her old wardrobe, she may no longer need $175 per month for clothing. Appellant, himself, proposed at least $100 per month for respondent's clothing. If her mother's health improves, respondent's travel expenses may decrease. Given the facts of this case, we cannot conclude that the court's findings on expenses were against logic and the facts of record.
Next, appellant argues that the district court impermissibly shifted the burden to appellant to demonstrate that respondent's monthly needs were unreasonable. Specifically, appellant takes issue with the following comment made by the court to appellant:
[F]or instance, bringing a copy of the mortgage payment, it's not necessary, but if that's what you're asking is if she brought all her receipts in, I can tell you right now I don't require receipts from a person's haircuts or their mortgage or their utility bills. If you can show me now * * * that some of [respondent's expenses are] not correct, I will be glad to hear that.
We conclude that court simply was telling appellant that respondent had demonstrated her reasonable monthly needs to the court's satisfaction. The maintenance statute requires the court to find that the party seeking maintenance lacks sufficient property or income to be self-supporting. Minn. Stat. § 518.552, subd. 1. A party seeking maintenance is required to demonstrate need. The obligor is allowed to present evidence to refute the issue of need. Both parties can present oral and/or documentary evidence. The district court assesses the credibility and weight of both, which was done here.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art VI, § 10.