This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).







In re:  Elaine Christine Sommer, petitioner,





Paul Ralph Sommer,




Filed July 16, 2002

Reversed and remanded

Halbrooks, Judge



Chisago County District Court

File No. F698687



Robert J. Hajek, Warchol, Berndt & Hajek, P.A., 3433 Broadway Street NE, Suite 110, Minneapolis, MN 55413-1783 (for respondent)


William L. H. Lubov, Farhan Hassan, Lubov & Associates, LLC, 820 North Lilac Drive, Suite 210, Golden Valley, MN 55422 (for appellant)




            Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, 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 order (1) denying his motion to reduce or eliminate his permanent spousal-maintenance obligation; (2) adding a cost-of-living adjustment to his maintenance obligation; and (3) requiring him to secure his maintenance obligation with term life insurance.  Because the district court made insufficient findings relative to appellant’s net income and expenses to enable us to determine whether it considered the relevant statutory factors, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.  


            In April 1999, the 27-year marriage of appellant Paul Ralph Sommer and respondent Elaine Christine Sommer was dissolved by judgment and decree.  At the time of dissolution, the district court found that appellant’s net monthly income (after deduction of his spousal maintenance obligation) was $2,935.45 and his monthly expenses were $3,973.  Respondent was unemployed and alleged that she was disabled and unable to work.  The district court, noting that the Social Security Administration had recently denied respondent’s claim for disability benefits, imputed gross monthly income to respondent of $1,720.  The court found respondent’s monthly living expenses to be $2,987. 

            The district court awarded respondent $1,500 in monthly permanent maintenance and required that appellant secure the maintenance obligation with life insurance.  Within two months of the dissolution, appellant moved for a reduction in his maintenance obligation on the grounds that he had lost his job and was reemployed at a lower income.  Respondent then moved for an increase in spousal maintenance on the basis that she had then been declared totally disabled by the Social Security Administration.  In August 1999, appellant remarried.

In September 1999, the district court declined to modify the maintenance award, concluding that neither party had met its burden of showing that a change in circumstances had rendered the terms of the original maintenance order unreasonable and unfair.  But the court authorized appellant to substitute an $80,000 term life-insurance policy for the life insurance required in the April 1999 decree. 

            In March 2001, Chisago County Human Services informed appellant that, pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 518.641, subd. 1 (Supp. 2001), his support and maintenance obligations were subject to a biennial cost-of-living adjustment (COLA).  Appellant exercised his statutory right to challenge the COLA before a child-support magistrate (CSM), arguing that his own income had not increased sufficiently to enable him to pay the adjusted child support obligation.  Minn. Stat. § 518.641, subd. 2(a) (Supp. 2001).  Appellant also moved for a reduction or termination of his maintenance obligation based on a substantial change in circumstances as governed by Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(a) (Supp. 2001).  The CSM referred both motions to the district court. 

            In support of his motions, appellant submitted an affidavit stating that he was employed as an information technology specialist for the Minnesota State Retirement System, that his monthly net income was $3,081 ($1,581 after deducting maintenance), and that his total monthly expenses, exclusive of his maintenance obligation, were $3,604.67.  Appellant claimed that, due to his worsening financial situation, he had been forced to withdraw funds regularly from his retirement accounts in order to meet his spousal-maintenance obligation.  Appellant further asserted that, despite those withdrawals, he was forced to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in April 2001. 

Respondent submitted an affidavit challenging appellant’s claimed expenses and income calculations, and arguing that when correctly calculated, appellant’s income exceeded his expenses by more than $1,500, the amount of his maintenance obligation.  Respondent argued that she is totally disabled and unable to work, and claimed that her monthly expenses were $2,681.95 and her monthly income, consisting of the maintenance, disability income, and rental income, was $2,590.

Following a hearing, the district court found that appellant’s net monthly income (after deducting maintenance) was $2,600.75 and his monthly expenses were $2,631.33.  The court’s income calculation did not include any deductions for retirement contribution, union dues, or health and dental insurance.  The court found that respondent was unemployable due to disability.  Her monthly income was determined to be $2,590 (including maintenance) and her monthly expenses were $2,681.95.  The court denied all relief requested by appellant, reasoning that appellant had failed to show (1) a substantial change in circumstances in the income or expenses of either party sufficient to make the terms of the existing maintenance order unreasonable or unfair; and (2) that he could not meet his own needs as well as respondent’s maintenance needs.  The district court ordered appellant to furnish proof that he had secured his maintenance obligation by means of a term life-insurance policy.  This appeal follows.


Because the parties’ children are now emancipated, the issues on appeal concern maintenance but not child support.  The district court has broad discretion in determining whether to modify a spousal maintenance award.  Rutten v. Rutten, 347 N.W.2d 47, 50 (Minn. 1984).  “Maintenance awards are not altered on appeal unless the district court abused its wide discretion.”  Hecker v. Hecker, 543 N.W.2d 678, 680 (Minn. App. 1996) (quotation omitted), aff’d, 568 N.W.2d 705 (Minn. 1997).  However,  

[e]ffective appellate review of the exercise of that discretion is possible only when the trial court has issued sufficiently detailed findings of fact to demonstrate its consideration of all [relevant] factors * * * .


Stich v. Stich, 435 N.W.2d 52, 53 (Minn. 1989).  The factors relevant to a maintenance modification are enumerated in Minn. Stat. §§ 518.552 (2000), .64, subd. 2 (Supp. 2001). 

If the district court’s findings are insufficient to determine whether it addressed the relevant factors, the matter should be reversed and remanded for further findings.  Tuthill v. Tuthill, 399 N.W.2d 230, 232 (Minn. App. 1987); see also Wallin v. Wallin, 290 Minn. 261, 267, 187 N.W.2d 627, 631 (1971) (broad discretion granted court in domestic relations cases makes it especially important for court to set forth the basis for its decision with particularity). 

A party seeking modification of spousal maintenance bears the burden of demonstrating that a substantial change in the needs or resources of either party has occurred and, if so, that the change in circumstances has rendered the original maintenance award unreasonable and unfair.  Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(a); Hecker, 543 N.W.2d at 680.  In determining whether appellant has met his burden of showing a substantial change in circumstances, the district court must consider, “in addition to all other relevant factors, the factors for an award of maintenance under section 518.552 that exist at the time of the motion.”  Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(c).   

            Appellant contends that the district court erred in its calculation of his net monthly income by refusing to allow him to make deductions for his monthly pension plan payments, union dues, and health and dental insurance.  We agree.  The district court reasoned that appellant should not be allowed these deductions because they “were not included pursuant to the [April 1999] judgment and decree.”  But the district court’s reasoning lacks statutory support, given the change in appellant’s employment.  While appellant did not have a basis for the deductions at the time of the judgment and decree, he does now.

Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5(b) (Supp. 2001), provides that pension payments, union dues, and health and dental insurance are properly deducted from gross income to determine net income for the purpose of calculating maintenance obligations.  The statute does not require that a net-income calculation submitted pursuant to a motion to modify maintenance include only those deductions taken at the time of the judgment and decree, regardless of whether an individual’s employment situation warrants the new deductions.  The district court erred by denying the deductions on the grounds that appellant did not have the same deductions at the time of the judgment and decree. 

The record indicates several discrepancies between payroll deductions claimed by appellant in his net-income calculation and the deductions actually taken on his paycheck.  The district court did not attempt to resolve these discrepancies in its findings on appellant’s net income.  The district court further deemed it appropriate to reduce appellant’s claimed housing expenses by one-half, finding that appellant had not been forthcoming when he claimed 100% of the housing expenses.  But the district court made no detailed findings as to the division of housing expenses between appellant and his new wife.

In determining whether appellant met his burden of showing a substantial change in circumstances, 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(a), (g).  In considering whether appellant was able to meet his own needs as well as his maintenance obligation, the district court made no findings concerning appellant’s declaration of Chapter 7 bankruptcy or concerning appellant’s testimony that he was repeatedly forced to withdraw funds from his retirement account in order to meet his maintenance obligation. 

We conclude that the district court’s failure to make findings on the retirement-account withdrawals and bankruptcy prevented it from making “sufficiently detailed findings of fact to demonstrate its consideration of all [relevant] factors.”  Stich, 435 N.W.2d at 53.  The district court’s findings concerning appellant’s income and expenses are insufficient to allow meaningful review, and we remand this matter to the district court for findings consistent with the applicable statutes.

Because we are remanding this matter for further findings to determine appellant’s net income and the amount, if any, of his permanent maintenance obligation, we do not reach the propriety of the district court’s order that appellant secure his maintenance obligation with life insurance or the application of a COLA to the obligation.  “The trial court has discretion to consider whether the circumstances justifying an award of maintenance also justify securing it with life insurance.”   Laumann v. Laumann, 400 N.W.2d 355, 360 (Minn. App. 1987), review denied (Minn. Nov. 24, 1987).  Having made the requisite statutory findings relevant to appellant’s net income and any modification of maintenance, if ordered, the district court shall, in its discretion, determine whether appellant must purchase insurance to secure the obligation.  Once the district court makes the appropriate findings concerning appellant’s net income, it shall determine whether a COLA is appropriate pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 518.641 (Supp. 2001). 

            On remand, the district court may reopen the record and conduct further evidentiary hearings at its discretion.

            Reversed and remanded.