This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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






In re:


Ernest R. Coursolle, Jr., petitioner,





Kindra Coursolle,



Filed ­­­November 12, 2002

Affirmed in part and reversed in part

Harten, Judge

Concurring in part, dissenting in part, Klaphake, Judge


Scott County District Court

File No. 2000-23480


Mark J. Schneider, Rondoni, MacMillan  & Schneider, Ltd., Suite 175, 505 North Highway 169, Minneapolis, MN 55441-6406 (for appellant)


Dennis Felix, Felix Law Office, P.A., Suite 120, 12400 Portland Avenue South, Burnsville, MN 55337 (for respondent)


            Considered and decided by Kalitowski, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Harten, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N




In this post-dissolution appeal, appellant husband challenges the district court’s award to respondent wife of the value of a set of rings.  Respondent wife notices review of the denial of spousal maintenance, property distribution, and the cost of tattoo removal.  Because we see no abuse of discretion in the district court’s decisions regarding spousal maintenance, property distribution, and the removal of tattoos, we affirm them; but because the district court abused its discretion in awarding respondent the value of the rings, we reverse that award.



            Appellant Ernest Coursolle, a member of the Mdewakanton Sioux tribe, has an annual income of about $1,000,000.  He has been incarcerated for several years, first in Minnesota and now in Connecticut.  He is scheduled to be released in 2004.  Respondent Kindra Coursolle met him while he was in prison in Minnesota.  She was then working as a bookkeeper and earning about $1,600 monthly.

Respondent quit her job in December 1998, and appellant began to support her.  The parties became engaged but were denied permission to marry by the Minnesota prison authorities.  After appellant was transferred to a prison in Connecticut, he paid for respondent to travel to Connecticut to visit him.  In August 1999, the Connecticut prison authorities permitted them to marry.

 For the wedding ceremony, respondent was provided with a ring belonging to appellant to wear; she was told that the ring was not hers and that it would be replaced with a set of rings later.  After respondent returned to Minnesota, she was provided with another ring of the same value and again told it was not hers.  In April 2000, she returned both rings, together worth $45,800, to appellant’s family.

            Before and during the marriage, appellant asked respondent to supply him with nude photographs of herself and to have tattoos on various parts of her body.  She initially complied with these requests.  When she refused, 14 months after the marriage, appellant stopped supporting her and brought this action for marriage dissolution.

            Following trial, the district court denied respondent’s requests for spousal maintenance, a share of appellant’s property, and expenses for the removal of tattoos, but granted her the value of the two rings.  Respondent challenges the first three determinations, and appellant challenges the last.



1.         Spousal Maintenance


            Determination of spousal maintenance is within the district court’s broad discretion.  Stich v. Stich, 435 N.W.2d 52, 53 (Minn. 1989).  “Findings of fact concerning spousal maintenance must be upheld unless they are clearly erroneous.”  Gessner v. Gessner, 487 N.W.2d 921, 923 (Minn. App. 1992) (citation omitted).

            Specifically, the district court found:

            Although [respondent] is presently unemployed, and has been since December 1998, based on her prior job history she has the ability to earn a gross monthly income of $1,600.  Prior to meeting and marrying [appellant], respondent was self-supporting.


* * *


Respondent was awarded temporary spousal maintenance in the amount of $3,835 per month beginning with the month of April 2001.  Although she has received $38,350, by her own testimony her monthly living expenses during this time were $12,000.


* * *


During the marriage [appellant] has been incarcerated in prison.  The parties have spent less than 100 hours in each other’s company, have never had sexual relations and have never established a home together.


* * *


[Appellant] provided * * * [respondent] and her children with a place to live, approximately $2,000 per month for expenses, and occasional gifts.  While [respondent’s] standard of living was increased, it was not a substantial increase over her prior standard of living.


* * *


Although [respondent] has been absent from the workforce during the marriage, there is no evidence that her education, skills or experience have become outmoded, her earning capacity has been diminished, or she has forgone employment opportunities.


* * *


[Respondent] is in good physical health and of an age [33] where she can reasonably be expected to be self-sufficient.


In its memorandum, the district court noted that

this was a marriage in ceremony only and does not entitle * * * [respondent] to spousal maintenance * * *.


The court may well [have] reach[ed] a different conclusion if [respondent] had established she was in some way worse off as a result of the marriage.  But that is not the case.  The opportunity for her self-sufficiency is the same today as it was August 18, 1999.  Moreover, based on her claimed expenses for the past 10 months she should have substantial funds on hand to obtain further education should she so desire.


Respondent did not contribute in any way to the marital income.


Respondent challenges these findings, but she does not explain why her opportunity for self-sufficiency is less today than it was when she married respondent.  She contends that she is unable to earn an amount sufficient for herself and her three children to maintain the same standard of living she had during the marriage.  But as the district court found,

[respondent] has three minor children from a previous marriage, all of which [sic] reside with [respondent].  [Appellant] has no obligation to support these children.


Respondent offers no legal basis for her view that appellant should contribute to the support of children who are not his. 

The standard of living established during the marriage is only one of the statutory factors to consider in an award of spousal maintenance.  See Minn. Stat. § 518.552, subd. 2 (2000) (relevant factors include ability of the party seeking maintenance to meet needs independently, probability of that party finding appropriate employment, standard of living established during the marriage, duration of the marriage and length of absence from the workforce, the party’s loss of earnings and benefits, the party’s age and physical condition, the ability of the obligor to meet the party’s needs, and the contribution of each party to the acquisition of marital property).  The district court’s findings demonstrate that it considered all the relevant factors.[1]

            Respondent also argues that appellant’s income is far greater than hers.  Spousal maintenance, however, is based on the obligee’s need or entitlement, not the obligor’s income.  The fact that appellant can afford to pay maintenance is irrelevant if respondent is able to meet her own needs.  See Lyon v. Lyon, 439 N.W.2d 18, 19 (Minn. 1989) (“The award of spousal maintenance should not have been granted because there was no showing of need for the maintenance.”). The district court did not abuse its discretion in denying spousal maintenance.

2.         Property Division

            This court will affirm a district court’s property division if it had “an acceptable basis in fact and principle.”  Servin v. Servin, 345 N.W.2d 754, 758 (Minn. 1984) (citations omitted).  The district court stated that “this was a marriage in ceremony only and does not entitle * * * [respondent to] a share of [appellant’s] property.” 

            Minn. Stat. § 518.58, subd. 1 (2000), provides that a district court

shall base its findings [relating to property division] on all relevant factors including the length of the marriage, any prior marriage of a party, the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities, needs, opportunity for future acquisition of capital assets, and income of each party.  The court shall also consider the contribution of each in the acquisition, preservation, depreciation or appreciation in the amount or value of the marital property, as well as the contribution of a spouse as a homemaker.  It shall be conclusively presumed that each spouse made a substantial contribution to the acquisition of income and property while they were living together as husband and wife. 


(Emphasis added.)  Here, the parties never lived together as husband and wife, and, as the district court found, respondent quit her job and contributed only to the depreciation of the marital estate.  She was never a homemaker for appellant. There was no commingling of assets; respondent simply spent appellant’s assets. 

            When one party seeking an award of marital property has contributed nothing to the other party’s assets, and those assets are of a speculative nature, there is support for a decision to make no property award.  See Kucera v. Kucera, 275 Minn. 252, 256, 146 N.W.2d 181, 184 (1966) (affirming a district court’s decision to make no property award when the parties had lived together for less than one year).  Here, respondent contributed nothing to appellant’s assets, and appellant’s continued accumulation of assets is speculative in that his income is at the discretion of the Mdewakanton Sioux tribe.  Neither party has suggested that appellant would be able to earn a comparable income, or any income, if he were at liberty to work.  We conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding respondent none of appellant’s property.

            a.         Tattoo Removal[2]

            The cost of removing the tattoos respondent acquired at appellant’s request is between $12,000 and $24,000, and respondent argues that appellant should be liable for this cost.  The district court found that:

[Respondent] argues that she suffered extreme embarrassment and humiliation during the marriage due to [appellant’s] demands that she * * * have tattoos placed on her body.  This, she asserts, has caused emotional distress for which she must seek counseling and medication, and * * * it prevents her from even thinking about work.  Even if this is true, it is the result of her voluntary actions in submitting to the * * * tattoo[s].


In its memorandum, the court noted that there was “no plausible reason” why appellant would have submitted to the tattoos involuntarily.  Respondent argues that these findings are an abuse of discretion.

             Respondent advances “unequal bargaining power,” a contract law theory, to argue that she had no choice in having the tattoos because appellant threatened to stop supporting her if she refused to have them.  But appellant’s financial advantage in bargaining power was equalized by the fact that appellant was incarcerated while respondent was a free adult, capable of supporting herself.[3] 

            We conclude that there was no abuse of discretion in denying respondent the cost of removing the tattoos.

            b.         Award of the Cost of the Rings

             The district court found that

[respondent’s] wedding and engagement rings were returned following the marriage on the promise by [appellant] that they would be replaced.  The value of the two rings is $45,800.


Based on this finding, the district court ordered that “[appellant] shall pay [respondent] the sum of $45,800 for the wedding and engagement rings he promised to have made for her.” In its memorandum, the district court referred to this amount as “the value of that expected gift.”

            We find no precedent for awarding one party the value of a gift the party had not received, but expected to receive, from the other party in a marriage dissolution.  

The legal elements of a gift are (1) delivery, (2) intention to make a gift on the part of the donor, and (3) absolute disposition by him of the thing which he intends to give to another.


In re Estate of Lobe, 348 N.W.2d 413, 414 (Minn. App. 1984) (quotation omitted).  Appellant testified:

I told her I had a ring she could wear until I was able to obtain one for her. * * * She was all right with the understanding this was to be worn during the marriage and then returned to my family while I obtained her one. * * * She really had no problem with it. * * * She wanted to know why.  I explained that’s not your ring * * * I told her I would design [a ring]. * * * She was pleased with that.


Respondent’s testimony corroborates appellant’s.

            Q.        Now what did [appellant] say to you about the wedding ring and engagement ring?


A.        Basically [our] understanding was that he would design--we would design together a brand new set.


            * * * *


            Q.        But he told you that he intended to replace those rings with different ones?


            A.        Right.


             * * * *


            Q.        Now, this ring—you gave the ring back to [appellant’s] mother, is that true?


            A.        I gave the set back to [appellant’s] mother.


            Q.        And you gave it back because that was the original intent because

                        those [rings] were not to be yours, is that correct?


            A.        The original intent was that [appellant] and I were going to design new ones, yes.


Thus, testimony from both parties indicates that appellant never intended to give respondent the rings or to dispose of them absolutely.  Respondent never acquired the rings, or their value, as a gift.

            The district court referred to respondent’s “expected gift.”  But respondent would not have expected to receive engagement and wedding rings without being married, and her marriage was dissolved before the rings were received.  Respondent could have had no reasonable expectation of receiving rings as part of a marriage dissolution.

Nor does the record support her claims to have acquired them by contract or by promissory estoppel.  The basic elements of a contract are offer, acceptance, and consideration.  S O Designs USA, Inc. v. Rollerblade, Inc., 620 N.W.2d 48, 53 (Minn. App. 2000), review denied (Minn. 21 Feb. 2001).  Respondent testified that she married appellant with the expectation that “we would build a life together,” not as consideration of receiving two rings.

Promissory estoppel requires proof that a definite promise was made; the promisor intended to induce reliance, and the promisee relied, to his or her detriment; and the promise must be enforced to prevent injustice.  Martens v. Minn. Mining & Mfg. Co., 616 N.W.2d 732, 746 (Minn. 2000).  When the facts are not in dispute, whether they rise to the level of promissory estoppel presents a question of law.  Id.  It is undisputed that appellant promised respondent that eventually a set of rings would be designed and made for her.  But there is no proof that appellant intended to induce respondent to rely on that promise, that respondent did in fact rely on it, or that respondent suffered any detriment from the fact that she did not receive the rings.  Justice does not demand that appellant’s promise of rings be enforced.  We conclude that there is no legal basis for awarding the value of the rings to respondent.

            We affirm the district court’s decisions on spousal maintenance, property division, and tattoo removal expenses, and we reverse the $45,800 award for the value of the rings.

            Affirmed in part, reversed in part.


KLAPHAKE, Judge (concurring in part, dissenting in part)

            I respectfully dissent.  Although I agree with the majority’s decision on the issues raised in respondent’s notice of review, I disagree with the majority’s reversal of the district court’s award to respondent of the value of the engagement and wedding rings.  As the majority correctly notes, the legal elements of a gift are delivery, intent to make a gift, and absolute disposition.  In re Estate of Lobe, 348 N.W.2d 413, 414 (Minn. App. 1984).  An engagement ring is a conditional gift; once a donee performs and fulfills the condition, he or she is entitled to retain that gift.  See Benassi v. Back & Neck Pain Clinic, Inc., 629 N.W.2d 475, 484-86 (Minn. App. 2001), review denied (Minn. Sept. 11, 2001).  In Benassi, the marriage did not occur and thus the donor was entitled to recover the engagement ring or its value equivalent.  Id. at 486. 

            Here, respondent was given an engagement ring and a wedding ring and the parties married; respondent thus fulfilled the implied condition of marriage.  At appellant’s request, respondent returned the rings to his family, solely so that the rings could be replaced by ones designed by appellant.  “Once a valid gift is established, the subsequent return of the property to the donor for a purpose not inconsistent with continued ownership by the donee does not reinvest the donor with the title.”  Werner v. Miller, 248 Minn. 75, 78, 78 N.W.2d 63, 65 (1956) (citations omitted).  Respondent’s return of the rings, made at appellant’s request for the specific purpose of replacing them, is not inconsistent with appellant’s continued ownership of an engagement and wedding ring set.  I would therefore affirm the district court’s award of the value of the rings to respondent.

            I further believe that the district court’s decision was within its discretion to make a “just and equitable division of the marital property of the parties.”  Minn. Stat. § 518.58, subd. 1 (2000).  During the short term of this marriage, appellant’s gross annual income totaled one million dollars.  According to the district court’s findings, appellant “expended $839,760.97 of marital income during the marriage” on gifts, assets, pay-down of debt and mortgages, and purchases of real property and miscellaneous personal property, including cars.  Appellant was awarded the vast majority of this property.  Where one spouse has an annual income of one million dollars, it is not an abuse of discretion to award the other spouse the sum of $45,800, whether that amount represents the value of a gift promised to her or whether it represents an equitable division of marital property.

            I would therefore affirm the district court’s award of $45,800 to respondent.



[1] We note that the statutory “standard of living established during the marriage” presupposes that both parties had the same standard of living. Here, appellant was incarcerated; his standard of living was far lower than respondent’s, and his income was used to provide her standard of living. 

[2] Respondent’s counsel regards this as an item separate from the property settlement. 

[3]At oral argument, respondent’s attorney compared her situation to that of an abused spouse.  But these parties never met outside a prison setting; there was no possibility of appellant using physical force against respondent.