This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In re the Marriage of:
David Louis Grande, petitioner,
Paulette Catherine L'Effleur,
Anoka County District Court
File No. F6-89-10197
Daniel J. Goldberg, Messerli & Kramer, P.A., 1800 Fifth Street Towers, 150 South Fifth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent)
Michael D. Dittberner, Kissoon, Clugg, Linder, & Dittberner, Ltd., 3205 West 76th Street, Edina, MN 55435 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by, Randall, Presiding Judge, Shumaker, Judge, and Wright, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
In this maintenance action, appellant challenges the district court's order awarding her temporary maintenance for one year, rather than permanent maintenance. Appellant argues that the district court abused its discretion by improperly including items in her income. In addition, appellant contends that the district court abused its discretion by including items in respondent's expenses and allowing him to lower the amount of life insurance he maintains. Finally, appellant contends that the district court abused its discretion in failing to award her attorney fees based on a previous order of this court. Because appellant has failed to show the district court abused its discretion on the first two issues, we affirm on those issues. We remand the issue of appellate attorney fees on the first appeal to the district court for determination in accordance with our prior order.
Appellant and respondent were divorced on January 3, 1991, after nearly 20 years of marriage. At the conclusion of the trial, appellant was awarded $2,500 per month in maintenance for five years. During the first six years of the marriage, appellant was a homemaker. After that, she worked in an administrative capacity at Bankers Resource Center, a banking-consulting firm developed by appellant and respondent. Appellant then went to the University of Minnesota to train for a career in journalism. She graduated with a degree in journalism and had an internship with ABC as part of her studies. After graduation, appellant established a freelance writing and photography business. She actively sought employment as a journalist during 1989, but was never hired. Based on her education, the district court concluded, in its third amended findings in 1992, that appellant should be able to be self-supporting within five years.
Next, appellant established a career as a legal secretary, working in a few legal-secretary positions over the course of the next six years. In 1997, the district court extended temporary maintenance for four additional years at $950 per month. Currently, appellant is working in the insurance/financial-planning industry. She has studied for and passed the Florida State Insurance Examination, and obtained health insurance, life insurance, and annuity-insurance licenses. Additionally, she enrolled in a college in Naples, Florida, to become a certified financial planner. In 2000, appellant had gross receipts from insurance business of $1,622.86 per month. Appellant raises, in a footnote, the assertion that this number should be $1,475.32 because it is based only on 11 months of work, instead of 10. No error is later assigned to this calculation in her argument regarding "objectionable items" in her income. These "objectionable" items include rent she received from a boarder who lived in her home and a variety of in-kind and cash gifts from her boyfriend. These gifts included meals "on most nights," money to pay property taxes and other expenses, vacations, and, in appellant's own words, money "whenever I needed it."
In 2000, appellant moved to increase maintenance to $2,000 per month. She also requested that the court make this maintenance permanent and include a cost-of-living adjustment clause. Appellant also sought attorney fees. Respondent asked the court to deny this motion or extend his maintenance obligations, at most, one more year to allow appellant time to grow her insurance/financial-services business. He also requested that he be allowed to lower the face amount of life insurance he had to maintain from $50,000 to $10,000.
In its February 14, 2001, findings of fact and order, the district court found "there is no uncertainty that an award of permanent spousal maintenance is not justified in the present circumstances." The court also found that appellant's present income was not sufficient to meet her needs and that an additional year of maintenance was needed. Finally, the district court found that it was unnecessary for respondent to maintain $50,000 in life insurance; instead, $10,000 was deemed appropriate. This order was appealed and we remanded for additional findings. On July 12, 2001, the district court issued its amended findings and order. The court increased appellant's temporary maintenance and extended its duration for the year. From this order, appellant appeals.
Appellant's first argument is that the district court abused its discretion by failing to award her permanent maintenance. Appellant asserts that the district court's finding that she could become self-sufficient within one year through her insurance-sales career was "against logic and the facts on record."
We will not reverse a district court's determination of a spousal-maintenance award absent an abuse of discretion. Erlandson v. Erlandson, 318 N.W.2d 36, 38 (Minn. 1982). To rule that the district court abused its discretion, we must conclude that the court must have resolved the question in a manner "that is against logic and the facts on record * * * ." Rutten v. Rutten, 347 N.W.2d 47, 50 (Minn. 1984) (citation omitted). Evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the district court's findings, and this court defers to the district court's credibility determinations. Vangsness v. Vangsness, 607 N.W.2d 468, 472 (Minn. App. 2000). Because the district court, as the fact-finder, is charged with reconciling conflicting evidence, the fact "[t]hat the record might support findings other than those made by the trial court does not show that the court’s findings are defective." Id. at 474 (citations omitted).
Having reviewed the record, we cannot conclude that the district court abused its discretion by awarding temporary, rather than permanent, maintenance. This case could have come out a couple of ways. Appellant sought permanent maintenance. As a fallback position, appellant would like to extend temporary maintenance as far out as possible, thus approximating permanent maintenance. Her claimed failure to become rehabilitated could, perhaps, support this. However, the district court chose to extend temporary maintenance for just one year. This was done to give appellant the chance to establish herself in her new field of insurance sales and possibly expand into the sale of securities and become a certified financial planner. The record supports this.
Appellant has entered a new field and has, within one year, attained nearly the same income as she had in the legal-assistant field that she worked in for years. In addition, she has taken, and passed, a variety of certification tests for her current field of study and plans additional certification in the near future. It is clear that additional experience in her new field will increase her earning capacity. The court awarded temporary maintenance for one more year of $1,100 per month. This amount supports the district court's decision to allow respondent to lower his life-insurance coverage was proper. The new required amount of $10,000 sufficiently secures one year of maintenance totaling $13,200.
In conclusion, these were acceptable discretionary decisions by the district court.
Appellant's next argument is that the district court improperly included items in her income that served to reduce her claimed need for maintenance. Because this was a factual finding, we will uphold it unless appellant can show it is clearly erroneous. Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01. A finding is clearly erroneous if the reviewing court is left "with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made." Gjovik v. Strope, 401 N.W.2d 664, 667 (Minn. 1987).
Caselaw shows examples of appellate decisions affirming a district court's failure to include gifts or other contributions in a party's income, and caselaw has upheld such inclusions. Bissell v. Bissell, 291 Minn. 348, 191 N.W.2d 425 (1971). In Bissell, the court said:
It is obvious with respect to alimony the court may take into consideration a variety of factors. It is for this reason that this court is reluctant to reverse the trial court's determination on this issue unless the evidence clearly shows that there has been an abuse of discretion.
* * * *
No abuse of discretion has been shown here. There is no evidence whatsoever in the record indicating any change in the husband's ability to support the wife. But on the other hand, with respect to plaintiff's need for his support, there is testimony, previously alluded to, that [a male suitor] gave her gifts totaling more than $11,000 over a period of two years, which is close to the amount of money that defendant paid in alimony over the same period.
Bissell, 291 Minn. 348, 351-52, 191 N.W. 2d 425, 427. The present case is similar. Appellant sought to increase her maintenance award. In defense, respondent argued that her present income, including the regular gifts she was receiving, reduced her need for maintenance. The Bissel court's reasoning suggests inclusion of these gifts was within the district court's discretion.
Here, the district court felt that including the gifts was proper because of the significant amount and frequency of the gifts in question. For instance, appellant testified that her boyfriend paid for meals in the evenings "most nights." When asked how much money he paid for her monthly bills, appellant first stated that she did not recall how much he had paid. Upon further questioning, she stated that it was more than two thousand, but less than three thousand. Her checking-account statements indicate that this number may be higher. In addition, her friend paid for an 11-day European vacation and also trips from their home state of Florida to Minnesota. Her friend paid approximately $900 for appellant's real-estate taxes. When asked how frequently she received money from her boyfriend, appellant responded, "Whenever I need it."
The facts show a significant stream of cash and non-cash contributions to appellant from her friend. Neither side has attempted to approximate the dollar value of the dinners paid for on "most nights"; the district court considered this as an approximate cash contribution. The district court valued the total of all discretionary income at $575 per month, or $6,900 per year. We note the listed vacations alone could have easily reached this amount, as could meals out "most nights," even at moderately priced restaurants. In addition, there was approximately $4,000 in cash given to appellant to pay bills. Seen in this light, it is difficult to conclude that the district court erred by including certain amounts in appellant's income.
It is important to note that when the temporary-maintenance period expires, appellant can seek additional maintenance. In fact, at oral argument, appellant's attorney stated appellant has done so, and a motion is pending in the district court to revisit maintenance because the one-year term has now expired. Appellant's attorney volunteered that appellant has since lost her job and is currently unemployed. These facts do not influence this decision, which is an examination of a several-month-old district court record; these new facts are properly addressed by the district court in its determination of appellant's current motion.
Appellant argues that the court improperly included items in respondent's expenses, primarily a loan to his present wife to pay his share of mortgage payments for their home from years past. The district court weighed the evidence and found no reason to strike this from respondent's expenses. This was a credibility determination. Appellant implies that this loan is fraudulent and meant to avoid his maintenance obligations. The district court disagreed, and we defer to that credibility determination.
Appellant's final argument is that the district court abused its discretion by failing to award her attorney fees both on her prior appeal to this court and in the district court proceedings. In an order released concurrently with the last opinion, we granted attorney fees on that appeal and remanded to the district court for a determination of those fees. We again remand this issue to the district court for its determination of reasonable fees on that appeal.
As to the present proceedings, the district court found both parties were able to pay their own attorney fees. Appellant contends that she is not able to do so. The district court found that, in fact, she had paid her attorney. We find no abuse of discretion by the district court in failing to award appellant for the present portion of this dispute. The parties shall bear their own costs for this appeal.
Affirmed in part and remanded.
 Grande v. L’Effleur, No. C5-01-655 (Minn. App. Feb. 7, 2002) (order).