This opinion will be unpublished and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:
Linda Joyce O’Donnell, petitioner,
Michael Philip O’Donnell,
Kandiyohi County District Court
File No. F0981388
Jon C. Saunders, Anderson Larson Hanson & Saunders, P.L.L.P., 331 Professional Plaza, 331 S.W. 3rd Street, P.O. Box 130, Willmar, MN 56201 (for appellant)
David C. Moody, Schmidt, Thompson, Johnson & Moody, P.A., 320 1st Street S.W., P.O. Box 913, Willmar, MN 56201 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Harten, Presiding Judge, Peterson, Judge, and Halbrooks, Judge.
Appellant contends that the district court abused its discretion by concluding that there had been no substantial change in circumstances warranting a modification of spousal maintenance and by denying her motion for attorney fees. Because appellant’s medical condition has not improved as expected by the parties’ stipulated dissolution judgment, the substantial-change-in-circumstances prong of the maintenance-modification standard is satisfied, and we remand for the district court to address appellant’s expenses and other aspects of the maintenance-modification question. Because we remand the maintenance issue, we also remand the question of attorney fees. We otherwise affirm the district court.
Appellant Linda Joyce O’Donnell and respondent Michael Phillip O’Donnell married December 26, 1987. Eleven years later, appellant petitioned for dissolution of their marriage. The parties’ 1999 stipulated dissolution judgment provided that respondent would pay appellant $2,000 per month for permanent spousal maintenance and $1,484 per month for child support until their child reached the age of 18, or 20 if she were still attending high school.
The judgment stated that appellant has a medical condition of unconfirmed origin resulting in vertigo syndrome or vestibular disease that causes her to have significant problems with her balance, among other things. As a term of the permanent spousal-maintenance award, the judgment required appellant to use “all reasonable efforts to alleviate and cure her medical condition” and “all reasonable efforts to obtain appropriate employment.” The judgment also stated that appellant could move with the parties’ daughter from Minnesota to the New England area, where appellant’s family lives.
On December 18, 2001, appellant moved for modification of spousal maintenance and attorney fees. Following a hearing, the district court found that respondent’s income was $9,935.28 per month, an increase from $7,100 at the time of the dissolution. The court noted that appellant claimed current monthly expenses of $4,788 and that “[t]his would actually amount to a decrease in [appellant’s] monthly expenses, although her monthly income has decreased substantially more than her expenses have.” The court found that, prior to their daughter’s emancipation, appellant’s monthly income had included $1,484 in child support and $330 from her daughter’s social-security benefits. As a result, appellant’s monthly income decreased by $1,814 when their daughter turned 18.
The court also found that appellant continues to suffer from a medical condition that imposes certain restrictions on her and that her condition was unchanged from the time of the original order. While appellant was not working at the time of the dissolution, the court noted that she was working 32 hours per week at the time of the motion hearing. Based on its determination that every change in circumstances that appellant alleged was either known or anticipated by the parties when they signed the marital termination agreement, the district court concluded that there was no substantial change in circumstances rendering appellant’s existing maintenance award unreasonable or unfair. Therefore, the court denied both the motion for a modification of maintenance and the motion for attorney fees.
This appeal follows.
I. Did the district court abuse its discretion in concluding that there had been no substantial change in circumstances warranting a modification of spousal maintenance?
A party seeking to modify maintenance must show both a substantial change in circumstances and that the changed circumstance renders the existing maintenance award unreasonable and unfair. Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(a) (2002); see Hecker v. Hecker, 568 N.W.2d 705, 709 (Minn. 1997) (addressing modification of maintenance). On appeal from a district court’s decision addressing a modification motion, an appellate court reviews the district court’s decision for an abuse of discretion. Dobrin v. Dobrin, 569 N.W.2d 199, 202 (Minn. 1997). An abuse of discretion occurs when the district court resolves the matter in a manner that is “against logic and the facts on [the] record.” Rutten v. Rutten, 347 N.W.2d 47, 50 (Minn. 1984) (citation omitted).
Where, as here, an existing maintenance award is based on a stipulated judgment, the stipulated nature of that judgment “represents the parties’ voluntary acquiescence in an equitable settlement,” but “it does not operate as a bar to later consideration of whether a change in circumstances warrants a modification.” Hecker, 568 N.W.2d at 709; see Beck v. Kaplan, 566 N.W.2d 723, 726 (Minn. 1997) (requiring district court to “appreciate that the stipulation represents the parties’ voluntary acquiescence in an equitable settlement”). Thus, in the maintenance-modification context, the “relevance” of the original stipulated judgment “is in the identification of the baseline circumstances against which claims of substantial change are evaluated.” Hecker, 568 N.W.2d at 709. The frustration of the parties’ expectations regarding a maintenance recipient’s ability to become self-supporting can satisfy the substantial-change-in-circumstances prong of the modification analysis. Id.; see Kemp v. Kemp, 608 N.W.2d 916, 921 (Minn. App. 2000) (noting unanticipated change in circumstances can be relevant to whether to modify stipulated maintenance award).
Here, the permanent nature of the stipulated maintenance award shows that there was doubt about appellant’s ability to become self-sufficient. See Nardini v. Nardini, 414 N.W.2d 184, 198 (Minn. 1987) (stating uncertainty about maintenance recipient’s ability to become self-sufficient requires maintenance award to be permanent). The stipulated judgment conditions appellant’s permanent maintenance award on, among other things, her use of “all reasonable efforts to alleviate and cure her medical condition.” Thus, the judgment assumed both that appellant’s medical condition could improve (and might even be able to be cured) and that appellant had some control over the degree of improvement in her medical condition. See Starr v. Starr, 312 Minn. 561, 562-63, 251 N.W.2d 341, 342 (1977) (stating that, absent ambiguity, courts are not to construe stipulated judgment).
The record currently before this court, however, shows that appellant’s medical condition has not improved, is incurable, and that, because of its chronic nature, appellant has no ability to improve it. Thus, while it is undisputed that appellant’s medical condition has not changed since the stipulated judgment was entered, the assumptions regarding that medical condition that underlie the stipulated judgment (which assumptions, due to lack of complete information, may have been reasonable when the parties entered their stipulation and when the district court entered the judgment) have proven to be incorrect. Under Hecker, the substantial-change-in-circumstances prong of the modification test is satisfied by the frustration of the parties’ expectations regarding appellant’s ability to recover from or improve her medical condition. See Hecker, 568 N.W.2d at 709-10 (affirming district court’s determination that frustration of parties’ expectations to maintenance recipient’s ability to become self sufficient constituted changed circumstances).
Appellant also alleges that her expenses have increased since the dissolution. The district court noted that the dissolution judgment did not include a finding of appellant’s expenses. The court recited appellant’s claims regarding her expenses at the time of the dissolution and her claims regarding her current expenses, but did not explicitly find appellant’s past or current expenses. See Dean v. Pelton, 437 N.W.2d 762, 764 (Minn. App. 1989) (stating district court’s recitation of parties’ claims “is not making true findings” because findings “must be affirmatively stated as findings of the trial court”). Noting an apparent inconsistency between appellant’s testimony (in which she stated that her expenses had increased since the dissolution), and appellant’s affidavit (in which she stated that her total monthly expenditures have decreased since the dissolution), the district court found that it is “unclear whether [appellant’s] expenses have substantially increased since the dissolution.” Referring to the figures in appellant’s affidavit, the district court also found that “[appellant’s] monthly income has decreased substantially more than her expenses have.” These findings suggest that the district court may have implicitly adopted appellant’s assertions regarding her expenses. Absent findings addressing the point, however, the district court’s views of appellant’s past and current expenses are unknown. For this reason we cannot review whether appellant’s expenses have substantially increased and must remand for additional findings. See Stich v. Stich, 435 N.W.2d 52, 53 (Minn. 1989) (remanding maintenance determination where district court made insufficient findings to allow review).
The second prong of the modification analysis is whether any substantial change in circumstances, alone or in the aggregate, renders the existing maintenance award unreasonable and unfair. Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(a). Here, because of the lack of findings regarding appellant’s expenses, we are unable to review whether the change in appellant’s circumstances renders the existing maintenance award unreasonable and unfair. We note, however, that to receive permanent maintenance, the judgment requires that appellant “use all reasonable efforts to obtain appropriate employment.” Cf. Lyon v. Lyon, 439 N.W.2d 18, 22 (Minn. 1989) (stating maintenance depends on existence of need). Here, the opinions of the medical and vocational experts retained by respondent indicate that, given appellant’s medical condition, it is reasonable for her to work approximately 20 hours per week in a sedentary job. In fact, she is working considerably more hours in a non-sedentary position. The record shows that appellant is working about 32 hours per week so that she can qualify for medical benefits offered by her employer. The district court did not address whether it was reasonable for this appellant to work 32 hours per week.
On remand, the district court shall (a) recognize that the substantial-change-in-circumstances prong of the maintenance analysis has been satisfied by the realization that the medical assumptions underlying the stipulated judgment have proven, over time, to be incorrect; (b) find appellant’s reasonable monthly expenses at the time of the dissolution and at the time of her motion; (c) find the extent to which those expenses reflect expenses attributable to the child and an increased cost of living in Massachusetts; (d) consider whether, after disregarding the expenses attributable to the child and to the increased cost of living in Massachusetts, there has been a substantial increase in appellant’s expenses; (e) address whether individually or in the aggregate any substantial change in appellant’s circumstances render her existing maintenance award unreasonable and unfair, in light of a reasonable work schedule for appellant; and (f) if appropriate, make any adjustment to appellant’s maintenance award that would be equitable.
II. Did the district court abuse its discretion in denying appellant’s motion for attorney fees?
Appellant argues that the district court abused its discretion in denying her motion for attorney fees. The decision to award attorney fees “rests almost entirely within the discretion of the trial court and will not be disturbed absent a clear abuse of discretion.” Crosby v. Crosby, 587 N.W.2d 292, 298 (Minn. App. 1998) (quotation omitted), review denied (Minn. Feb. 18, 1999).
Pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 518.14 (2002), attorney fees “shall” be awarded where the court finds
(1) that the fees are necessary for the good-faith assertion of the party’s rights in the proceeding and will not contribute unnecessarily to the length and expense of the proceeding;
(2) that the party from whom fees, costs, and disbursements are sought has the means to pay them; and
(3) that the party to whom fees, costs and disbursements are awarded does not have the means to pay them.
The district court found that appellant has $20,000 placed in American Trust for payment of attorney fees. Appellant testified that the $20,000 was her nonmarital property following the sale of the parties’ home and that, although the money is currently put aside, it is necessary to pay credit-card bills from purchasing furniture for her new home. Appellant stated that she otherwise lacked the means to pay her attorney fees. Because the $20,000 placed in American Trust is earmarked for other necessary expenses, appellant realistically lacks the funds to pay her attorney fees, while, under current circumstances, respondent possesses the means to pay them.
The resolution of the maintenance issue on remand could alter the parties’ relative financial circumstances. Therefore, we remand the attorney fee issue as well. If, on remand, the district court does not alter appellant’s maintenance award, it shall award appellant need-based attorney fees in an equitable amount. If the district court does modify appellant’s maintenance award, it shall reapply the analysis for a need-based attorney-fee award in light of the modified award and, if appropriate, make an award that is equitable.
We express no opinion on how to resolve the remanded issues and whether to reopen the record shall be within the district court’s discretion.
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.
 The district court also noted that appellant claimed that her reasonable monthly expenses were $5,129 at the time the dissolution judgment was entered. The dissolution judgment did not include a finding of appellant’s monthly expenses.
 Because we conclude that the frustration of the parties’ expectations regarding appellant’s ability to recover from her medical condition satisfies the substantial-change-in-circumstances prong of the modification analysis, we need not address the parties’ disputes regarding whether appellant’s loss of child support or respondent’s increased income constitutes a substantial change in circumstances. We note, however, that both appellant’s loss of child support upon the emancipation of the parties’ child and the increase in respondent’s earnings were anticipated at the time the district court entered the stipulated judgment. Therefore, it is not clear that either event can satisfy the substantial-change-in-circumstances prong of the modification analysis on the ground that these events were unexpected.
 We note that this analysis by the district court assumes that both the past and current expenses recited by appellant are for appellant, herself. Appellant’s testimony, however, suggests that her claimed past expenses may have been for herself and the child while, except for certain food expenses, her claimed current expenses were for herself alone. See Musielewicz v. Musielewicz, 400 N.W.2d 100, 103 (Minn. App. 1987) (stating maintenance recipient’s expenses should not include expenses for emancipated children), review denied (Minn. Mar. 25, 1987). If so, this could reconcile appellant’s testimonial assertion with the figures in her affidavit. Because the record is not clear regarding to whom the past and current expenses claimed by appellant should be attributed, the district court should address the question on remand.
 The judgment explicitly contemplated the possibility that appellant and the child would move to Massachusetts. Therefore, we affirm the district court’s determination that any increase in appellant’s expenses attributable to a higher cost of living in Massachusetts should be disregarded in the modification analysis.