may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
re the Marriage of:
Kory Allen Young, petitioner,
Julie Ann Young,
Beltrami County District Court
File No. F7981310
Thomas L. D’Albani, Cann, Haskell, D’Albani & Schueppert, P.A., 205 Seventh Street Northwest, Bemidji, MN 56601 (for appellant)
Carl C. Drahos, Drahos Young & Kieson, P.A., 1005 Paul Bunyan Drive Northwest, Bemidji, MN 56601 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge, Peterson, Judge, and Halbrooks, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
In this appeal from an order denying his motion to terminate his spousal-maintenance obligation, appellant-husband Kory Allen Young argues that Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 3 (2002), requires that his maintenance obligation be terminated upon respondent-wife Julie Ann Young’s remarriage. We affirm.
The parties’ marriage was dissolved in April 2000 pursuant to a negotiated marital-termination agreement. The judgment provides:
[Husband] shall pay to [wife] as and for spousal maintenance the sum of One Hundred Thousand Dollars ($100,000) payable in four installments of Twenty-five Thousand Dollars ($25,000) on or before December 31 of each year, commencing in the year 2000, and ending with the fourth payment on or before December 31 in the year 2003.
Payment of the deferred maintenance payments above shall be secured by a lien in favor of [wife] against the [husband’s] interest in the Max Venture Partnership.
The Court is hereby divested of jurisdiction to award [wife] any further or additional maintenance immediately upon entry of the Judgment and Decree herein. The Court shall retain jurisdiction to enforce [husband’s] obligation to pay maintenance to [wife] in accordance herewith.
The judgment also provides:
As and for an additional property settlement, and not as spousal maintenance, [husband] shall pay to [wife] the sum of $165,700 according to the following terms:
a. $65,700 payable within ten (10) days of entry of the Judgment and Decree.
b. $100,000 payable in four installments of $25,000 on or before December 31 of each year, commencing in the year 2000, and ending with the fourth payment on or before December 31 in the year 2003.
c. Payment of the deferred payments above shall be secured by a lien in favor of [wife] against [husband’s] interest in the Max Venture Partnership.
In August 2002, wife remarried. In December 2002, husband moved to terminate his maintenance obligation effective the day that wife remarried. The district court denied the motion. The court determined that in light of the characteristics of the spousal-maintenance award, such as the payment amounts and the method of payment, the maintenance award was ambiguous. The court considered extrinsic evidence and determined that although the maintenance award was labeled maintenance, the award was actually part of the parties’ property settlement. The court ordered husband to pay wife the amounts required by the maintenance award.
Whether a dissolution judgment is ambiguous is a legal question. Halverson v. Halverson, 381 N.W.2d 69, 71 (Minn. App. 1986). If a judgment is ambiguous, a district court may construe or clarify it. Stieler v. Stieler, 244 Minn. 312, 319, 70 N.W.2d 127, 131 (1955). Absent ambiguity, however, it is not proper for a court to interpret a stipulated judgment. Starr v. Starr, 312 Minn. 561, 562-63, 251 N.W.2d 341, 342 (1977). If the meaning of a judgment can be ascertained “without any guide other than knowledge of the facts on which the language depends for meaning,” it is not ambiguous. Erickson v. Erickson, 449 N.W.2d 173, 178 (Minn. 1989). The meaning of an ambiguous judgment provision is a fact question reviewed on a clearly erroneous basis. Landwehr v. Landwehr, 380 N.W.2d 136, 139-40 (Minn. App. 1985).
In Landwehr, the district court determined that although the spousal-maintenance provision in a dissolution judgment labeled payments “alimony,” the provision was ambiguous because several of the terms of payment were uncharacteristic of alimony or spousal maintenance. Id. at 139-40. The district court considered contradictory testimony about the intent of the alimony provision and found that the alimony was intended to be part of the property settlement. Id. This court concluded that the district court’s finding of fact was not clearly erroneous and affirmed the district court. Id. at 140.
Relying on Landwehr, the district court determined here that because the spousal-maintenance provision in the parties’ dissolution judgment bears characteristics of a property settlement, the nature of the award was ambiguous. After considering extrinsic evidence to determine the parties’ intent, the district court concluded that
it is evident from the correspondence between the parties during the negotiations of the property settlement that the intention was to label part of the property settlement as spousal maintenance for tax purposes. Therefore, this Court finds that the provision in the decree providing for spousal maintenance was actually part of the property settlement.
Husband contends that the record does not support the district court’s determination that the maintenance award was a disguised property settlement, and, citing Gunderson v. Gunderson, 408 N.W.2d 852, 853 (Minn. 1987), husband argues that Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 3 (2002), requires that his spousal-maintenance obligation be terminated upon wife’s remarriage.
Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 3, provides:
Unless otherwise agreed in writing or expressly provided in the decree, the obligation to pay future maintenance is terminated upon the death of either party or the remarriage of the party receiving maintenance.
In Gunderson, the supreme court stated:
Section 518.64, subdivision 3 requires that a decree state expressly that maintenance will continue beyond remarriage. The decree involved here did not. This absence is not remedied by evidence that the parties intended maintenance to continue unconditionally. . . . [A] stipulated agreement fixing parties’ maintenance rights and obligations is important to the subsequent judicial review of a divorce decree whose terms reflect that stipulation. However, evidence of how parties view a maintenance obligation, whether taken from negotiations or a stipulation, is irrelevant to the issue of whether maintenance should continue past remarriage given section 518.64, subdivision 3’s requirement that any such provision be positively expressed in the decree. If a decree does not reflect the understanding of the parties regarding maintenance, the solution is to amend the decree.
408 N.W.2d at 853(citation omitted).
It is not necessary for us to determine whether the record supports the district court’s determination that the maintenance award was a disguised property settlement because, after Gunderson, the supreme court concluded in Telma v. Telma, 474 N.W.2d 322, 323 (Minn. 1991), that even though a stipulated dissolution judgment did not expressly state that maintenance would continue beyond remarriage, the district court correctly interpreted the judgment to require maintenance to continue after the obligee remarried because the obligor waived the right to seek a modification of the maintenance award, and the judgment authorized a termination of maintenance on the occurrence of either of two events, neither of which was the obligee’s remarriage.
Similarly, here, the maintenance provision does not expressly state that maintenance will continue beyond remarriage, but the parties agreed to divest the court of jurisdiction to modify the maintenance award, and no event that permits termination under the judgment has occurred. The judgment contains the following finding of fact:
The parties have provided for the future support of [wife] through the payment of maintenance and the award of income-producing assets. Based upon the division of property, [wife] hereby presently and absolutely waives any right to have [husband] pay her any further or additional temporary or permanent maintenance other than as set forth herein. By presently waiving any right to modify or exten[d] the award of maintenance provided herein, the parties intend to divest the court of jurisdiction to modify the award of maintenance provided herein, or award further maintenance in the future or exten[d] the duration of maintenance provided in this decree[.] Consideration for this agreement is the parties’ mutual waiver of past, present, and future maintenance and the award of property to [wife].
The judgment also contains a conclusion of law that states, “The Court is hereby divested of jurisdiction to award [wife] any further or additional maintenance immediately upon entry of the Judgment and Decree herein. The Court shall retain jurisdiction to enforce [husband’s] obligation to pay maintenance to [wife] in accordance herewith.”
Husband argues that these provisions only reflect wife’s waiver of her right to seek modification of the maintenance award. But the emphasized language in the finding of fact expressly states that “the parties intend to divest the court of jurisdiction to modify the award of maintenance.” This unambiguous language reflects the intention of both parties to divest the court of jurisdiction to modify the maintenance award. Thus, as in Telma,the parties’ agreement as a whole reflects an intention that the maintenance award may not be modified. Therefore, even if the maintenance provision is not a disguised property settlement, husband’s spousal-maintenance obligation may not be terminated upon wife’s remarriage.