This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In re Jo-Anne Evans Coleman, petitioner,
Don Jerome Coleman,
Filed November 16, 2004
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded
Hennepin County District Court
File No. DC 269598
A. Larry Katz, Susan A. Daudelin, Katz, Manka, Teplinsky, Due & Sobol, Ltd., 225 South Sixth Street, Suite 4150, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for appellant)
Rodney H. Jensen, Mark E. Mullen, Jensen, McGrath, Mullen & McSweeney, PLLP, 1350 Wells Fargo Plaza, 7900 Xerxes Avenue South, Bloomington, MN 55431 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge; Schumacher, Judge; and Parker, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
In this marital dissolution proceeding,appellant Jo-Anne Evans Coleman appeals the district court’s allocation of the marital estate with respondent Don Coleman. Appellant challenges the district court’s findings that she dissipated $50,000 of marital assets, that she is solely responsible for her student loan debt, that she is only entitled to spousal maintenance payments of $1,500 per month for one year, and that she is responsible for her attorney fees. Appellant also challenges the district court’s denial of her motion for amended findings of fact and motion for a new trial. We affirm the district court’s decision on all issues except for the finding concerning appellant’s student loan debt, which we reverse and remand.
1. Division of the marital estate
Appellant claims the district court improperly awarded respondent 70 percent of the overall marital estate. State law provides that “the court shall make a just and equitable division of the marital property of the parties without regard to marital misconduct, after making findings regarding the division of the property.” Minn. Stat. § 518.58, subd. 1 (2002). A court must take into account various factors, such as the health of the parties, vocational skills, and employability. Id.
District courts have broad discretion over the division of marital property, and appellate courts will not alter a district court’s property division absent a clear abuse of discretion or an erroneous application of the law. Chamberlain v. Chamberlain, 615 N.W.2d 405, 412 (Minn. App. 2000), review denied (Minn. Oct. 25, 2000). Abuse of discretion is present in a property division if the findings of fact are “against logic and the facts on [the] record.” Rutten v. Rutten, 347 N.W.2d 47, 50 (Minn. 1984).
Pursuant to her challenge to the district court’s allocation of the marital estate, appellant challenges the district court’s findings that she dissipated $50,000 of marital funds and that she is solely responsible for her student loan debt.
a. Appellant’s $50,000 dissipation of marital funds
In the early 1980s, the parties formed a corporation that served clients with communication disorders. Appellant was subsequently charged with Medicare/Medicaid fraud, a felony, and served a combination of 17 months in prison and on work release. As a result of the conviction, the State of Minnesota obtained a $290,000 civil judgment based on a restitution claim solely against appellant. The judgment was fully satisfied in 2002 with $50,000 in proceeds from the buyout of appellant’s contract with Northwestern Health Sciences University, where she was a Vice President of Academic Affairs.
The district court found that appellant’s $50,000 payment was a dissipation of marital assets and deducted $25,000 from her homestead equity. “Dissipation is frivolous, unjustified spending of marital assets.” Volesky v. Volesky, 412 N.W.2d 750, 752 (Minn. App. 1987). If a party dissipates marital assets, the party must be held accountable unless the assets are justifiably used for necessities. Id. A party may spend marital assets “to meet routine financial obligations and properly maintain the parties’ marital property.” Id. at 753 (emphasis added). Appellant claims she maintained the marital estate by paying off the state’s claim—foreclosing any chance of a judgment lien on the parties’ property—and that the court’s decision improperly interjects marital misconduct into the property division.
According to state law,
If the court finds that a party to a marriage, without consent of the other party, has in contemplation of commencing, or during the pendency of, the current dissolution, separation, or annulment proceeding, transferred, encumbered, concealed, or disposed of marital assets except in the usual course of business or for the necessities of life, the court shall compensate the other party by placing both parties in the same position that they would have been in had the transfer, encumbrance, concealment, or disposal not occurred.
Minn. Stat. § 518.58, subd. 1a (2002) (emphasis added).
Appellant testified on cross-examination that she used marital money to satisfy a nonmarital judgment. More importantly, the payment was made during the pendency of the dissolution proceeding—which began in June 2001—and without respondent’s consent. This fact brings the payment directly within the ambit of the dissipation statute. Id. Appellant claims the payment was necessary to maintain the estate from a judgment lien, but she presented no evidence that the state made any attempt to collect the judgment since it was issued in 1986. Appellant also states that the district court implicitly took marital misconduct into account when determining the dissipation issue. The district court did not mention marital misconduct in its findings, and appellant presented no evidence that the decision was improperly based on marital misconduct stemming from appellant’s felony conviction. On this record, the district court did not abuse discretion by finding that the $50,000 payment was not in the usual course of business nor for the necessities of life and thus was a dissipation.
b. Appellant’s student loans
Appellant argues that it was unfair to hold her responsible for all of her student loan debt and that the district court substantially understated the amount of the debt. Appellant incurred the debt for her doctoral studies in educational administration and educational psychology. The district court found that appellant incurred a student loan debt of $15,647.72 during the marriage. But appellant presented evidence at trial of two additional loans, a Wells Fargo loan ($25,246.54) and a federal Direct Loan ($14,186.00). Taking all three loans into account, appellant owes $55,080.26 in student loan debt. It is difficult to discern why the district court did not mention the two additional loans. The district court’s finding that it is fair to hold appellant solely responsible for her loan debt may change if the burden of her loans is revised substantially upward. See Tasker v. Tasker, 395 N.W.2d 100, 105 (Minn. App. 1986) (“In dissolution actions, debts are apportionable, and the division of property must be considered in light of the particular facts of the case.”). It is also unclear on what grounds the district court found appellant’s student loans to be a nonmarital debt. The Wells Fargo loan, for example, was disbursed in 1994 and 1995, well before this dissolution proceeding began in 2001. Based on these concerns, we reverse the district court’s holding on the student loans and remand the issue to the court for additional findings.
c. Jewelry, furs, and appraisal
Appellant also challenges the district court’s findings that she must pay respondent $5,525 to equalize the value of jewelry and furs awarded to each party, and $300 as her share of a second appraisal of the homestead, conducted a few days before trial. We defer to the district court’s property division determination under Minn. Stat. § 518.58, subd. 1 (2002), noting “the property division need not be mathematically equal to be just and equitable.” Justis v. Justis, 384 N.W.2d 885, 888 (Minn. App. 1986), review denied (Minn. May 29, 1986). We affirm the district court’s conclusions on the division of the parties’ personal property, subject to the district court’s adjustment of personal property in light of the loan-related remand discussed above.
2. Temporary spousal maintenance
Appellant claims the spousal maintenance award of $1,500 per month for one year cannot be supported by the record, and argues that the district court impermissibly took marital misconduct into account. Appellate courts review a district court’s maintenance award under an abuse of discretion standard. Dobrin v. Dobrin, 569 N.W.2d 199, 202 (Minn. 1997). A district court abuses discretion regarding maintenance if the findings of fact are unsupported by the record or if the law is improperly applied. Id.
Under state law, appellant may receive maintenance if (1) she lacks sufficient property to provide for her reasonable needs, or if (2) she is unable to support herself through appropriate employment. Minn. Stat. § 518.552, subd. 1 (2002). The factors to be considered when awarding maintenance include, among others, the financial resources of the party seeking maintenance, the time necessary to acquire sufficient education, the length of absence from employment, the age and physical condition of the party seeking maintenance, and the ability of the payor spouse to contribute maintenance payments. Id., subd. 2. “Findings are not required on each factor considered.” Justis, 384 N.W.2d at 891.
The district court awarded appellant temporary spousal maintenance “until she finds suitable employment to meet her needs.” The court did not award additional maintenance for a number of reasons. First, it did not find that appellant’s budget and expenses were credible. At trial, appellant submitted that her monthly budget was $6,134.09, however, this is at substantial variance from her budgets submitted in discovery. The district court examined many of appellant’s individual expenses and determined that her reasonable monthly budget was $3,000. Second, the district court found that appellant was in good health and was highly educated. The district court noted that appellant was “voluntarily underemployed . . . in bad-faith,” and appellant admitted at trial that she could have been employed. The district court did not find appellant’s job search to be realistic, taking note that she sent out only three applications within the first seven months of leaving Northwestern University. Appellant’s testimony regarding her difficulty securing a job with her criminal background was not found to be credible. For example, since appellant was released from incarceration, she found employment in a number of educational institutions at a high salary. Respondent’s monthly budget of $4,525 was deemed credible, and the district court added that he should not have to pay for appellant’s job search.
Appellant argues that the district court impermissibly took marital misconduct into account when determining spousal maintenance. Appellant presents no evidence on this point besides noting that the district court said that respondent should not have to “pay for” appellant’s felony conviction. It is not clear how this statement by the court constitutes a judgment on marital misconduct. Most importantly, in her petition for dissolution of marriage, appellant did not make a claim for spousal maintenance. Based on this record, we affirm the district court’s holding on spousal maintenance.
3. Attorney fees
Appellant also challenges the district court’s ruling on need-based attorney fees. An award of attorney fees under Minn. Stat. § 518.14, subd. 1 (2002), “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). A lack of specific findings on the statutory factors will not doom the award as long as the court “was familiar with the case” and “had access to the parties’ financial records.” Gully v. Gully, 599 N.W.2d 814, 826 (Minn. 1999).
Minn. Stat. § 518.14, subd. 1, provides that attorney fees shall be awarded if (1) the fees are necessary to a party’s good-faith claim; (2) the party from whom fees are sought has the means to pay them; and (3) the party who seeks the fees does not have the means to pay them.
Appellant’s previous employment in the education field often allowed her to earn more than respondent. The district court also noted that respondent provided financial support to appellant during the pendency of the proceeding, and appellant is able to pay some of her attorney fees on a monthly basis out of her share of the marital estate. Although respondent is receiving a larger portion of the marital estate, the district court’s findings on attorney fees was not an abuse of discretion, and we affirm.
Based on the record, we affirm the district court’s judgment regarding the $50,000 dissipation, the division of the personal property, subject to the loan-related remand, the spousal maintenance award, and the denial of appellant’s attorney-fees claim. We also affirm the district court’s denial of appellant’s motion for amended findings of fact and motion for a new trial. We reverse and remand the district court’s findings regarding the amount of appellant’s student loans and her sole responsibility for the loans.
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.