This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Timothy P. Mueller, petitioner,
Anita L. Mueller,
Filed June 28, 2005
Robert H. Schumacher, Judge
Anita L. Mueller, 2731 181st Street Northwest, Oak Grove, MN 55011 (pro se respondent)
Considered and decided by Schumacher, Presiding Judge; Wright, Judge; and Poritsky, Judge.*
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
ROBERT H. SCHUMACHER, Judge
In this marriage-dissolution action, appellant-husband Timothy P. Mueller challenges the district court's award of permanent spousal maintenance to respondent-wife Anita L. Mueller, the court's determination that certain debts were marital, and the court's valuation of a cabin property acquired by the parties during the marriage. By notice of review, wife challenges the district court's determination that the cabin property is marital property; the court's allocation of marital debt, and the court's property division. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.
The parties' 29-year marriage was dissolved by judgment and decree in March 2004 after a trial to resolve contested issues including spousal maintenance, the division of marital property, and the allocation of certain marital debt. In the amended decree, the district court found that husband's net monthly income was approximately $2,600 and his monthly expenses approximately $1,318. The court found that wife cared for the parties' four sons and did all the housework during the parties' marriage, thereby allowing husband to pursue his career and forgoing a career for herself; that wife worked part time, without benefits, in a position that could not be expanded to full time; that wife suffers from lupus, an immune system disorder, which may affect her future ability to remain employed; that wife's net monthly income was approximately $884; and that her reasonably monthly living expenses were $2,405.
At trial, the court received evidence concerning a cabin property the parties purchased from wife's parents for $10,000 in June 1990 and conveyed by quitclaim deed designating the recipients as "Timothy Patrick Mueller and Anita Mueller, husband and wife." The court also received a document drafted by wife's father in August 1990 and signed by both parties stating that should the parties wish to sell the cabin before August 1995, wife's parents would be given right of first refusal to purchase it for $10,000. The court found that there was "no testimony or other evidence to suggest" that wife's parents intended to give a gift solely to wife and not tohusband.
The court found that the fair market value of the cabin at the time of trial was approximately $150,000, the amount indicated by an appraisal submitted by wife. The court received evidence of debts incurred during the marriage, including a $3,000 loan from wife's mother that was used for house payments; uninsured medical expenses incurred treating one of the parties' sons in 2003; and a credit card debt.
The court concluded husband must pay permanent monthly spousal maintenance of $1,100. The court ordered the parties to place their homestead on the market for sale by April 1, 2004, and divide the proceeds equally after deducting any expenses and encumbrances, including the $3,000 owed wife's mother. The court awarded wife the cabin property, subject to a $75,000 lien in favor of husband due within one year of selling the homestead. The court also ordered the parties to divide the medical debt as well as the Sears MasterCard debt arising from the son's medical expenses.
1. Husband challenges the $1,100 monthly
permanent spousal maintenance awarded to wife.
This court reviews a district court's maintenance award under an
abuse-of-discretion standard. Dobrin v. Dobrin, 569 N.W.2d 199, 202 (
The issue is, in
essence, a balancing of the recipient's need against the obligor's ability to
pay. Erlandson v. Erlandson, 318
N.W.2d 36, 39-40 (
As to the amount of maintenance, husband
challenges several of the district court's factual findings concerning wife's
income and expenses, specifically alleging the court erroneously failed to
consider the amount of rental income wife was receiving from the parties' sons,
the legitimacy of expenses wife was incurring maintaining the cabin, which was in
her sole possession, and the fact that wife would no longer have a monthly
mortgage expense upon the court-ordered sale of the parties' homestead. "Findings of fact concerning spousal
maintenance must be upheld unless they are clearly erroneous." Gessner
v. Gessner, 487 N.W.2d 921, 923 (
We agree with husband that the district court's order does not specifically consider the income and expense issues he raises, thereby compromising our ability to conduct a meaningful review of the calculations used by the court in arriving at the amount of maintenance awarded. See Stich v. Stich, 435 N.W.2d 52, 53 (Minn. 1989) (stating that "[e]ffective appellate review . . . is possible only when the trial court has issued sufficiently detailed findings of fact to demonstrate its consideration of all factors relevant to an award of permanent spousal maintenance"). We therefore conclude it is necessary to remand to allow the district court to make clearer findings concerning wife's net monthly income and expenses and to calculate the amount of the award accordingly. The district court may, in its discretion, request further documentation from the parties relevant to this issue.
argues the district court erred in calculating the amount of maintenance by
failing to consider that once the homestead is sold, the cabin property is
sold, and wife receives her portion of husband's pension plan, she will receive
sufficient assets to render monthly maintenance from husband unnecessary. But spouses should not be required to invade
the principal of their property settlement to meet their monthly needs. Fink v. Fink, 366 N.W.2d 340, 342 (
Husband also challenges the duration of the maintenance award. When determining the amount and duration of maintenance, the district court must consider all relevant factors, including factors that address the financial resources of the spouse seeking maintenance to provide for his or her needs independently, the time necessary to acquire education to find appropriate employment, the age and health of the recipient spouse, the standard of living established during the marriage, the length of the marriage, the contribution and economic sacrifices of a homemaker, and the resources of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought. Minn. Stat. § 518.552, subd. 2(a)-(h) (2004). If the need for permanent maintenance is uncertain, the district court shall order permanent maintenance and leave the order open for later modification. Minn. Stat. § 518.552, subd. 3 (2004); Gales v. Gales, 553 N.W.2d 416, 419 (Minn. 1996) (observing "legislature has established with unmistakable clarity a presumption in favor of awarding permanent maintenance" provided the district court considers the requisite statutory factors).
The district court specifically found that wife's primary role throughout the 29-year marriage was as a homemaker who raised the parties' children, thereby allowing husband to pursue his career while forgoing her own. The court also found that wife's age, history of a lack of full-time employment, and health problems make her future employment prospects questionable. These findings are supported by the record and support the district court's decision as to the duration of maintenance. But because we are remanding for clearer findings concerning the amount of maintenance, we also reverse the court's determination that maintenance be permanent and remand for further consideration in light of the findings concerning wife's finances. We conclude the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding wife permanent maintenance.
2. Both parties challenge aspects of the
district court's division of certain marital debts: the $3,000 loan from wife's mother that was
used for house payments; uninsured medical expenses incurred treating one of
the parties' sons in 2003; and certain credit card debt. A district court's apportionment of marital
debt is treated as distribution of property and will therefore not be altered
absent an abuse of discretion. See
Justis v. Justis, 384 N.W.2d 885, 889 (Minn. App. 1986), review denied (Minn.
May 29, 1986); see also Rutten v. Rutten, 347 N.W.2d 47, 50 (
Husband argues the $3,000 loan from wife's mother was nonmarital because the parties were separated at the time and the loan was "contracted for" by wife. The district court found that because the loan was used for mortgage payments made on the homestead while the parties were still married, it represented a marital debt. We agree. We also affirm the district court's determination that the son's 2003 medical expenses and the credit card debt were marital and should be equally shared by the parties.
3. Husband argues the district court
abused its discretion in adopting wife's appraisal of the cabin property's
value and by not ordering the parties to immediately sell the property and
divide the proceeds. The district court
has discretion to establish the value of property. Petterson v. Petterson, 366 N.W.2d
685, 687 (
4. Wife argues the district court erred by
not finding that she had a nonmarital interest in the fair-market value of the
cabin property, less the $10,000 she and her husband paid for it. She maintains that the value of the property
in excess of the $10,000 purchase price was a gift exclusively to her from her
parents and, relying on Schmitz v. Schmitz, 309 N.W.2d 748 (Minn. 1982),
that any increase in the value of her nonmarital interest is nonmarital. "Whether property is marital or
nonmarital is a question of law that this court may review with independent
judgment." Swick v. Swick,
467 N.W.2d 328, 330 (Minn. App. 1991), review
denied (Minn. May 16, 1991). The
district court's underlying findings of fact will only be set aside if they are
property" means property acquired by either spouse during the
marriage. Minn. Stat. § 518.54, subd. 5
(2004). It is presumed that all property
acquired during the marriage is marital property. Olsen v. Olsen, 562 N.W.2d 797, 800 (
Wife contends that
because she, her husband, and her parents all knew at the time the parties
purchased the property in 1990 that the actual value of the property exceeded
the $10,000 purchase price, the excess value was a gift to her from her parents,
and was therefore nonmarital. She argues
that an increase in the value of nonmarital property attributable to inflation
or to market forces or conditions, retains its nonmarital character. See
Nardini v. Nardini, 414 N.W.2d 184, 192 (
Wife argues her
mother testified "credibly" and "convincingly" that she and
wife's father intended to keep the property in the family and that the presence
of husband's name on the deed did not express an intent to name him as a
recipient of the property. Generally,
the parol-evidence rule "prohibits the admission of extrinsic evidence of
prior or contemporaneous oral agreements, or prior written agreements, to
explain the meaning of a contract when the parties have reduced their agreement
to an unambiguous integrated writing."
Alpha Real Estate Co. of
The district court concluded mother's testimony was insufficient to overcome the presumption that the cabin property was marital, based upon its findings that both the deed executed at the time of conveyance and the paper memorializing wife's parents' right of first refusal unambiguously name both wife and husband as the joint owners of the property. This conclusion is sound. First, the deed is unambiguous, precluding the necessity and admissibility of wife's mother's testimony intended to clarify the deed. Second, we defer to the district court's assessment of witness credibility and testimonial weight. We conclude the district court did not err in concluding wife failed to overcome the presumption that the cabin is marital property.
5. Wife argues the district court abused
its broad discretion by failing, in dividing the property, to account for
husband's failure to pay support or contribute to homestead and cabin expenses
between the parties' July 2002 separation and the February 2003 temporary
order. The court's property division
meticulously inventories the parties' property and attempts to address all the
evidence before it in allocating real property, personal property, assets, and
debts. The district court is not
required to make an exact equal division of marital property but rather a
"just and equitable" division.
The court here
considered evidence concerning the parties' finances following the
separation. With respect to the loan
taken to make homestead mortgage payments during the separation, the court
ordered that $3,000 from the sale of the homestead be used to repay the
loan. With respect to the cabin property
expenses, the court awarded husband a $75,000 lien interest in the property,
which is half of the lowest appraisal value the court received and which
therefore likely represents less than half of the property's value. The
district court did not abuse its discretion by declining to adjust the property division in the manner requested by wife.
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.
* Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.