This opinion will be unpublished and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
In re the Marriage of:
Joy Marie Tyacke, petitioner,
Robert Kent Gundstrom,
Filed June 14, 2005
St. Louis County District Court
File No. F1-02-600642
Matthew H. Beaumier, Gerlach Beaumier, Attorneys at Law, LLP, 101 West Second Street, Suite 200, Duluth, Minnesota 55802 (for respondent)
William D. Paul,
Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge; Hudson, Judge; and Dietzen, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
On August 26, 2003, the district court filed a judgment and decree dissolving appellant Robert Gundstrom and respondent Joy Tyacke’s 22-year marriage. The district court awarded respondent $700 per month in spousal maintenance. The district court delineated that the award was payable until either the death of respondent, the remarriage of respondent, or respondent’s “residing full-time with and/or receiving financial benefits equal to or greater than $700 per month from any third party.” But in its November 13, 2003 amended findings of fact and conclusions of law, the district court deleted the provision that respondent’s spousal maintenance would be terminated if she were to reside with and/or receive financial benefits equal to or greater than $700 per month from any third party.
For reasons unrelated to the merits of this appeal, the case was reassigned to a different judge, and on March 11, 2004, appellant moved the district court to terminate the award of spousal maintenance. Appellant alleged that respondent’s income had increased because she was living with her boyfriend, and that appellant’s expenses had increased since the decree was issued. The district court conducted an evidentiary hearing at which the parties and respondent’s boyfriend testified. On September 2, 2004, the district court denied appellant’s motion to terminate spousal maintenance. This appeal follows.
Appellant argues that the district court did not make adequate findings in its denial of appellant’s motion to modify his spousal maintenance obligation.
The modification statute provides in relevant part:
The terms of an order respecting maintenance or support may be modified upon a showing of one or more of the following: (1) substantially increased or decreased earnings of a party; (2) substantially increased or decreased need of a party . . .; (3) receipt of assistance . . .; [or] (4) a change in the cost of living for either party . . . , any of which makes the terms unreasonable and unfair.
Minn. Stat. §
518.64, subd. 2(a) (2004). The statute
places a dual burden on the party seeking a modification to (1) demonstrate
that there has occurred a substantial change in one or more of the
circumstances identified in the statute, and (2) to show that the substantial
change has the effect of rendering the original award unreasonable and
unfair. Hecker v. Hecker, 568 N.W.2d 705, 709 (
modification of maintenance obligations, as well as in the initial
determination, particularized findings are necessary to show that relevant
statutory factors have been considered.”
Tuthill v. Tuthill, 399 N.W.2d
230, 232 (
In its order denying appellant’s motion for modification of spousal maintenance the district court stated in relevant part:
The basis for the elimination of spousal maintenance is [respondent’s] relationship with another man. That has already been determined by [the district court] to be no reason or allowable basis for modifying the Judgment and Decree regarding the spousal maintenance award. Nothing has changed.
In effect, the district court
declined to make findings because the first judge assigned to the case had
already determined in the November 2003 amended findings and conclusions of law
that respondent’s cohabitation with a third party was not an independently
sufficient basis for terminating the spousal maintenance award. The district court is correct that
courts are still required to consider a cohabiting relationship to the extent
it might improve an ex-spouse’s economic well-being. See Sieber
v. Sieber, 258 N.W.2d 754, 758 (
Citing Rapacke v. Rapacke, 442 N.W.2d 340, 343 (Minn. App. 1989), respondent argues that because the district court found that no change in circumstances had occurred since the decree was issued, the district court was not required to make findings under Minn. Stat. § 518.552. Respondent’s argument correctly states the law but is nevertheless misplaced.
We disagree that the district court found that no substantial change in circumstances had occurred since the decree was issued. The district court determined that “nothing has changed”; apparently referencing the fact that respondent was still living with a third party. But because the district court mistakenly believed that it was not required to address appellant’s argument that respondent’s economic well-being had improved as a result of her cohabiting relationship, it made no findings at all with respect to the parties’ respective incomes and expenses—the lynchpin in a determination of “substantial change in circumstances” under Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2. Thus, it is misleading to say that the district court was not obligated to make additional findings. Although a district court is not required to make findings under Minn. Stat. § 518.552 if it finds that no substantial change in circumstances has occurred, the district court must make findings regarding the parties’ income and needs to substantiate the determination that there is no change. Without a finding on the parties’ net incomes and reasonable expenses, and without specific findings on whether respondent’s economic well-being has improved as a result of her cohabitation, we are unable to meaningfully review the issue of appellant’s ability to pay his existing maintenance obligation. Therefore, we remand to the district court for findings on the relevant statutory factors.
Because we conclude that the district court erred by not making findings in its denial of appellant’s motion to terminate his spousal maintenance obligation, we do not reach appellant’s other arguments.