This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).







In re the Matter of:

Wayne Harold Chevalier, petitioner,


Kathleen Jean French,
f/k/a Kathleen Jean Chevalier,


Filed June 28, 2005

Affirmed; motion denied

Wright, Judge


Anoka County District Court

File No. F2-89-1030



Joseph E. Marvin, Marvin Law Office, L.L.C., 2150 Third Avenue, Suite 20, Anoka, MN  55303 (for appellant)


Elizabeth A. Schading, Barna, Guzy & Steffen, Ltd., 200 Coon Rapids Boulevard, Suite 400, Coon Rapids, MN  55433 (for respondent)



            Considered and decided by Schumacher, Presiding Judge; Peterson, Judge; and Wright, Judge.


U N P U B L I S H E D  O P I N I O N




In this pension-division dispute arising in a dissolution case, appellant-husband argues that the district court erred when it declined to amend the dissolution decree’s division of his pension because its value was reduced as a result of a corporate merger.  Respondent-wife moves for attorney fees incurred in defense of this appeal.  We affirm and deny the motion.



Appellant Wayne Chevalier and respondent Kathleen French dissolved their 20-year marriage by a judgment and decree on September 12, 1989.  During the marriage, Chevalier was employed at Federal Cartridge Company.  The division of Chevalier’s various retirement benefits, which accrued during his employment, comprised the majority of the parties’ property settlement.  To divide Chevalier’s Federal Cartridge pension, the district court established a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO), which was incorporated in the divorce decree.[1]  In accordance with the QDRO, the divorce decree named French as an “alternate payee” and irrevocably assigned French 50 percent of Chevalier’s accrued monthly pension under the Federal Cartridge plan, known as the Federal-Hoffman pension plan, as of December 31, 1988. 

On December 31, 1988, Pentair, Inc. (Pentair) acquired Federal Cartridge Company and merged the Federal-Hoffman pension plan with the Pentair pension plan.  Under the Pentair pension plan, Pentair adopted a different formula for calculating retirement benefits.  But it preserved certain features of the Federal-Hoffman pension plan for those employees who were participating in the Federal-Hoffman pension plan as of December 31, 1988.  For these employees, Pentair guaranteed a “minimum benefit equal to the vested benefits earned under the plan as of December 31, 1988.”

A May 1992 amended judgment adopted the parties’ stipulation to reduce French’s share of the pension from 50 percent to 47.5 percent.  Although the amended decree included language to reflect the merger of the Federal-Hoffman pension plan with the Pentair pension plan, the language of the original decree awarding French an interest in the Federal-Hoffman pension plan remained unaltered.

The district court further amended the judgment and decree on January 22, 1993 and July 16, 1993 by adoption of the parties’ pension-related stipulations.  The judgment now provides in relevant part:

That [French] is awarded forty-seven and 50/100 percent (47.50%) of [Chevalier’s] Accrued Monthly Pension as of December 31, 1988 (as defined by Section 4.6 of the Plan) under the “Federal-Hoffman, Inc., Pension Plan” (the “Plan”). 

That [French’s] portion of said [Accrued Monthly]  Pension is $590.00 payable for the life of [Chevalier] commencing on the first day of the month which follows his attainment of age 65. 

That effective December 31, 1988, the Plan was merged into and became part of the Pentair, Inc. Pension Plan (the “Pentair Plan”) and as a result, all benefits accrued under the Plan became payable from the Pentair Plan.


The amended decree also provides: “[French] shall not be entitled to any additional or future benefit accruals [by Chevalier] under the plan after January 1, 1989.”

On July 2, 2004, Chevalier moved to amend the dissolution decree, seeking a reduction in French’s monthly pension award from $590.00 to $366.18.  Chevalier argued that, after the merger, his monthly pension decreased from an estimated $1,242.10 per month under the Federal-Hoffman pension plan to $770.91 per month under the Pentair pension-plan formula.[2] Therefore, he argued, French is entitled to $366.18, which is 47.5 percent of $770.91.

The district court denied the motion to amend the judgment and decree.  Because the decree expressly provided that French would receive “47.50% of the Federal-Hoffman Pension Plan,” the district court declined to use the Pentair formula to calculate the pension benefit.  Applying the plain language of the decree, the district court concluded that, “[French] is entitled to receive 47.50% of the Federal-Hoffman Pension Plan calculated as of December 31, 1988, which is $590.00 per month[.]”  This appeal followed.







A district court has broad discretion in dividing property upon dissolution of a marriage.  Maurer v. Maurer, 623 N.W.2d 604, 606 (Minn. 2001).  The tasks of valuing and dividing a pension fall within the exercise of that discretion.  Johnson v. Johnson, 627 N.W.2d 359, 362 (Minn. App. 2001), review denied (Minn. Aug. 15, 2001).  We will not disturb a district court’s denial of a motion to modify the division of property awarded in a dissolution decree absent an abuse of discretion.  Graff v. Graff, 472 N.W.2d 882, 884 (Minn. App. 1991), review denied (Minn. Sept. 13, 1991); see also Kornberg v. Kornberg, 542 N.W.2d 379, 386 (Minn. 1996) (reviewing refusal to reopen judgment for abuse of discretion).  However, because interpretation of an unambiguous dissolution decree is a question of law, we review de novo this aspect of the district court’s decision.  Emerick on Behalf of Howley v. Sanchez, 547 N.W.2d 109, 112 (Minn. App. 1996).

Chevalier argues that the district court abused its discretion in refusing to amend the dissolution decree.  According to Chevalier, an amendment is necessary to give effect to the intent of the parties as embodied in the decree.  Chevalier contends that, given the change in the formula used to calculate his pension, the provision requiring a monthly payment of $590 to French no longer reflects the parties’ intent to award French 47.5 percent of Chevalier’s Federal-Hoffman pension. 

As a general rule, a property division in a dissolution action is final unless one of the bases for reopening a judgment, such as fraud, mistake, or inadvertent neglect, can be established.  Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(e) (2004); Redmond v. Redmond, 594 N.W.2d 272, 275 (Minn. App. 1999); see also Boom v. Boom, 367 N.W.2d 536, 538 (Minn. App. 1985) (stating that property division becomes final for the purposes of section 518.64 when the period for appealing from the judgment and decree has expired), review denied (Minn. June 27, 1985).  A party may not seek modification of a property division based on changed circumstances.  Redmond, 594 N.W.2d at 275.

Although the district court may not modify a final division of property, it may issue orders that implement or enforce provisions of a dissolution decree.  Id.; Erickson v. Erickson, 452 N.W.2d 253, 255 (Minn. App. 1990); Linder v. Linder, 391 N.W.2d 5, 8 (Minn. App. 1986).  For example, a reallocation of debts and assets may be appropriate to implement the provisions of the original judgment.  Graff, 472 N.W.2d at 884.  And if the dissolution decree is ambiguous, the decree may be clarified, provided such clarification does not change the parties’ substantive rights.  Kornberg, 542 N.W.2d at 388; see also Thompson v. Thompson, 385 N.W.2d 20, 22 (Minn. App. 1986) (explaining that a clarification does not result in a judgment different from the original but “serves only to express accurately the thoughts the judgment intended to convey”). 

            Our review requires us to determine whether amendment of the dissolution decree is necessary to resolve ambiguity or to implement the parties’ intent.  The fourth amended judgment and decree awards French “forty-seven and 50/100 percent (47.50%) of [Chevalier’s] Accrued Monthly Pension as of December 31, 1988 . . . under the ‘Federal-Hoffman, Inc., Pension Plan[.]’”  The decree specifies that French’s portion of the pension is “$590.00 payable for the life of [Chevalier] commencing on the first day of the month which follows his attainment of age 65.”  The language is not susceptible of more than one meaning.  The intent of the parties, as expressed in the decree, is plain: French shall receive $590 per month, which is 47.5 percent of the value of Chevalier’s Federal-Hoffman pension on December 31, 1988.  Because the parties agreed that French would “not be entitled to any additional or future benefit accruals . . . under the plan after January 1, 1989,” the precise amount that French is entitled to receive was quantifiable in September 1989 when the dissolution decree became final.  A clear expression of the parties’ intent is manifest in their stipulation to the exact amount French is entitled to receive under the Federal-Hoffman plan based on its value as of December 31, 1988—$590 per month.    

Chevalier has not demonstrated that amendment is necessary to implement the provisions of the judgment or to give effect to the intent of the parties.  Rather, the decree’s terms entitle French to a fixed percentage of the value of a specifically designated pension plan as of a date certain.  As such, the dollar amount of Chevalier’s pension awarded to French is also fixed.  Applying the plain language of the dissolution decree, the intent of the parties is evident without amendment. 

            Citing McGowan v. McGowan, 532 N.W.2d 258, 260 (Minn. App. 1995), Chevalier also argues that, because the judgment did not award French a lump-sum distribution of the pension at the time of the dissolution, the district court retained the authority to divide the pension benefits according to the agreed-on percentage.  When there is a “substantial change” in an asset’s value before it is distributed, the district court may adjust the value in order to ensure an equitable distribution.  Minn. Stat. § 518.58, subd. 1 (2004); Bollenbach v. Bollenbach, 285 Minn. 418, 436, 175 N.W.2d 148, 159 (1970).  But Chevalier has failed to demonstrate that the value of his pension has “substantially changed” such that adjustment of French’s award is required to distribute the pension benefits equitably.    

Indeed, the record demonstrates that, following the Pentair-Federal Cartridge merger, Pentair adopted a less desirable pension plan for its employees.  But for employees, such as Chevalier, who were participating in the Federal-Hoffman pension plan as of December 31, 1988, Pentair guaranteed a “minimum benefit equal to the vested benefits earned under that plan as of December 31, 1988.”  Thus, the value of Chevalier’s monthly pension benefit under the Federal Hoffman plan as of December 31, 1988—$1,242.10—is the guaranteed “minimum benefit.”  Regardless of the new Pentair formula, the record is undisputed that Pentair guaranteed that the value of Chevalier’s Federal-Hoffman pension would not fall below the amount contemplated in the dissolution decree.  Chevalier’s argument is premised on a calculation of his pension benefit under the “Pentair formula,” valued as of December 31, 1988, which is only $770.91 per month.  But this premise ignores the guaranteed minimum of $1,242.10, which is the precise amount on which French’s award is based. 

Chevalier has not demonstrated that the value of his pension has been substantially reduced.  Nor is there a need to amend the decree to clarify the intent of the parties.  Rather, Chevalier seeks an impermissible modification of a final property division, which the district court correctly declined to grant.  The district court’s denial of Chevalier’s motion to amend the dissolution decree was a sound exercise of its discretion.


French seeks an award of attorney fees pursuant to Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 139.06.  An appellate court may grant attorney fees when an appeal is frivolous, an appeal is taken in bad faith, or the relative resources of the parties indicate that an award is warranted.  Dabrowski v. Dabrowski, 477 N.W.2d 761, 766 (Minn. App. 1991); Roehrdanz v. Roehrdanz, 438 N.W.2d 687, 691-92 (Minn. App. 1989) (awarding respondent $4,000 in attorney fees on appeal when appellant’s custody challenge was so specious and unfounded as to constitute harassment), review denied (Minn. June 21, 1989).

Although Chevalier’s argument was not meritorious, it was not so unfounded as to be frivolous or establish bad faith.  We, therefore, deny French’s motion for attorney fees.

Affirmed; motion denied.

[1] A QDRO assigns to an alternate payee the right to receive all or a portion of a participant’s pension-plan benefits.  29 U.S.C. § 1056(d)(3)(B) (2000); Boggs v. Boggs, 520 U.S. 833, 846, 117 S. Ct. 1754, 1763 (1997).  An “alternate payee” is any “spouse [or] former spouse . . . who is recognized by a domestic relations order as having a right to receive all, or a portion of, the benefits payable under a plan with respect to such participant.”  29 U.S.C. § 1056(d)(3)(K) (2000).  With a QDRO, the pension-plan administrator, rather than the pensioner, distributes benefits in accordance with the plan.  29 U.S.C. § 1056(d)(3)(A) (2000). 

[2] These amounts are based on a retirement age of 65.