This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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







In re the Marriage of:


Sharon Colleen McNamara-Ehlen, petitioner,





K. James Ehlen,



Filed July 19, 2005


Hudson, Judge


Hennepin County District Court

File No. DW 182241


Mark Z. Hanno, 7050 Brooklyn Boulevard, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55429 (for appellant)


Ben M. Henschel, Moss & Barnett, A Professional Association, 4800 Wells Fargo Center, 90 South Seventh Street, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55402 (for respondent)


††††††††††† Considered and decided by Hudson, Presiding Judge; Toussaint, Chief Judge; and Dietzen, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D†† O P I N I O N


††††††††††† Appellant Sharon McNamara-Ehlen challenges the district courtís order granting respondent James Ehlenís motion for a downward modification of his spousal-maintenance obligation.† Appellant argues that the district courtís findings of fact are clearly erroneous and that the district court erred by not including respondentís liquid assets when determining his ability to pay spousal maintenance.† Because the district courtís findings were not clearly erroneous, we need not reach appellantís second argument.† We affirm.


††††††††††† The district court dissolved the partiesí 28-year marriage by judgment and decree in 1994.† The decree was based upon a stipulation of the parties and required respondent to pay $10,000 per month permanent spousal maintenance to appellant. †The spousal-maintenance amount was based upon respondentís most recent earnings as the chief medical officer of Medica, which included a $315,000 annual base salary, a car allowance, and a bonus.† At the time of the partiesí divorce, appellant was unemployed and had reasonable monthly expenses of $8,933.16.†

††††††††††† On November 5, 2003, respondent moved for a downward modification of his spousal-maintenance obligation based on decreased earnings.† The district court conducted an evidentiary hearing on the motion.† Respondent is currently employed as the chief executive officer for Halleland Health Consulting and receives a $160,000 annual salary.† Additionally, respondent could receive an annual investment return of $19,250 and annual directorís fees of $30,000. †

Appellant submitted a monthly budget, claiming total current expenses of $8,409 per month.† Appellant claims $664 in monthly noncovered medical and prescription expenses.† Appellant also claims $540 in monthly grocery expenses.†

At the hearing, appellant testified that her monthly out-of-pocket medical expenses are high because she has several illnesses, including lupus and Lyme Disease.† Appellant testified that many of her medical expenses include out-of-pocket items that are not covered by the $3,000 yearly out-of-pocket limit provided by her health-insurance policy.† Appellant testified that her noncovered medical costs include prescription drugs; medical equipment, such as braces or surgical stockings; and diagnostic procedures, such as annual bone scans.†

But appellant admitted that in past years she had reached the point where she no longer paid any amount out-of-pocket for her medications.† Appellant also admitted that when choosing a doctor she did not consider whether or not the doctor was an in-network provider under her insurance policy.† For out-of-network benefits, appellant is required to pay any charge exceeding the nonnetwork provider-reimbursement amount.†

Appellant also testified that her monthly food expenses are high because her chronic health problems make it impossible for her to prepare meals on her own.† Appellant testified that she is required to purchase food which can be prepared easily, but which costs more than traditional grocery items.†

On July 29, 2004, the district court granted respondentís request for a downward modification of his spousal-maintenance obligation.† The district court ordered respondent to pay appellant $7,300 monthly spousal maintenance.† This appeal follows.



Appellant argues that the district court clearly erred by finding appellantís stated monthly noncovered medical and grocery expenses unreasonable and, therefore, abused its discretion when it granted a downward modification of the spousal-maintenance award.†

Appellate courts review a district courtís maintenance award under an abuse-of-discretion standard.† Dobrin v. Dobrin, 569 N.W.2d 199, 202 (Minn. 1997).† A district court abuses its discretion regarding maintenance if its findings of fact are unsupported by the record or if it improperly applies the law.† Id. at 202 & n.3 (citing Sefkow v. Sefkow, 427 N.W.2d 203, 210 (Minn. 1988)).† ďFindings of fact concerning spousal maintenance must be upheld unless they are clearly erroneous.Ē† Gessner v. Gessner, 487 N.W.2d 921, 923 (Minn. App. 1992).†

The district court found appellantís stated monthly noncovered medical expenses unreasonable:

[Appellantís] medical expenses are inconsistent with the amount that she should be incurring under her medical coverage with its applicable deductibles.† [Appellant] estimates $664 of non-covered medical and prescription expense (exclusive of dental expenses).† The more reasonable amount should be $250.†


In a footnote the district court explained that

[t]he out-of-pocket maximum [appellant] is required to spend under her current medical insurance policy is $3,000 per year, which includes a $500 deductible for prescription drugs and pharmacy services.† Because it is not reasonable for [appellant] to spend more than she is required to spend under her insurance policy, the combined out-of-pocket medical expenses should not exceed $250 per month.


††††††††††† Additionally, the district court found that appellantís stated monthly grocery expenses were unreasonable.† The court explained, ď[Appellantís] current estimated grocery expense of $540 per month is disproportionate to that which she incurred at the time of the Judgment and Decree ($340).† It would be more reasonable to estimate her grocery expense at $400 per month.Ē†

††††††††††† Appellant argues that it was clearly erroneous for the district court to find her stated noncovered medical expenses unreasonable because respondent did not controvert her testimony.† We disagree.† The district court is not required to believe even uncontradicted testimony if there are reasonable grounds to doubt its credibility.† Varner v. Varner, 400 N.W.2d 117, 121 (Minn. App. 1987).† The district court had the discretion to disbelieve appellantís testimony that she needs certain medications, medical devices, and diagnostic tests that her insurance policy does not cover.† Furthermore, appellant acknowledged that she reaches a point during the year when she no longer pays for any of her prescriptions.† Appellant also admitted that she did not consider, and had not even asked, whether a doctor she had chosen was a network provider under her insurance policy.† Thus, appellant contradicted herself.† On this record, appellant has not shown that the district courtís finding that her reasonable monthly medical expenses do not exceed $250 is clearly erroneous.†

††††††††††† Likewise, the district court was free to disbelieve appellantís testimony that she needs $540 per month for groceries.† See Sefkow, 427 N.W.2d at 210 (noting that appellate courts defer to the district courtsí credibility determinations).† Here, the district court properly compared appellantís claimed monthly grocery expenses to her claim at the time of dissolution when she paid $340 per month for groceries.† On this record, appellant has not shown that the district courtís finding that her reasonable monthly grocery expenses do not exceed $400 is not clearly erroneous.


We do not reach appellantís argument that the district court erred by not including respondentís principal balance in a brokerage account when determining his ability to pay spousal maintenance.† The district courtís findings regarding appellantís reasonable monthly expenses were not clearly erroneous.† Thus, appellant is entitled to the $7,300 monthly spousal-maintenance award.† Because respondent has sufficient income to pay the monthly spousal-maintenance award, there is no reason to address whether the trial court abused its discretion by not including the principal balance in respondentís brokerage account when determining his ability to pay spousal maintenance.†