This opinion will be unpublished and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
Marie Ann Prom, petitioner,
Michael James Prom,
Filed August 23, 2005
Todd R. Haugan, Haugan Law Office, Ltd., 746 Mill Street, Wayzata, MN 55391 (for appellant)
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
In this appeal from an order denying his motion to modify or terminate spousal maintenance, appellant husband argues that (1) there has been a change in circumstances warranting termination of spousal maintenance; and (2) the district court abused its discretion by considering his current wife’s income and property when denying his motion to terminate spousal maintenance. We affirm.
The parties’ stipulated agreement was incorporated into the 1991 judgment that dissolved their marriage. The judgment required appellant-husband Michael James Prom to pay respondent-wife Marie Ann Prom $350 per month in permanent spousal maintenance. At the time of the dissolution, appellant’s usual net monthly income was $2,050, but appellant was on medical disability receiving net monthly income of $1,750, and $380 in monthly debts were being paid for him. Respondent was employed almost full-time and earned $724 in net monthly income. The judgment did not include amounts for the parties’ reasonable monthly expenses.
In January 1996, appellant moved to modify the spousal-maintenance award. The district court found that appellant’s three back surgeries and two knee surgeries since the dissolution had reduced his earnings and earning capacity to $1,515 per month, which constituted a substantial change in circumstance not contemplated by the parties at the time of the dissolution, but the change in circumstances did not render the maintenance award either unreasonable or unfair. The district court also found that appellant had “unilaterally reduced his monthly maintenance payments,” which resulted in maintenance arrearages totaling $3,597.35. The district court denied appellant’s motion to modify spousal maintenance and ordered appellant to pay respondent maintenance arrearages of $70 per month.
In July 2004, appellant moved to modify or terminate his spousal-maintenance obligation. In an affidavit, appellant stated that since the dissolution, there have been several changes in his life that have made it difficult for him to continue satisfying his spousal-maintenance obligation: (1) he has never been able to return to full-time employment as was anticipated at the time of the dissolution; (2) the Social Security administration has determined that he is totally disabled, and his only sources of income are $700 per month in worker’s compensation benefits and $1,440 per month in Social Security disability payments; and (3) his monthly expenses have increased to $2,130.
In her affidavit to the district court, respondent stated that (1) she is currently employed and earns a net monthly income of approximately $1,500; (2) she receives monthly payments of $350 for maintenance and $70 for maintenance arrearages; and (3) her monthly expenses are approximately $2,003.70.
The district court found that appellant receives $700 per month from worker’s-compensation benefits and $1,443 per month in Social Security payments for a total monthly income of $2,143. After paying maintenance and maintenance arrearages, appellant has $1,723 available to meet his monthly expenses. The district court subtracted from appellant’s claimed monthly expenses one-half of the amounts that appellant claimed for food, transportation, automobile insurance, recreation, and allowances/miscellaneous. The amounts that appellant claimed for these expenses was the amount spent for both him and his wife. The district court also deducted the full amount that appellant claimed for health insurance because appellant’s wife testified that this amount was for her health insurance, not appellant’s. After making these deductions, the district court found that appellant’s reasonable monthly expenses are $1,543.50.
The district court found that respondent has net monthly income of $1,500 and that respondent’s reasonable monthly expenses are $2,004.
The district court concluded:
1. There has been no change in circumstances that makes the prior order for spousal maintenance unreasonable or unfair.
2. [Respondent] needs spousal maintenance in order to meet her reasonable monthly expenses.
3. [Appellant] has sufficient income and financial resources to pay his spousal maintenance and meet his monthly expenses.
The district court denied appellant’s motion to modify or terminate his spousal-maintenance obligation.
A district court has broad discretion over issues of spousal maintenance,
and this court will not reverse a district court’s decision absent an abuse of
that discretion. Rutten v. Rutten,
347 N.W.2d 47, 50 (
Appellant argues that the district court erred in finding that there was
no change in circumstances in regard to the parties’ incomes. But the district court did not find that
there was no change in circumstances in regard to the parties’ incomes; the
district court concluded that “[t]here has been no change in circumstances that makes the prior order for spousal
maintenance unreasonable or unfair.”
(Emphasis added.) “A movant for maintenance
modification must not only demonstrate the existence of a substantial change of
circumstances, but is also required to show that the change has the effect of
rendering the original maintenance award both unreasonable and unfair.” Beck
v. Kaplan, 566 N.W.2d 723, 726 (
[w]hen a stipulation fixing the respective rights and obligations of the parties is central to the original judgment and decree, the district court considering the modification motion must appreciate that the stipulation represents the parties’ voluntary acquiescence in an equitable settlement. In that regard, we have cautioned the district court to exercise its considerable discretion carefully and only reluctantly when it is faced with a request to alter the terms of an agreement which was negotiated by the parties.
The fact that the parties’ incomes have changed is not by itself sufficient to warrant a maintenance modification, and this is particularly so when the parties have reached a stipulation that includes an agreement to pay spousal maintenance. When considering spousal maintenance “‛[t]he basic consideration is the financial need of the spouse receiving maintenance and the ability to meet that need balanced against the financial condition of the spouse providing the maintenance.’” LeRoy v. LeRoy, 600 N.W.2d 729, 733 (Minn. App. 1999), (quoting Krick v. Krick, 349 N.W.2d 350, 352 (Minn. App. 1984), review denied (Minn. Dec. 14, 1999). To determine respondent’s need, the district court had to consider her income and her expenses. See Kemp v. Kemp, 608 N.W.2d 916, 921 (Minn. App. 2000) (stating“recipient’s needs are often determined by considering her income and available resources versus her reasonable monthly expenses”). The district court explicitly found that respondent’s monthly income is $1,500, her reasonable monthly expenses are $2,004, and respondent needs maintenance to pay her reasonable monthly expenses. The district court also found that after paying $420 in spousal maintenance, appellant’s remaining monthly income is $1,723, which is more than appellant needs to pay his reasonable monthly expenses of $1,543. The district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that there has been no change in circumstances that makes the prior order for spousal maintenance unreasonable or unfair.
Citing a pay stub that shows respondent’s earnings for the
first seven months of 2004, appellant contends that respondent’s monthly income
is $1,679, not $1,500 as the district court found. But we will not reverse a district court’s determination of net income unless
the district court’s finding is clearly erroneous. Strauch
v. Strauch, 401 N.W.2d 444, 448 (
Appellant argues that the district court abused its discretion by combining his and his wife’s incomes to determine a household income without doing the same thing for respondent and her fiancée, who lives with her. But the district court treated appellant’s wife’s income the same as it treated respondent’s fiancée’s income. The district court identified expenses attributable to appellant’s wife and expenses attributable to respondent’s fiancée and treated those expenses as the responsibility of the wife and the fiancée. The court recognized that appellant’s wife’s income is used to pay household expenses attributable to her and that although respondent’s fiancée pays respondent $750 each month for living expenses, respondent uses the money to pay household expenses attributable to her fiancée. Payments that the wife or the fiancée made for their own expenses were not treated as income for either party when the district court determined the parties’ net monthly incomes and their reasonable monthly expenses.
Appellant also argues that the district court abused its
discretion by considering his current wife’s income and property when denying
his motion to terminate spousal maintenance.
The district court found that “[appellant] had sufficient income to
purchase a town home and incur a mortgage of $25,000 for household furnishings. [Appellant] and his wife own four vehicles,
they travel frequently, and have vacationed in
Appellant contends that this finding demonstrates that the district court considered his wife’s income and property. But even if it is true that appellant was able to enjoy these items only because of his wife’s income and property, appellant has not explained how the district court’s consideration of these items affected the court’s conclusion that there has been no change in circumstances that makes the existing spousal-maintenance order unreasonable or unfair. Appellant seems to believe that the district court reached this conclusion because appellant is enjoying a comfortable standard of living made possible by his wife’s income and property. But the court’s conclusions of law specifically state that respondent needs spousal maintenance to meet her reasonable monthly expenses and appellant can pay the existing spousal maintenance and still pay his monthly expenses. The district court’s findings of fact support these conclusions, and we are not persuaded by appellant’s suggestion that because the district court made a finding about appellant’s standard of living, the district court’s decision to deny modification of a stipulated maintenance award was based on appellant’s standard of living, rather than on appellant’s ability to pay maintenance and respondent’s need for maintenance.
 $420 are deducted from appellant’s worker’s-compensation benefits each month and paid directly to respondent. This amount is the sum of $350 for maintenance and $70 for maintenance arrearages.