This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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






In re the Marriage of:


Audrey P. James, petitioner,





Charles D. James,



Filed February 28, 2006


Worke, Judge


Dodge County District Court

File No. F6-99-88


Mary Alice Richardson, Richardson Law Office, 18 Third Street SW, Suite 302, P. O. Box 656, Rochester, MN  55903; and


Sharon L. Buffington, Buffington Law Office, 18 Third Street SW, Suite 302, P. O. Box 656, Rochester, MN  55903 (for appellant)


Jill I. Frieders, O’Brien & Wolf, L.L.P., 206 South Broadway, Suite 611, P. O. Box 968, Rochester, MN  55903 (for respondent)


            Considered and decided by Wright, Presiding Judge; Dietzen, Judge; and Worke, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

WORKE, Judge

          Appellant-wife argues that the district court abused its discretion by terminating her award of permanent maintenance when the parties had stipulated to the award and respondent-husband failed to demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances making the original award unfair and unreasonable.  We affirm.   


A district court’s decision on a motion to modify maintenance is discretionary and will not be reversed absent an abuse of discretion.  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. & n.3 (citing Sefkow v. Sefkow, 427 N.W.2d 203, 210 (Minn. 1988)).  “Findings of fact concerning spousal maintenance must be upheld unless they are clearly erroneous.”  Gessner v. Gessner, 487 N.W.2d 921, 923 (Minn. App. 1992).  A district court’s conclusions are clearly erroneous if they are against logic and unsupported by the facts on the record.  Rutten v. Rutten, 347 N.W.2d 47, 50 (Minn. 1984). 

            Here, at the time of dissolution, respondent Charles D. James was earning approximately $106,000 per year, and appellant Audrey P. James was earning approximately $21,840 per year.  Respondent was ordered to pay appellant $1,625 monthly in “permanent” maintenance through December 31, 2011.  In 2004, respondent moved the district court to terminate or decrease his spousal-maintenance obligation.  The district court concluded that a substantial change in circumstances rendered the current spousal-maintenance award unreasonable and unfair and terminated respondent’s obligation.

 Appellant argues that the district court abused its discretion by terminating respondent’s spousal-maintenance obligation because the original award was permanent.  Appellant contends that the district court clearly erred in its findings because the parties stipulated in their Marital Termination Agreement (MTA) that she would receive maintenance through 2011.  But the MTA also stated that maintenance was terminable upon appellant’s remarriage and subject to future modification upon proof of a change in circumstances.  Further, a stipulation does not constitute a complete bar to a motion for subsequent modification of maintenance.  Cisek v. Cisek, 409 N.W.2d 233, 237 (Minn. App. 1987), review denied (Minn. Sept. 18, 1987).  If a party makes a showing of the necessary factors, relief is appropriate despite a stipulation incorporated into the dissolution decree.  Id.  Because a court may modify a permanent-maintenance order, the district court did not err in terminating the permanent-maintenance award based on respondent’s motion that a substantial change in circumstances warranted modification.  See Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 1 (2004). 

Appellant next argues that the district court erroneously overstated appellant’s income and assets, considered her fiancé’s financial contribution to household expenses, and found her budget excessive.  “The basis for modification of an award of maintenance is a change of circumstances which makes the terms of the award unreasonable or unfair—substantially increased or decreased earnings or need of a party, receipt of public assistance, or a change in the cost-of-living.”  Nardini v. Nardini, 414 N.W.2d 184, 198 (Minn. 1987); see also Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(a) (2004).   Included among the factors a district court considers in determining the appropriate amount of maintenance are: the financial resources of the party seeking maintenance, the time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking maintenance to find appropriate employment, the standard of living established during the marriage, and the ability of the obligor to meet his or her own needsMinn. Stat. § 518.552, subd. 2 (2004).  On a motion to modify maintenance, in addition to other relevant factors, the district court must apply the factors from Minn. Stat. § 518.552 as they exist at the time of the motion.  Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(c) (2004).  The equation for determining the amount of maintenance is essentially the recipient’s need balanced against the obligor’s financial condition.  See Erlandson v. Erlandson,318 N.W.2d 36, 39-40 (Minn. 1982).

            Appellant contends that the district court erroneously terminated her award of spousal maintenance based on her increased income and savings.  While a recipient of  maintenance is not automatically penalized by the termination of maintenance if employed at the time of dissolution and his or her earnings subsequently increase, Borchert v. Borchert, 391 N.W.2d 74, 76 (Minn. App. 1986), no single factor for determining maintenance is dispositive.  See Minn. Stat. § 518.552, subd. 2.  The district court examined appellant’s current need for support and balanced it against respondent’s current financial situation.  See Erlandson, 318 N.W.2d at 39-40.  The district court found that appellant’s income had increased to $37,225 per year, and that she had managed to save $95,000 since the dissolution.  The district court’s findings are supported by the record and are not clearly erroneous. 

            The district court also found that appellant’s needs decreased because she and her fiancé reside together and her fiancé contributes to household expenses.  Appellant concedes that the district court was to consider her cohabiting relationship to the extent that it might improve her economic well-beingSee Sieber v. Sieber, 258 N.W.2d 754, 758 (Minn. 1977) (stating that a meretricious relationship is disregarded except in so far as it might improve an ex-spouse’s economic well-being).  The record shows that appellant’s fiancé pays one-half of the monthly mortgage payment—$600 including taxes and insurance—and contributes an additional $600 per month for household expenses.  Further, appellant and her fiancé jointly own their home.  Appellant argues that she and her fiancé have no legally recognized relationship, and, therefore, the district court erred in determining that her fiancé is financially responsible for her.  But the district court only considered that appellant’s fiancé pays for half of the mortgage on a home he owns and contributes to the monthly household expenses.  Appellant’s fiancé may not owe her a financial obligation, but as a mortgagor of the home, he is financially obligated to pay the mortgage.  Based on this record, the district court did not err in finding that appellant’s need for maintenance decreased based on her increased income and savings and the fact that her nonmarital living arrangement improved her economic well-being.

            Appellant also argues that the district court erred in finding her 2004 monthly budget to be excessive.  The district court found that appellant claimed that her 2002 monthly budget of $5,478.39 had increased to $6,568 in 2004, but that her claimed 2004 monthly budget was not credible.  The district court determined that, in order for appellant’s 2004 budget to be accurate, she would have to net $78,816 annually and that even with her current spousal-maintenance award and the assistance from her fiancé, she was netting nowhere near that amount.   The district court specifically found that appellant’s monthly daycare expense of $500 was excessive for teenagers because respondent was willing and able to care for the children.  The district court also found that while appellant’s debts and household expenses significantly decreased since 2002, appellant doubled her vacation reserve fund, haircut expenses, auto loan/replacement expense, savings, and attorney fees.  The district court readjusted appellant’s proposed budget to closely align with her 2002 budget.  The district court found respondent’s budget to be reasonable.  The district court then compared the parties’ respective cash flows without the award of spousal maintenance and determined that with respondent paying $2,003 per month in child support, the parties would be nearly equal.  In reviewing the record, the district court’s findings are not clearly erroneous.

            Finally, appellant argues that respondent is attempting to punish appellant for requesting child support.  But the district court awarded appellant $2,003 per month in child support, and the record contains no indication that respondent failed to pay appellant child support.  Further, the changed circumstances that the district court relied on in terminating respondent’s spousal-maintenance obligation relate to appellant’s increased income and savings, and contributions from her fiancé.  Because the findings are supported by the record, the district court did not abuse its discretion in terminating respondent’s spousal-maintenance obligation.