This opinion will be unpublished and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:
Cheryl Ann Arnold, petitioner,
John Bernard Arnold,
Wabasha County District Court
File No. FO-03-768
H. Zalk, Zalk & Bryant, P.A.,
Jill I. Frieders, O’Brien & Wolf, L.L.P., 206 South Broadway, Suite 611, Associated Bank Building, Post Office Box 968, Rochester, MN 55903 (for respondent).
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge, Randall, Judge, and Ross, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
On appeal in this spousal maintenance dispute, appellant-wife argues the district court (a) failed to make adequate findings to support its failure to award permanent maintenance; (b) erred in ruling that permanent maintenance was available only in exceptional cases; and (c) should have recognized that wife was entitled to permanent maintenance. We affirm.
Appellant Cheryl Arnold and respondent John Arnold separated and divorced after 15 years of marriage. The marriage was the second for both parties and there were no children as a result of the marriage.
Throughout the marriage, appellant worked as a certified public accountant (CPA). At dissolution, appellant worked at the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research earning an annual income of approximately $79,000. Respondent is an attorney and shareholder at the law firm of Dunlap & Seeger, P.A. and earns an income of approximately $166,000.
During their marriage, the parties enjoyed a comfortable life style. In addition to a homestead, the parties owned a summer lake home. They regularly attended the theater, concerts, and traveled frequently.
During the process of divorce, the parties stipulated to a martial termination agreement (MTA) which resolved all issues with the exception of spousal maintenance. Pursuant to the MTA, appellant received the following assets: an unencumbered lakeside home valued at $380,000, a 2000 Grand Cherokee Laredo, recreational boat, an equalization payment from respondent in the amount of $14,300, and funds from financial accounts totaling $62,312. Appellant retained sole rights to her pension and investment accounts totaling $188,461. Under the MTA, appellant’s assets totaled $658,951.
Pursuant to the MTA, respondent received the following assets: the homestead encumbered by a mortgage of $86,109, his interest in his law practice, a 2002 Chevrolet Suburban, snowmobile, fishing boat, and funds from financial accounts totaling $26,466. Respondent also retained sole rights to his pension and investment accounts totaling $390,528. Under the MTA, respondent’s assets totaled $737,361.
The issue at trial was spousal maintenance. Appellant testified that her average monthly expenses were $6,882 and that this was on the “low side.” Appellant based her estimate of her average monthly expenses on computerized records she maintained throughout the marriage. Appellant included in her estimate the following expenses: $775 for recreation, $843 for vehicle use and maintenance, and $495 for personal allowances and miscellaneous expenses. The district court found little evidence to support these expenses, and found the claimed expenses to be “unreasonable and excessive considering the standard of living during the marriage.”
The district court found that appellant’s estimate included a monthly mortgage payment of $1,293 for a second home, in addition to the unencumbered home she received pursuant to the MTA. The district court found that respondent was maintaining just one home, encumbered with an $86,108 mortgage. The court found unreasonable appellant’s desire to maintain two households without making any financial adjustments.
Respondent testified that his average monthly expenses were $6,536 but submitted no estimated monthly budget. At trial, appellant introduced an estimated monthly budget for respondent of $4,635. The district court found that appellant’s proposed budget for respondent was “more in line with the standard of living established during the marriage.” The district court reasoned that “if [appellant] believes that the respondent can sustain a comparable standard of living on a reduced budget, [appellant] should also be able to live on a similar monthly budget.”
Based on the evidence, the district court concluded that “a more reasonable budget for [appellant was] approximately $4,000 per month.” The district court justified its finding by concluding this amount “would allow [appellant] to pay her monthly mortgage including all the insurance and real estate taxes . . . and leave [her] with over $2,000 for other expenses.” The district court ended its analysis by finding that appellant’s “individual income combined with the distribution of the marital property pursuant to the MTA[,] will . . . provide for [appellant’s] reasonable needs considering the standard of living established during the marriage.”
After reviewing the factors set out in Minn. Stat. §518.552 (2004), the district court denied appellant’s request for spousal maintenance, both temporary and permanent. This appeal followed.
D E C I S I O N
Appellant argues that the district court abused its discretion by failing to award her spousal maintenance. She argues that she is entitled to spousal maintenance because she lacks sufficient property to provide for her reasonable needs considering the standard of living established during her marriage to respondent. She argues that the district court failed to make specific findings to support its decision not to grant her spousal maintenance. We disagree.
district court’s maintenance award will not be reversed unless there has been a
clear abuse of discretion. Erlandson v. Erlandson, 318 N.W.2d 36,
of fact concerning spousal maintenance must be upheld unless they are clearly
erroneous. Gessner v. Gessner, 487 N.W.2d 921, 923 (
A district court may grant maintenance if it finds that the spouse seeking maintenance:
(a) lacks sufficient property, including marital property apportioned to the spouse, to provide for reasonable needs of the spouse considering the standard of living established during the marriage, especially, but not limited to, a period of training or education, or
(b) is unable to provide adequate self-support, after considering the standard of living established during the marriage and all relevant circumstances, through appropriate employment, or is the custodian of a child whose condition or circumstances make it appropriate that the custodian not be required to seek employment outside the home.
Appellant argues that the most
significant problem with the district court’s decision is its lack of complete
findings. The district court should make
sufficient detailed findings of fact to demonstrate that it considered all
factors relevant to an award of spousal maintenance. See
Stich v. Stich, 435 N.W.2d 52, 53 (
Appellant argues that the district court failed to make detailed findings regarding her expenses. A review of the district court’s memorandum proves otherwise. In its memorandum, the district court specifically noted appellant’s estimated monthly budget of $6,882 and her assertion that she would have a deficit based on her income alone. In finding that her estimate was excessive, unreasonable, and beyond the standard of living enjoyed during marriage, the district court specifically found that appellant’s expense estimates for recreation, transportation, other household expenses, and personal allowance and miscellaneous expenses were not supported by the evidence. The fact that the district court found insufficient evidence to support appellant’s estimates is specific. See also Allan v. Allan, 509 N.W.2d 593, 597 (Minn. App. 1993) (holding that when appellant failed to submit evidence to support the claimed expenses, appellant was not in a position to complain about the lack of detailed findings).
The district court continued to analyze appellant’s expenses. Appellant included in her monthly expenses $1,293 for a mortgage payment on a new house. In addition to this new house acquired after the divorce, appellant was awarded the parties’ $380,000 unencumbered lake home. Although appellant and respondent owned two houses during their marriage, the district court found that it was unreasonable for appellant to expect to own two homes in her own name after the divorce without making any financial adjustments. The district court contrasted appellant’s desire to have two homes with respondent’s ownership of one home.
Appellant also included in her estimated monthly expenses $439 for a new car she may purchase “depending on the [the court’s decision] and determining [sic] if [she is] able to afford it or not.” Finally, when considering respondent’s monthly expenses, the district court considered appellant’s proposed monthly budget for respondent of $4,635 and found it to be more in line with the parties’ standard of living established during the marriage. After considering testimony by appellant and respondent, the district court determined that a reasonable budget for appellant was approximately $4,000 per month. Appellant argues the district failed to explain why it reduced her monthly budget from $6,882 to $4,000. However, from the district court’s memorandum, it is easy to see that the court adjusted the amounts of her recreation, transportation, other household, and personal allowance and miscellaneous expenses to arrive at this amount. The district court’s findings were detailed, specific, and not clearly erroneous. The district court did not abuse its discretion by denying appellant spousal maintenance.
argues that the district court failed to make sufficient findings regarding
respondent’s income. She argues that
respondent provided no evidence to support his anticipated income reduction. Although respondent provided no documented
evidence of his anticipated income, based on his testimony, the district court
found that respondent, an attorney,
“anticipates making less income for 2005 and for the foreseeable future
due to a decline in the real estate market, and that [he] is in the process of
‘winding down’ his practice.” Because
respondent’s income fluctuates depending on the market, the district court did
not abuse its discretion by relying solely on respondent’s testimony when
determining his income. “Findings of
fact, whether based on oral or documentary evidence, shall not be set aside
unless clearly erroneous, and due regard shall be given to the opportunity of
the trial court to judge the credibility of the witnesses.”
argues that the district court’s failure to award maintenance hinders her
ability to maintain the marital standard of living. The purpose of maintenance is to allow the recipient
and obligor to have a standard of
living comparable to the marital standard of living as closely as is equitable under the circumstances. After noting what the parties received under
the MTA and the parties estimated monthly expenses, the district court found
that “an exact standard of living post-divorce would be impossible to achieve
for both parties.” The district court
concluded that “although [r]espondent may have the ability to pay spousal
maintenance while meeting his own needs, absent a demonstrated need for
maintenance by [appellant], mere income disparity is not a sufficient basis for
awarding maintenance.” See Snyder v. Snyder, 298
also argues that the district court erroneously found that permanent
maintenance is only available in exceptional cases. The district court ruled that under Gales v. Gales, 553 N.W.2d 416, 421 (
Even when considering the district court’s reliance on Gales, we conclude the district court’s findings of facts are not erroneous. The district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied appellant spousal maintenance.
Appellant is employed as a professional earning a good income, has an unencumbered home, and sufficient additional property, including liquid assets, to aid her in maintaining a reasonable lifestyle.
The district court thoroughly considered the evidence and relevant statutory factors in making its findings to support its decision.