This opinion will be unpublished and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:
Keum Ja Kim, petitioner,
Youn H. Kim,
Filed September 12, 2006
Ramsey County District Court
File No. DM-F1-01-000731
Shellie Lundgren, Kurzman Grant
Cathryn C. Schmidt, Swaden Law Offices, Suite 550, 7301 Ohms Lane, Edina, Minnesota 55439 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge; Hudson, Judge; and Parker, Judge.*
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
On appeal from the district court’s ruling in post-judgment dissolution proceedings, appellant argues that the district court improperly modified a provision of the parties’ stipulated property distribution regarding sale of the house and the disposition of the proceeds of the sale of the house. Because we conclude that the provision is ambiguous and that the district court properly interpreted the provision, we affirm.
Appellant (wife) and respondent (husband) dissolved their marriage in December 2001. As part of the judgment and decree, the parties agreed to sell their house and agreed to the division of the net proceeds of the sale. The relevant language of the 2001 decree reads:
Said homestead shall be placed on the market for sale (at a price and upon terms to be mutually agreed upon by the parties). The net proceeds, after payment of the mortgage and any costs of sale, outstanding attorney’s fees of the parties, and the $5,000.00 debt to [wife’s] mother, shall be apportioned as follows:
(1) One-fourth (1/4) to [wife].
(2) One-fourth (1/4) to [husband].
(3) One-fourth (1/4) for the use of each of the two children’s post-secondary school education. These funds shall be available to [wife] to use in obtaining housing for her and the children. However, she must make the funds available for the children when they need it.
In the years following the dissolution proceeding, both children graduated from high school and attended college. Wife did not sell the house before the children attended college. It is undisputed that husband paid the amount required for both children to attend college, a total of $37,055.36.
In June 2004, the parties amended the decree. Husband agreed to accept a cash settlement of $14,500 in lieu of the one-fourth of the net proceeds from the sale of the house to which he was originally entitled. As amended, the decree reads:
Said homestead shall be placed on the market for sale at a time and price and upon terms to be decided by [wife]. The net proceeds, after payment of the mortgage and any costs of sale, outstanding attorney fees of the [wife], and the $5,000.00 debt to [wife’s] mother, shall be apportioned as follows:
(1) One-half (1/2) to [wife].
(2) One-fourth (1/4) for the use of each of the two children’s post-secondary school education. These funds shall be available to [wife] to use in obtaining housing for her and the children. However, she must make the funds available for the children when they need it.
Wife put the house on the market in late 2004, and the house sold in January 2005. The net proceeds from the sale were $152,346.36. In April 2005, husband made a motion before the district court seeking reimbursement for the amount he spent on the children’s college education. The district court concluded that “the clear intent of the parties’ stipulation was that [wife] would receive one-half of the net proceeds from the sale [of the] homestead, and that the remaining money would be used for the children’s post-secondary education costs.” The district court also found that husband was compelled to pay for the children’s college costs because wife’s sale of the house was untimely and therefore, husband was entitled to reimbursement from the proceeds of the sale. The district court granted husband’s motion in part, denied it in part, and ordered wife to pay husband $37,055.36. This appeal follows.
D E C I S I O N
district court may not modify a division of property once the “original decree
has been entered and the time for appeal therefrom has expired.” Mikkelsen
v. Mikkelsen, 286
Husband argues that the language of the provision means that the money from the sale of the house must be used to pay for the children’s education and that he is entitled to reimbursement for the amount of money he advanced to finance the children’s college costs. Wife argues that the plain language of the amended decree does not require her to reimburse husband for any monies expended prior to the sale of the house.
The decree itself is silent on the issue of reimbursement for educational expenses incurred before the house was sold; it is neither mandated nor prohibited. The parties clearly did not contemplate this possibility at the time the decree was drafted. We conclude that the language of the decree is ambiguous as to this issue and that the district court was free to interpret the meaning of that language.
of the meaning of ambiguous language is a question of fact, which this court
reviews for clear error. Landwehr v. Landwehr, 380 N.W.2d 136,
The record supports the district court’s findings that one-half of the proceeds from the sale of the house was meant to be used for the children’s education. Wife suggests that the children do not need the funds because they are not currently attending college. But to interpret the word “need” in such a restrictive fashion is over-technical and does not reflect the spirit or intent of the provision. We also note that after reimbursing husband, wife will be in essentially the position anticipated by the parties when they executed the decree. Additionally, although the amended decree permits wife to direct the terms and time of the sale of the house, neither party anticipated a thirty-month interval between the decree and the sale of the house. Under the totality of the circumstances, and viewing the record in the light most favorable to the district court’s findings, it was not clear error for the district court to find that the sale of the house was untimely.
We conclude that the language of the provision is ambiguous with respect to the issue of reimbursement and that the district court’s findings and interpretation of the decree are reasonable and not clearly erroneous.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.