This opinion will be unpublished and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:
Beverly Ellen Moen, petitioner,
Dennis Dale Moen,
Lake County District Court
File No. FX-01-330
Timothy A. Costley, The Costley Law Firm, 609 First Avenue, P.O. Box 340, Two Harbors, MN 55616 (for respondent)
Matthew K. Begeske, John B. Schulte, Begeske Law Offices, 713 Board of Trade Building, 301 West First Street, Duluth, MN 55802 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge; Minge, Judge; and Hudson, Judge.
On appeal in this spousal-maintenance dispute, appellant-husband Dennis Moen argues (a) the district court misread the parties’ dissolution judgment to require husband to provide medical insurance for respondent-wife Beverly Moen until she dies; (b) the district court misread the parties’ dissolution judgment to reserve rather than waive maintenance; and (c) the record does not support the amount of maintenance awarded to wife. We affirm.
The 2001 judgment dissolving the parties’ marriage was based on a stipulation. Both the stipulation and the judgment stated that husband was to “continue to maintain health care coverage for the benefit of [wife]” and that the parties “request that the court waive spousal maintenance.”
Litigation quickly followed regarding health insurance and other matters that the parties alleged were inadequately addressed in the stipulation and judgment. The status of health insurance coverage was not resolved, and in 2003, wife renewed her request that the district court order continuing health insurance coverage. Also in 2003, wife asked that the ambiguous provision regarding maintenance be restated to clearly provide that both parties waived maintenance. Husband consistently disputed that he was obligated to provide health insurance on the ground that his LTV Steel job and the accompanying insurance benefit had ended. Husband further claimed that the judgment only waived maintenance as of the date of the judgment, but that the judgment did not divest the court of jurisdiction over maintenance, and that husband was free to request maintenance in the future.
Although in early 2004 the district court ruled on various other matters in dispute, the insurance and maintenance questions were not resolved. In May 2004, wife requested that the district court order husband to pay health insurance and, in a change of position, to pay her maintenance. In July 2004, the district court ordered husband to continue to provide health insurance for wife, determined that maintenance had not been clearly waived, and scheduled an evidentiary hearing regarding maintenance. After a hearing, the district court ordered husband to pay wife $500 per month maintenance. Husband appeals his health insurance and maintenance obligations.
first issue is whether husband timely appealed the district court requirement
that he provide health insurance. Wife
argues that because the district court ordered medical insurance coverage in July
2004, husband’s 2006 appeal is untimely and that this court cannot review them. Generally, only final rulings are appealable. Weinzierl
v. Lien, 296
Here, the issues before the district court in the proceeding generating the July 2004 order included both medical insurance and maintenance. While the order ruled that husband was required to provide medical insurance, it also ruled that the dissolution judgment was ambiguous regarding maintenance and ordered an evidentiary hearing. Because the July 2004 order did not finally resolve the maintenance question, it did not conclusively terminate this matter, the order was not final and appealable, and the order did not become appealable until the district court decided the lingering maintenance issue in 2005.
further argues that because a dissolution judgment’s property division is
generally final after the time to appeal the original dissolution judgment expires
and because husband’s obligation to provide her with medical insurance was part
of the property division, the medical insurance coverage issue was determined
in 2001 at the time of the initial dissolution judgment and is no longer
appealable. Because wife cites no
authority and makes no argument to support her assertion that the medical insurance
requirement is part of the property division, her assertion is not properly
before this court. State v. Modern Recycling, Inc., 558 N.W.2d 770, 772 (Minn. App.
1997); see State, Dep’t of Labor & Indus. v. Wintz Parcel Drivers, Inc.,
558 N.W.2d 480, 480 (Minn. 1997) (holding that, absent adequate briefing,
reviewing court may decline to reach issue or argument unsupported by legal
analysis or citation). However, even assuming
that the question of how to characterize medical insurance is properly before
us, we note that the statute covering medical insurance is Minn. Stat.
§ 518.171 (2004), and that this section is entitled “Medical
Support.” We further note that “[m]aintenance”
is defined as a payment from the income of one spouse “for the support and
maintenance of the other.” Minn. Stat.
§ 518.54, subd. 3 (2004). Logically,
health insurance premiums are continuing, recurring expenses. This is akin to maintenance. Premiums that must be paid are not assets
that are divided as property in a dissolution.
Korf v. Korf, 553 N.W.2d 706,
In sum, we reject wife’s claim that health coverage is an asset that was divided in the dissolution judgment and that the time for appealing the health insurance obligation expired with the finality of the property settlement.
issues concern the meaning of the dissolution judgment which was largely the
result of a stipulation. Husband
challenges the rulings in the July 2004 order that the dissolution judgment
requires him to provide medical insurance for wife for an indefinite period and
that the dissolution judgment is ambiguous regarding spousal maintenance. Excepting terms that affect children,
stipulated dissolution judgments are treated as contracts. Johnson
v. Van Zee, 370 N.W.2d 471, 473 (Minn. App. 1985); see Shirk v. Shirk, 561
N.W.2d 519, 521 (
A. Health Insurance
The judgment’s health-insurance provision states: “[Husband] will continue to maintain health care coverage for the benefit of [wife].” Husband argues that the use of the phrase “continue to maintain” renders the provision ambiguous and subject to analysis of the parties’ intentions at the time of their agreement and that the intent behind this provision is that husband would continue to have wife remain on the coverage he had available through LTV Steel at the time of the dissolution, coverage that was subsequently discontinued by the LTV bankruptcy. Husband also argues that because of the provision’s ambiguity, the district court should have considered parol evidence to determine its meaning.
argument is awkward. LTV Steel closed,
and husband was laid off before the dissolution was final. If the dissolution agreement meant what
husband claimed, it is hard to understand why it was not modified or clarified during
the original dissolution proceeding when he was actually losing coverage
through LTV. Whether a provision is
ambiguous is purely a matter of its language: “A writing is ambiguous if,
judged by its language alone and without resort to parol evidence, it is
reasonably susceptible of more than one meaning.” Landwehr
v. Landwehr, 380 N.W.2d 136, 138 (
We observe that once a judgment is entered on a dissolution stipulation, the need for finality is important; the statutes limit relief to direct appeals and, in certain cases, reopening judgments. See Minn. Stat. § 518.145, subd. 2 (2004); Shirk, 561 N.W.2d at 522. Here, both the time for direct appeal and most bases for reopening the judgment have long passed. The statutory bases for reopening for which the statute does not set a time limit include fraud on the court and voidness. Minn. Stat. § 518.145, subd. 2. Neither ground is present here.
possible statutory basis for reopening this issue is the provision for
modification of maintenance. See
The other issue with the dissolution judgment is whether it precludes either party from recovering maintenance. The parties’ stipulation and the judgment itself simply state that “[the parties] request that the court waive spousal maintenance[,]” but do not otherwise mention maintenance. In its 2004 order, the district court determined that the dissolution judgment and the parties’ intentions are not clear regarding spousal maintenance and that wife is entitled to a hearing on her request for maintenance. While the stipulation that became the judgment asked the district court to “waive spousal maintenance,” it does not include a waiver by the parties, nor does it meet the criteria for divesting the district court of jurisdiction pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 518.552, subd. 5 (2004). The district court concluded that, although unclear, the judgment in effect reserved maintenance.
Even an unambiguous request by parties that the district court waive maintenance is not dispositive of the issue before us. In a case involving a maintenance-related stipulation, the supreme court stated:
The court had the authority to refuse to accept the terms of the stipulation in part or in toto. The trial court stands in place and on behalf of the citizens of the state as a third party to dissolution actions. It has a duty to protect the interests of both parties and all the citizens of the state to ensure that the stipulation is fair and reasonable to all.
Karon v. Karon, 435 N.W.2d 501, 503 (
Husband notes that although the original dissolution judgment did not explicitly state that maintenance is waived, it addresses the relevant statutory factors for waiving maintenance. See Minn. Stat. § 518.552, subd. 5. Husband asserts that because the factors were covered, the parties’ maintenance waiver should be enforced here. Ironically, the parties have previously taken different positions on this issue. In 2003, when respondent had a sufficient income, she claimed that the parties had agreed to waive maintenance and that the judgment should be so understood. At that time, appellant claimed the judgment was not effective to constitute such a waiver and that maintenance should be left open. All these arguments and claims simply emphasize that the judgment, as well as the parties’ purported agreement, were ambiguous.
Based on the language of the 2001 judgment and this peculiar record, we conclude that the district court did not err or abuse its discretion in determining that there was no permanent waiver of maintenance that precludes respondent’s request for and its consideration of maintenance at this time.
issue is whether the district court abused its discretion in setting
maintenance at $500 per month. Husband
argues that the record does not support the award. Absent an abuse of its “wide discretion” in
awarding maintenance, “the trial court’s determination is final.” Erlandson
v. Erlandson, 318 N.W.2d 36, 38 (
A. Wife’s Medical Condition
Husband argues that the maintenance request was based on wife’s claim that she could no longer work due to alleged medical problems, that wife failed to provide evidence of a serious condition, and hence that her argument does not merit an award of maintenance. The district court recognized that wife’s medical claims were based on her testimony and that she had not actively pursued a disability determination or benefits. The court determined that, even disregarding the claimed disability, wife needed at least $500 per month in maintenance and that husband had the ability to pay that amount, and ordered its payment subject to future modification based on a determination of wife’s disability and any receipt of disability benefits. Thus, the district court awarded maintenance recognizing that disability had not been documented and expecting that it would revisit the matter. We conclude this was not an abuse of discretion.
B. Wife’s Assets
argues that the district court improperly failed to consider the significant
assets awarded to wife in the dissolution when determining wife’s need for
maintenance. Apparently wife no longer
has these assets. In effect, this is an
argument that wife dissipated her resources, incurred debt unnecessarily, and
is not making a good faith claim for maintenance. When maintenance is reserved, the standard
for an initial award of maintenance is applied to circumstances existing when
maintenance is sought, not those existing when the marriage was dissolved. Harder
v. Harder, 312
C. Husband’s Expenses
Husband admits that his net monthly income for maintenance purposes is $2,900. The district court found that husband’s reasonable monthly expenses were $1,200. The $1,200 figure does not include the $850 per month husband pays in back-taxes, about $460 per month for wife’s health insurance, and an estimated $575 that husband will have to pay on a loan, the proceeds of which he will use to pay off interests in certain real property awarded to wife in the judgment. These additional liabilities total $1,885 per month. Based on these figures, husband argues that he has a $185 monthly deficit before paying wife any maintenance and that he clearly lacks capacity to pay maintenance.
The back-tax expense of $850 per month arose because husband liquidated certain retirement accounts awarded to him in the judgment. In addressing his liquidation of those accounts, the district court noted that the judgment awarded husband retirement accounts worth $165,000, “[he] has dissipated such sums,” he “has no other significant assets to assist him in paying off [wife’s] interest in the real estate awarded to her,” and
[h]is election to liquidate [his retirement accounts] and incur a significant income tax liability coupled with his desire to retain at least one of the parcels of the real estate, and borrow against the same to pay [wife’s] share do not constitute an inability on his part to contribute to maintenance.
The district court considered husband’s argument that he lacks the ability to pay maintenance and rejected it because husband did not have to liquidate his retirement accounts and the back-tax liability is temporary. Without that temporary payment, husband has a monthly surplus (before paying maintenance) of $665, more than enough to pay a $500 monthly maintenance award. Under the circumstances, we conclude the district court did not abuse its discretion.
a pension account husband did not liquidate increases husband’s income above
$2,900 per month. Husband argues that that
pension benefit was awarded to him as property in the dissolution, that it
cannot be included in his income when determining maintenance, that the district
court must simply consider his earnings of $2,900 per month to determine
whether he has any ability to pay spousal maintenance, and that the district court
improperly considered this extra pension.
Husband correctly recites the law: Because maintenance is a payment from
income, retirement benefits awarded
to a (potential) maintenance obligor as his property
are not, absent unusual circumstances, to be considered for purposes of
calculating the obligor’s ability to pay maintenance. Neubauer
v. Neubauer, 433 N.W.2d 456, 461 (Minn. App. 1988), review denied (Minn. Mar. 17, 1989); Kruschel v. Kruschel, 419 N.W.2d 119, 123 (Minn. App. 1988). To rule differently allows an otherwise final
property distribution to be improperly altered by redistributing the property
as income via the maintenance award. Neubauer, 433 N.W.2d at 461. But because it appears that the
income-vs.-property argument was not made to the district court, it is not
clear whether the district court considered this claim, it is not properly
before this court, and we will not reverse and remand on this ground. See
Thiele v. Stich, 425 N.W.2d 580, 582 (
 No argument is made that the extent of health insurance coverage is inflexible or inadequate or that it ends based on Medicare eligibility or other events and such considerations are not before us.
 Although not raised as an issue
in this appeal, we note that generally, failure to award maintenance or to
reserve jurisdiction to do so in the future results in the district court
losing the ability to award maintenance after entry of the judgment. Karon, 435 N.W.2d at 506; see
Minn. Stat. § 518.55, subd. 1 (2004) (allowing reservation of
maintenance). An exception has been
found in some cases where the dissolution court did not decide the maintenance
question and circumstances change. Johnson
v. Johnson, 269
 Of course, this question may be raised should circumstances justify reconsideration of maintenance at a future date.