This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In re the Marriage of:
Krista JoAnn Czech,
f/k/a Krista JoAnn Broberg, petitioner,
Kevin Michael Czech,
Filed January 23, 2007
Morrison County District Court
File No. F5-01-1054
Brigid M. Fitzgerald, Rosenmeier, Anderson & Vogel, 210 Second Street Northeast, Little Falls, MN 56345 (for respondent)
Janilyn K. Knorr, Virginia J. Knudson, Borden, Steinbauer, Krueger & Knudson, P.A., 302 South Sixth Street, P.O. Box 411, Brainerd, MN 56401 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge, Peterson, Judge, and Crippen, Judge.
In this property division dispute, appellant Kevin Czech challenges the district court’s implementation of the portion of the divorce judgment relating to appellant’s Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS) benefits. Because the divorce judgment confirms the district court’s rationale in awarding respondent Krista Czech a share of disability benefits, as well as normal retirement benefits, we affirm.
Appellant joined the Minnesota National Guard in 1980, and in 1983, became employed as a military technician, a position for which he received FERS benefits. The parties were married in June 1988; the district court issued their divorce judgment on May 15, 2003, and awarded respondent a percentage of appellant’s FERS benefits.
In February 2005, after appellant’s employment ended, he began receiving FERS benefits from the United States Office of Personnel Management. This office processed respondent’s claim for a percentage of appellant’s benefits in accordance with the divorce judgment, concluding that the benefits were “retirement benefits,” and began paying respondent $688.78 per month.
In December 2005, appellant moved the district court to implement the divorce judgment in a manner so that respondent’s share of his FERS benefits will not be paid until he reaches his usual age of retirement. The district court denied appellant’s motion.
Appellant challenges the district court’s implementation of the portion of the divorce judgment concerning his FERS benefits. A district court’s implementation of its judgment is reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard. Potter v. Potter, 471 N.W.2d 113, 114 (Minn. App. 1991); see Jensen v. Jensen, 440 N.W.2d 152, 155 (Minn. App. 1989) (stating that it is proper for district court to interpret or clarify divorce decree).
Appellant’s FERS benefits were awarded as part of the parties’ property settlement. Appellant contends that he was placed on disability retirement after being discharged from the National Guard due to his diabetes, and that this is a change in circumstances not contemplated within the “retirement benefits” provision in the divorce judgment. Ordinarily, the district court may not modify the property division in a divorce judgment due to a change of circumstances. Graff v. Graff, 472 N.W.2d 882, 883-84 (Minn. App. 1991) (“Except in cases of fraud or mistake, property divisions are final and not subject to modification.”), review denied (Minn. Sept. 13, 1991). And mere unforeseen circumstances will not permit a reopening of the judgment. Hestekin v. Hestekin, 587 N.W.2d 308, 310 (Minn. App. 1998); cf. Harding v. Harding, 620 N.W.2d 920, 924 (Minn. App. 2001) (reopening judgment where appellant presented evidence undermining circumstances accepted by the parties when judgment was determined), review denied (Minn. Apr. 17, 2001).
After examining the language of the divorce judgment and the interpretation given to it by the district court, we conclude, for several reasons, that the district court did not abuse its discretion. The personnel management office designated appellant’s current benefits as retirement benefits, not disability benefits. This office is paying the FERS benefits that were partly awarded to respondent in the divorce judgment in an amount determined by the following equation:
158 months (years/months the parties were married) ÷ 2 (total years/months [appellant] is in the National Guard
at his retirement)
In its letter to respondent regarding her rights under the federal plan, the personnel management office informed her that it administers only “retirement and survivor annuity benefits,” with no mention of disability benefits. The personnel management office’s handbook entitled “Your Federal Retirement Benefits,” distributed to both parties, consistently describes appellant’s benefits under the FERS as “retirement benefits” or “special computation for disability retirement.” The handbook suggests nothing other than a determination that appellant’s circumstances constitute early retirement. It provides:
During your service in the Federal workforce, you have earned and accrued certain retirement benefits. Now that you have stepped away from active Federal employment, it is time to receive and enjoy these benefits.
. . .
The amounts shown in this booklet are based upon employment records on file with us as of June 1, 2005 and your retirement application. If you believe any of this information is incorrect, please contact us at once.
Appellant insists that the personnel management office treats his current benefits as disability payments, rather than retirement benefits, but provides no evidence, other than his own affidavit, documenting this position. Appellant failed to produce his retirement application, failed to provide any documentation issued by the federal agencies distinguishing his disability benefits from regular retirement benefits, and failed to demonstrate that he made any effort to contact the personnel management office because his disability benefits were mischaracterized.
On its face, the divorce judgment does not exclude disability benefits or differentiate them from retirement benefits. And there is no evidence that the disability benefits were an omitted or unknown part of the provision. In fact, appellant states that he has known about his diabetes for nearly 20 years and purposely failed to notify the National Guard because he knew he would face termination. Appellant had the opportunity to seek to exclude disability benefits from respondent’s retirement benefits interest in the divorce judgment, but did not. The retirement benefits language is not used as a limitation, nor does it purport to be the full statement of benefits.
Appellant also insists that the district court’s determination effectively awards maintenance to respondent, when the parties chose not to award maintenance under the divorce judgment. To the contrary, the distribution of early FERS benefits is not maintenance but the fulfillment of a property award. When viewed in its entirety, the record demonstrates that appellant’s benefits are early retirement benefits under the divorce judgment, from which respondent is entitled to her portion. Because the district court’s implementation of its divorce judgment was not an abuse of discretion, we affirm.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.
Respondent argues that the district
court erred in finding that it had jurisdiction to modify the division of
appellant’s pension benefits. Although
the district court may “reserve jurisdiction” to divide a retirement benefit until
distributions are actually received, DuBois
v. DuBois, 335 N.W.2d 503, 505 (
 Appellant argues that his current benefits are separate because they are calculated differently from regular retirement benefits, but he admits that both benefits come from the same pension fund. Appellant offers no evidence that the disability retirement benefits are paid out separately, without any effect on the amount of regular retirement benefits that the parties will enjoy. Both benefits can be included within “retirement benefits.” See Walswick-Boutwell v. Boutwell, 663 N.W.2d 20, 23 (Minn. App. 2003) (finding that pension benefits include both disability benefits and retirement benefits when the funding source for each benefit is the same), review denied (Minn. Aug. 19, 2003).