This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).







In re the Marriage of:


Kim Teresa Pattinson, petitioner,





Daniel Keller Pattinson,




Filed July 31, 2007

Reversed and remanded

Lansing, Judge



Anoka County District Court

File No. F6-96-11276



Jennifer R. Wellner, Wellner & Isaacson, PLLP, Glen Oaks Center, 2E South Pine Drive, Circle Pines, Minnesota 55014 (for respondent)


Thomas R. Hughes, Hughes & Costello, 1230 Landmark Towers, 345 St. Peter Street, St. Paul, Minnesota 55102 (for appellant)



            Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge; Lansing, Judge; and Hudson, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            In this fourth appeal related to the spousal-maintenance provisions of a 1996 marital-dissolution judgment, Daniel Pattinson contends that the district court failed to comply with this court’s remand instructions, failed to provide independent review when it adopted proposed findings verbatim, and endorsed factual findings that are clearly erroneous.  Because the record supports these contentions, we reverse and remand.


            Kim and Daniel Pattinson dissolved their twelve-year marriage in 1996.  The dissolution judgment provided that the Pattinsons would share legal custody of their two children and that physical custody be placed with Kim Pattinson, subject to liberal visitation with Daniel Pattinson.

            The thirty-five-page dissolution judgment provided detailed and thorough findings on the Pattinsons’ financial resources, marital standard of living, and their individual income and expenses.  Based on Daniel Pattinson’s monthly net income of $3,669 and monthly expenses of $1,363, and Kim Pattinson’s monthly net income of $961 and household expenses of $2,960, the district court ordered Daniel Pattinson to provide monthly spousal maintenance of $600 to Kim Pattinson.  The district court further ordered that the spousal-maintenance provision would be subject to review by the court on motion of either party five years from the date of judgment.  For purposes of marital-property division, the district court valued Daniel Pattinson’s carpet-installation business at $35,000.  The district court also ordered Daniel Pattinson to pay $2,500 of Kim Pattinson’s attorneys’ fees.

            On appeal to this court, Daniel Pattinson challenged the amount and duration of maintenance, the valuation of his business, and the provision for attorneys’ fees.  Pattinson v. Pattinson, No. C0-97-458 (Minn. App. Oct. 14, 1997).  We affirmed the district court on all three issues.  Id.

            In March 2002, Daniel Pattinson moved to terminate spousal maintenance, which had increased to $720 a month through cost-of-living adjustments.  The motion was based on Kim Pattinson’s increase in monthly net income from $961 at the time of dissolution to $1,731 at the time of the motion.  The district court granted the motion, based on the increase in income and on a finding that the value of Daniel Pattinson’s business was inflated in the 1996 dissolution judgment.

            Kim Pattinson appealed the spousal-maintenance termination, arguing that the district court had not considered the proper factors in its determination.  We concluded that the district court had abused its discretion by making new findings on the value of marital property that had been determined in the original dissolution judgment.  Pattinson v. Pattinson, No. C1-03-155, 2003 WL 21652487, at *4 (Minn. App. July 15, 2003).  We reversed and remanded to “enable the court to reconsider the merits of [Daniel Pattinson’s] motion and to render a decision based upon only those factors that are appropriately considered in deciding the question of whether and to what extent maintenance should be modified.”  Id.

            On remand Daniel Pattinson moved to reduce his maintenance obligation to zero, based on Kim Pattinson’s increase in income.  Daniel Pattinson also filed an affidavit in April 2004 setting forth his financial information.  In July 2004 the district court granted his motion, effective May 2002, based on Kim Pattinson’s increase in income from $961 to $1731 and an increase in household expenses from $2,960 to $3,678. 

            Kim Pattinson appealed and moved to strike Daniel Pattinson’s financial information from the record for failure of proper service.  This court reversed because the record and findings did not adequately address Daniel Pattinson’s financial circumstances and the findings of fact on Kim Pattinson’s financial circumstances were incomplete.  Pattinson v. Pattinson, No. A04-1814, 2005 WL 1331311, *3-*4 (Minn. App. June 7, 2005). 

            In the opinion reversing the district court, we provided specific remand instructions (1) to determine whether Daniel Pattinson’s financial documents had been mailed to Kim Pattinson’s attorney after the final hearing before the appeal and to determine whether she should be afforded an opportunity to respond to the documents; (2) for the district court to make findings addressing all of Kim Pattinson’s income including child support and spousal maintenance, as well as actual rather than stated expenses and to consider the impact of elimination or reduction of spousal maintenance on her income and expenses; and (3) for the district court to make findings addressing both Daniel and Kim Pattinson’s incomes, expenses, and ability to meet expenses and, based on those findings, whether there was a substantial change in circumstances that made the spousal maintenance unreasonable or unfair.  Id. at *2-*4.  Because of the passage of time between the March 2002 modification motion and the 2005 appeal, the decision also permitted the district court to determine whether spousal maintenance should be adjusted for changes during that time period. *4.

            On remand, both Daniel and Kim Pattinson submitted additional affidavits and argument.  At the January 2006 hearing, the district court stated that spousal maintenance in these circumstances was a “gross miscarriage of justice” but that, based on the appellate decision, “it isn’t a question of if there is going to be permanent spousal maintenance.  It’s a question of how much.”  The district court added that “there’s a great temptation now, in view of everything that I have heard, for me just to have [Kim Pattinson’s] attorney send me findings and grant what she asks.”  The district court then said that if it did not “hear from both sides that the case has been settled by March 6th,” it would probably send a letter to Kim Pattinson’s attorney “just telling her to send me findings.” 

            On March 27, 2006, in response to the judge’s letter, Kim Pattinson’s attorney sent the judge proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law, which were adopted verbatim.  Based on sixteen findings, the order concluded that Daniel Pattinson had failed to meet his burden of proof in his 2002, 2004, or 2005 motions to show that the spousal-maintenance provision in the 1996 dissolution judgment, now amounting to $720 a month, was unreasonable or unfair.  Based on the findings and conclusions, the district court ordered Daniel Pattinson to pay past-due maintenance of $33,840 together with statutory interest.  Daniel Pattinson appeals from that decision. 


            Three principles govern resolution of this appeal.  First, on remand a district court must faithfully follow the mandate of the remanding appellate court.  Halverson v. Village of Deerwood, 322 N.W.2d 761, 766 (Minn. 1982).  Second, in carrying out our constitutional function to resolve disputes, the supreme court has stated its preference “for a court to independently develop its own findings.”  Pederson v. State, 649 N.W.2d 161, 163 (Minn. 2002).  A court’s “verbatim adoption of . . . proposed findings and conclusions of law is not reversible error per se.”  Bliss v. Bliss, 493 N.W.2d 583, 590 (Minn. App. 1992), review denied (Minn. Feb. 12, 1993).  But the practice is “hardly commendable” because it “raises the question of whether the [district] court independently evaluated each party’s testimony and evidence.”  Pederson, 649 N.W.2d at 163; Bliss, 493 N.W.2d at 590.  Third, the district court has the power and the responsibility to ascertain the facts.  Pederson, 649 N.W.2d at 163.  This is “not a light responsibility since, unless [the] findings are ‘clearly erroneous,’ no [reviewing] court may disturb them.  To ascertain the facts is not a mechanical act.  It is a difficult art, not a science.  It involves skill and judgment.”  United States v. Forness, 125 F.2d 928, 942-43 (2d Cir. 1942).

            On remand, the district court failed to comply with our remand instructions.  We instructed the district court (1) to determine whether Daniel Pattinson’s financial documents had been mailed to Kim Pattinson to determine whether she should be afforded an opportunity to respond, (2) to make findings on Kim Pattinson’s income and expenses and the effect of changes in spousal maintenance, and (3) to make findings of fact on both Daniel and Kim Pattinson’s incomes, expenses, and ability to meet expenses, and based on those findings, determine whether there was a substantial change in circumstances that made the spousal maintenance unreasonable or unfair.  Pattinson v. Pattinson, No. A04-1814, 2005 WL 1331311, at *4 (Minn. App. June 7, 2005).  At a minimum, the district court needed to consider the parties’ financial resources, monthly expenses, and monthly net incomes as of the 2002 motion and the 2005 motion.  Because the district court did not independently review these factors, the findings addressing each are both incomplete and incorrect. 

            In addition to failing to follow the remand instructions, the verbatim findings are unsupported by the record and, therefore, clearly erroneous.  See Rutten v. Rutten, 347 N.W.2d 47, 50 (Minn. 1984) (defining abuse of discretion as a “clearly erroneous conclusion that is against logic and the facts on the record”).  The findings addressing the 2002 motion state that Kim Pattinson’s monthly net income was $1,731 and that Daniel Pattinson did not provide any calculation of his monthly net income.  While it is true that Daniel Pattinson did not provide that calculation, he did provide his gross annual income, which courts can use to determine net monthly income by using tax tables.  Lenz v. Wergin, 408 N.W.2d 873, 876 (Minn. App. 1987).  The court did not do this, thus there are no monthly net income figures for Daniel Pattinson.

            The findings next state that Kim Pattinson’s claimed monthly expenses of $3,678 are reasonable, but fail to sufficiently address Daniel Pattinson’s monthly expenses.  The court observed that Daniel Pattinson “claimed monthly living expenses of $1,930 after paying child support of $860 per month,” but that does not amount to a findingSee Dean v. Pelton, 437 N.W.2d 762, 764 (Minn. App. 1989) (noting that recitation of party’s claim does not equate to true finding).  Consequently, there is not a finding quantifying Daniel Pattinson’s monthly expenses.

            Finally, the findings claim that Daniel Pattinson did not provide any evidence of his financial resources.  That assertion ignores Daniel Pattinson’s sworn affidavit of October 20, 2005, which includes summaries of his assets and debts for 1997, 2002, and 2005.  The summaries may not be in the precise form that the district court preferred, but they are evidence nonetheless.  The district court made no mention of Kim Pattinson’s financial resources despite the fact that Daniel Pattinson provided similar summaries of her assets and debts. 

            The findings addressing the 2005 motion state that Kim Pattinson’s monthly net income was $1,652, and that Daniel Pattinson did not provide any information about his wages.  Again, Daniel Pattinson did not provide this information, but the record contains a deposition excerpt and answers to interrogatories, submitted by Kim Pattinson, in which Daniel Pattinson attested that his gross annual wages were $45,000 and that he had additional income of thirty-three percent of the gross profit on jobs.  Thus, the court had evidence it could have used to calculate Daniel Pattinson’s monthly net income, but failed to do so. 

            The findings also overlook the monthly-expense summary in setting Kim Pattinson’s reasonable monthly expenses at $3,939 but declaring that Daniel Pattinson “provided no information in relation to his monthly expenses, in 2005.”  The findings also dismiss the asset summaries provided by Daniel Pattinson as neither probative nor credible but decline to affirmatively determine the financial situations of the parties. 

            The findings satisfactorily address Kim Pattinson’s income and expenses, but nothing more.  The findings fail to calculate Daniel Pattinson’s net income, do not adequately state his monthly expenses, ignore evidence of his financial resources, and say nothing of Kim Pattinson’s financial resources.  As a result, the findings are clearly erroneous and cannot support the district court’s order denying Daniel Pattinson’s motions to modify his spousal-maintenance obligation in either 2002 or 2005.

            This case involves parties with modest financial resources; has been ongoing since 2002; and has been appealed, reversed, and remanded twice already.  We do not lightly arrive at this decision to return the proceeding to the district court once more, but an appellate court has neither the power nor the structure to resolve these factual disputes in the first instance.  It is the district court that must provide specific fact-finding and exercise its discretion within the guidelines of the applicable law.  To that end, we reverse and remand for compliance with the remand instructions contained in Pattinson v. Pattinson, No. A04-1814 (Minn. App. June 7, 2005).

            Reversed and remanded.