This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1994).


Carolyn R. Sutherland,


John O. Sheridan,

Filed August 27, 1996
Willis, Judge

Hennepin County District Court
File No. 9413195

Carolyn R. Sutherland, 4901 Heritage Hills Dr., Bloomington, MN 55437 (Pro Se Respondent)

Paul F. Shoemaker, Shoemaker & Shoemaker, P.L.C., 212 Ridgewood Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55403 (for Appellant)

Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge, Davies, Judge, and Harten, Judge.


John Sheridan appeals from a judgment entered against him, arguing that the district court lacked jurisdiction and erred by finding an enforceable oral agreement. We affirm.

The marriage of appellant John Sheridan and respondent Carolyn Sutherland was dissolved November 4, 1993. After the dissolution trial, but before judgment was entered, the parties withdrew approximately $6600 from their joint escrow account to pay for college, transportation, and medical expenses for their adult children. The parties orally agreed that if Sutherland were awarded the account by the judgment, Sheridan would reimburse her for half the money withdrawn. Sutherland was awarded the account, but Sheridan failed to reimburse her. Sutherland obtained a conciliation court judgment for $3300. Sheridan removed the case to district court, but did not appear for trial. Judgment was entered in favor of Sutherland, and Sheridan appeals, arguing that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction and the issue should have been raised as part of the dissolution proceeding.

Sheridan argues that the district court lacked jurisdiction. Jurisdiction is a question of law that we review de novo. Graham v. Crow Wing County Bd. of Comm'rs, 515 N.W.2d 81, 84 (Minn. App. 1994), review denied (Minn. June 2, 1994). The jurisdictional issue turns on whether the parties' oral agreement was a separate contract or was a part of the dissolution proceeding and thereby subject only to family court jurisdiction.
The district court found that the parties entered into a separate agreement, independent of the dissolution proceeding. We agree. This court has held that parties to a dissolution proceeding are free to agree to a property settlement different from that provided for in the judgment. Nelson v. Quade, 413 N.W.2d 824 (Minn. App. 1987), review denied (Minn. Dec. 22, 1987).
A property settlement in a marital dissolution decree is essentially a debtor-creditor matter which does not require continuing family court jurisdiction as do matters of custody, child support and spousal maintenance. *

Ex-spouses are generally competent to enter into contracts with each other. In addition, ex-spouses are competent to make agreements concerning matters subsidiary to a property settlement. Consequently, there is no reason why ex-spouses are not competent to contract in a simple debtor-creditor capacity concerning matters not subject to continuing family court jurisdiction.

We therefore hold that the parties were competent to enter into agreements concerning solely matters of property division.

Id. at 828 (citations omitted). In Nelson, the parties' agreement was made after entry of judgment; here, the agreement was made after the dissolution trial, but prior to the entry of judgment. The agreement, however, was conditioned on the award of the escrow account to Sutherland, and the agreement could be effective, therefore, only after the entry of judgment. Because the parties' agreement was a simple debtor-creditor contract, we conclude that, pursuant to Nelson, the district court had jurisdiction to hear respondent's claim. Because we find that the district court had jurisdiction to decide this matter, we do not address whether the family court could have decided this issue as part of the dissolution proceeding.
Sheridan also contends that either res judicata or collateral estoppel barred the district court from hearing the matter. Even if they were applicable, we note that neither doctrine is to be rigidly applied. Johnson v. Consolidated Freightways, Inc., 420 N.W.2d 608, 613-14 (Minn. 1988). Rather, courts should focus on whether applying the doctrines would be unjust to the party against whom collateral estoppel or res judicata is urged. Id. The record here indicates that Sheridan argued to the family court that it did not have jurisdiction to hear the issue, which arose after the dissolution trial; he now argues that collateral estoppel and res judicata barred the district court from addressing the issue because it could have been litigated in family court. Application of the doctrines to Sutherland's case in district court would permit Sheridan to avoid litigation of Sutherland's claim and unjustly deny Sutherland access to the courts.
Sheridan also claims that the district court erred by finding the existence of an oral agreement between the parties. Findings of fact will not be reversed unless clearly erroneous. Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01. At trial, Sutherland testified that Sheridan agreed to reimburse her for half the money withdrawn if she were awarded the escrow account. Because Sheridan did not appear for trial, this testimony was undisputed. Thus, the district court properly found there was an enforceable agreement.