This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).




In Re the Marriage of:

Ronald J. Mihelich, petitioner,



Marianne A. (Mihelich) Just,


Filed April 8, 1997


Crippen, Judge

St. Louis County District Court

File No. F386301268

Richard E. Prebich, Clark & Prebich Law Offices, Suite Two, 1932 Second Avenue East, Hibbing, MN 55746 (for Respondent)

Paul F. Wojciak, Law Offices of Paul F. Wojciak, Suite 201, 522 East Howard Street, Hibbing, MN 55746 (for Appellant)

Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge, Crippen, Judge, and Mulally, Judge.[*]



Appellant Marianne Just contends that the trial court wrongfully denied her recovery of $13,960 on her claim for child support arrearages by erroneously interpreting its 1989 child support order. We affirm.


When the parties divorced in 1986, the trial court placed custody of their two minor daughters with appellant. Placement of the older child was transferred to respondent Ronald Mihelich in 1990 and placement of the younger child was similarly transferred in 1994. In 1996, appellant moved for recovery of child support that was unpaid during the time the children were placed with her. She was awarded $1,650 and disputes only the portion of that award that determines arrearages of $753 under a 1989 order that respondent pay monthly child support of $440.

The March 1989 child support order noted the expectation that respondent would lose his job in April 1989. In event of the job loss, the court's order provided, the support obligation "shall be adjusted accordingly"; the court added its instruction that the parties "shall negotiate" a new amount and should return to the court "should they be unable to reach an amicable accord" on the issue. It is undisputed that respondent lost his job as expected.

The trial court determined that the 1989 order was effective for only seven months, October 1988 through April 1989. Respondent paid $2,327 in support, leaving an arrearage, according the court, of $753. Appellant contends that the order remained effective for 26 months and that half of the $440 obligation should have been paid for an additional 28 months, through March 1993. Thus, appellant calculates an obligation of $17,040, $13,960 more than determined by the trial court. She agrees that $2,327 was paid, and claims entitlement to an award of $14,713.


Appellant contends that the trial court's 1989 child support order could be modified only through proceedings duly pursued by respondent under Minn. Stat. § 518.64 (1996) (providing for modification upon a showing to the court of a substantial change in the circumstances of the parties). But the trial court determined that its 1989 order was not effective after the loss of respondent's employment in April 1989 and that the order reserved the child support issue for the later action of court, independent of any modification proceedings.

The interpretation of a court order presents a question of law that we may review independently. Jensen v. Jensen, 440 N.W.2d 152, 154 (Minn. App. 1989). Still, deference is due to the court in the interpretation of its own orders. Mikoda v. Mikoda, 413 N.W.2d 238, 242 (Minn. App. 1987) (citing Palmi v. Palmi, 273 Minn. 97, 104, 140 N.W.2d 77, 82 (1966)), review denied (Minn. Dec. 22, 1987); see Potter v. Potter, 471 N.W. 2d 113, 114 (Minn. App. 1991) (reviewing trial court's implementation of judgment under an abuse of discretion standard). Having examined the language in the 1989 order and the construction given to it by the parties and the court in subsequent years, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion because of the following considerations:

a. The language employed in the 1989 order invites the parties to believe that the $440 obligation would terminate when respondent lost his job, that the parties would then be free to work out their own support obligation, and that the court would revisit the issue only in the event the parties failed in their effort to deal with the subject amicably. b. The propriety of the trial court's exercise of discretion is confirmed by the consistent treatment of the issue by the parties since 1989:

i. Respondent discontinued payments under the 1989 order immediately after loss of his job, and appellant brought no enforcement proceedings on the subject until 1996, six years after custody of one child was placed with respondent and 2 years after the same arrangement for care of the younger child.

ii. In a December 1989 order, when dealing with a visitation dispute, the trial court ordered a support payment equal to 30% of a sum of money respondent expected to receive. The record shows no plea for enforcement of the 1989 award.

iii. Similarly, the parties appeared before the court in June 1990 on visitation issues, but the record shows no plea for enforcement of the 1989 child support order.

iv. In December 1990, the parties obtained an order from the court that transferred placement of custody of their older child to respondent. Even though the court addressed but reserved the issue of support for the older child, the record shows no request by appellant for enforcement of the 1989 child support order.

v. In November 1992, appellant sought a child support award for the younger child of the parties. The motion was denied without prejudice, and the court ordered that "the issue of child support continues to be reserved by the Court."

vi. In March 1993, appellant obtained a court order establishing that respondent should pay monthly support of $100 for the younger child of the parties. In her affidavit offered to support her request for the award, appellant stated to the court that the 1989 order covered the support topic only while respondent continued in the job he had at that time and that the order required adjustment of the obligation when respondent lost his job in April 1989.


[ ]* Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.