Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In Re the Marriage of:
Rhonda Lee Peterson,
Lynn Russell Peterson,
Filed November 4, 1997
Affirmed; motion for attorney fees on appeal denied
Anoka County District Court
File No. F2-94-6744
Elizabeth A. Schading, Barna, Guzy & Steffen, Ltd., 200 Coon Rapids Boulevard, Suite 400, Coon Rapids, MN 55433 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Davies, Judge.
Appellant Rhonda Lee Peterson and respondent Lynn Russell Peterson were married in 1971 and divorced in 1995. Under the terms of the 1995 judgment and decree, appellant was awarded $300 per month in permanent spousal maintenance and approximately one-half of the parties' marital property.
On appeal, this court concluded that the trial court had incorrectly calculated respondent's personal expenses and net income by double counting a number of items, which this court specifically detailed and listed. This court therefore reversed and remanded the maintenance award and marital property division with directions "that one or the other, or both, be redetermined in a manner to avoid double-counting." Peterson v. Peterson, No. C0-96-451 (Minn. App. Oct. 1, 1996) (Peterson I).
On remand, the trial court recalculated respondent's living expenses from $3,553.68 to $2,043.18 by subtracting the following amounts it had double-counted: $799 in debt repayment, $626 in automobile expenses, and $85.50 in home expenses. Respondent was allowed a one-time business deduction for a computer he purchased in 1994, and his net monthly income was recalculated from $2,880 to $3,096. The trial court then set permanent spousal maintenance at $400 per month.
In this appeal from the amended judgment and decree, appellant argues that the trial court's award of only $400 per month in permanent spousal maintenance is inadequate. Respondent has filed a notice of review, challenging the trial court's recalculation and reduction of his reasonable monthly expenses. Because the trial court properly executed the mandate set out by this court in Peterson I and did not abuse its discretion in setting the amount of spousal maintenance at $400 per month, we affirm.
Respondent has filed a notice of review challenging the trial court's recalculation of his monthly expenses. His arguments essentially challenge the figures set out in Peterson I that this court concluded had been double-counted; in particular, he argues that this court misinterpreted the testimony of his witnesses and exhibits and that "[t]here is no double-counting when the correctly-corresponding amounts are utilized."
"Law of the case" is a discretionary doctrine developed by the appellate courts to effectuate finality of appellate decisions and applies when an appellate court has ruled on an issue and remanded the case for further proceedings. Loo v. Loo, 520 N.W.2d 740, 744 n.1 (Minn. 1994). Thus, once this court reversed the trial court's original findings regarding respondent's income, expenses, and spousal maintenance obligation and remanded the case with instructions, respondent was obligated to appeal our decision at that time. By now raising these issues, respondent is asking this court to revisit decisions made in Peterson I. We reject his challenges as untimely and improper.
Appellant argues that because she experiences a monthly shortfall between her income and expenses, and because respondent has a monthly surplus between his income and expenses, the trial court erred in setting maintenance at only $400 per month. However, the balance between appellant's needs and respondent's financial condition or ability to pay is not necessarily a mathematical calculation involving the parties' incomes and expenses. Rather, Minn. Stat. § 518.552, subd. 2 (1994) requires consideration of a number of factors.
In this case, the trial court properly considered these statutory factors. The court's findings on these factors emphasize: (1) respondent has custody of the minor child and will not receive support from appellant; (2) although appellant is disabled, she has been able to function as a student and has written two books (which have yet to be published); (3) although the parties maintained a comfortable middle-class lifestyle during the marriage, they lived beyond their means as evidenced by the $20,000 in marital debt they accumulated; (4) appellant received approximately $21,000 in liquid marital assets that can be used to supplement her income; and (5) appellant may be receiving some money in connection with her personal injury lawsuit. In addition, while Peterson I concluded that respondent's marital debt payments could not be double-counted by the trial court in calculating respondent's monthly expenses and in dividing marital property, the fact remains that respondent was assigned and must service these debts. As such, these debts affect his financial condition and the resources available to him to pay spousal maintenance. Under these circumstances, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in setting spousal maintenance at $400 per month.
Since this dissolution proceeding was commenced, both parties have incurred substantial attorney fees. In its amended judgment and decree, the trial court found respondent has "some limited ability to contribute to payment" of appellant's fees and ordered him to pay $3,000 of those fees. Further, in Peterson I, we granted appellant's request for fees on appeal and ordered respondent to pay $500 of those fees. Because appellant has not shown that she needs an additional award of fees to enable her to participate in these proceedings and that respondent has any further ability to contribute to her fees, we decline to award her attorney fees in this appeal. See Minn. Stat. § 518.14, subd. 1 (1996) (attorney fees authorized to enable party to participate in proceedings); Solon v. Solon, 255 N.W.2d 395, 397 (Minn. 1977) (appellate court has discretion to award attorney fees on appeal); Anderson v. Archer, 510 N.W.2d 1, 5 (Minn. App. 1993) (party seeking fees must prove inability to pay own fees and other party's ability to contribute to those fees).
The amended judgment and decree is affirmed.
Affirmed, motion for attorney fees on appeal denied.