may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. §480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In Re the Marriage of:
Richard T. Swan, petitioner,
Shirley J. Swan,
Filed November 25, 1997
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded
Ramsey County District Court
File No. DMF777423739
Daniel R. Butler, Daniel R. Butler & Assoc., P.A., Hamm Building, Suite 420, 408 St. Peter Street, St. Paul, MN 55102 (for appellant)
Janet L. Goehle, 203 East Little Canada Road, Suite 270, St. Paul, MN 55117 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Davies, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Peterson, Judge.
On appeal from a postdissolution order awarding respondent permanent maintenance, appellant argues that the evidence does not support the district court's findings on his income and that the findings are inadequate to support the maintenance award. Appellant also contends that the lack of an evidentiary hearing deprived him of his constitutional due process rights. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.
in the amount of Six Hundred Dollars ($600.00) per month payable until [appellant] reaches age sixty-five (65) and, thereafter, as the Court shall deem upon the circumstances of the parties at that time.Appellant was awarded
all right and title in and to his life insurance, profit-sharing plan, retirement benefits and any other assets now in his possession, free and clear of any claim on the part of [respondent]. This award to [appellant] in no way shall prevent the Court from establishing [maintenance] past age sixty-five (65) as previously recited.The amount of maintenance later was increased to $1,600 per month.
After appellant turned age 65 and notified respondent that he would not be making any more maintenance payments, respondent filed a motion to continue the $1,600 per month maintenance award permanently. Based on respondent's 1995 income tax returns, the district court found that her average net monthly income in 1996, excluding maintenance, was $1,296.67. The court found that respondent's claimed monthly expenses of $2,614 were reasonable and necessary living expenses.
The district court found that appellant received $5,417.43 in net monthly income from his 3M pension, veterans affairs (VA) disability, social security, and a VA clothing allowance. The court also made the following findings regarding appellant's expenses:
15. [Appellant] presently married for the third time. He has current monthly living expenses of $5,400.00 (including the $100.00 increase in real estate taxes, and excluding an anticipated but not current automobile lease payment). [Appellant's] current wife is employed full time, but her income and contribution to monthly expenses has not been revealed to the Court. It appears that [appellant] pays all of their housing expenses ($3,043.00 per month), as well as some other joint expenses.The court granted respondent's motion to continue the $1,600 per month maintenance award permanently.
16. In comparing the monthly living expenses of the parties, the Court notes that [appellant's] housing expense is approximately double that of Respondent ($3,043.00 per month as compared to $1,591 per month), and that [appellant] budgets $400.00 per month for food for himself, while Respondent budgets $250.00 per month for food for herself.
The district court's determination of a maintenance award will not be reversed absent an abuse of discretion. Erlandson v. Erlandson, 318 N.W.2d 36, 38 (Minn. 1982). The district court's decision must be reviewed in light of the controlling statutory guidelines set forth in Minn. Stat. § 551.552. Id. Although the statute lists specific factors to consider, the basic issue is the financial needs of the obligee and her ability to meet those needs balanced against the obligor's financial condition. Id. at 39-40.
Relying on Kruschel v. Kruschel, 419 N.W.2d 119 (Minn. App. 1988), appellant argues that the district court improperly considered his pension income in determining maintenance. In Kruschel, this court held that when the appellant had been awarded sole right to and interest in his pension plan as part of the dissolution property settlement, requiring him to pay maintenance out of his pension benefits was an improper modification of the property settlement. Id. at 123. The Kruschel court explained:
No language in the original dissolution decree supports the argument that anything other than a roughly equivalent division of marital assets was intended. If [appellant's] pension benefits are considered equivalent to employment income for maintenance purposes, then [respondent] will in fact receive a greater proportion of the marital assets. If, as [respondent] appears to suggest, the trial court intended to give her an interest in the pension benefits, it could have done so explicitly.Id.at 122. Here, the dissolution judgment provided:
[Appellant] may be and he hereby is awarded all right and title in and to his life insurance, profit-sharing plan, retirement benefits, and any other assets now in his possession free and clear of any claim on the part of Respondent. This award to [appellant] in no way shall prevent the Court from establishing [maintenance] past age sixty-five (65) as previously recited.The district court concluded that under this provision of the dissolution judgment, appellant could be required to pay maintenance out of his pension benefits. As support for its conclusion, the district court cited a letter written by the court to the parties' attorneys in 1978 before the dissolution judgment was entered.
Parol evidence is admissible to aid in interpreting an ambiguous provision in a dissolution judgment. Erickson v. Erickson, 449 N.W.2d 173, 178 (Minn. 1989). The provision regarding appellant's retirement benefits and maintenance past age 65 is ambiguous because, although the court did not explicitly award respondent a share of appellant's retirement benefits, the second sentence in the paragraph suggests that the court intended respondent to receive a share of appellant's pension benefits if needed by her for maintenance after appellant reached age 65. See id. ("a decree is unambiguous if its meaning may be determined without any guide other than knowledge of the facts on which the language depends for its meaning"; "disagreement between the parties as to the interpretation of a dissolution decree may be tantamount to a finding of ambiguity").
The letter by the court to counsel before the dissolution judgment was entered states:
In view of the disposition of the homestead and household goods, wife to have no interest in husband's pension plan, other than as the court may order by way of alimony after husband reaches age 65.The language in the dissolution judgment, considered in light of the court's letter, shows that the court intended respondent to receive a share of appellant's pension benefits if needed by her for maintenance. The district court properly considered appellant's pension benefits in determining his income for purposes of maintenance.
The district court's finding that appellant's net monthly income was $5,417.43 is supported by appellant's affidavit. The district court did not abuse its discretion in determining appellant's current income.
Appellant also claims that findings on his investment income, his wife's income, and his assets are erroneous. Because it does not appear from the record that the district court considered those financial resources in determining appellant's ability to pay maintenance, we do not address those claims of error.
Relying on Gales v. Gales, 553 N.W.2d 416 (Minn. 1996), appellant argues that the district court erred in continuing the maintenance award because respondent is capable of supporting herself by working as an accountant. We disagree. Here, the parties were married for 26 years and had seven children together. At the time of dissolution, respondent was 47 years old, had two minor children residing with her, and was attending school studying accounting. In the 1992 order modifying maintenance, the district court found that respondent earned $9,107 from her accounting business in 1990 and that her efforts to obtain employment since the time of dissolution had been reasonable. In the current proceeding, the district court found that respondent's net annual income from her accounting business was $13,790. Appellant did not present evidence to support his claim that respondent is capable of earning a higher income. Given the length of the marriage, respondent's age when she entered the accounting profession, and her current age, an award of permanent maintenance was not an abuse of discretion. See Dobrin v. Dobrin, 569 N.W.2d at 199 (Minn. 1997) (explaining Gales).
Appellant next contends that the findings are inadequate to support the amount of the maintenance award. We agree. The district court found that appellant's current monthly expenses are $5,400, and his net monthly income is $5,417.43, leaving him with only $17.43 per month after paying expenses. The findings indicate that the district court considered some of appellant's expenses unreasonable, but the court did not specify what expenses it found unreasonable. It appears that the district court allowed both parties equal housing expenses, but the court did not explain why or cite any evidence in the record supporting its decision. The district court has discretion to determine a party's reasonable expenses. See Maeder v. Maeder, 480 N.W.2d 677, 680 (Minn. App. 1992) (upholding maintenance award based on district court's determination of obligee's reasonable expenses), review denied (Minn. Mar. 19, 1992). But without specific findings explaining appellant's reasonable expenses, this court cannot determine appellant's ability to pay maintenance. We also note that respondent's net monthly income of $1,296.67 from her business and social security plus $1,600 in maintenance exceeds by $282.67 her monthly expenses. Without a finding explaining why the district court awarded respondent more maintenance than she needed to meet her monthly expenses, we cannot conclude that the award was justified. See Lyon v. Lyon, 439 N.W.2d 18, 22 (Minn. 1989) (because maintenance is awarded to meet need, maintenance depends on a showing of need). We reverse and remand the amount of the mainteance award. On remand, the district court should redetermine the amount of the maintenance in light of appellant's reasonable monthly expenses, his ability to pay maintenance, and respondent's need for maintenance.
2. Appellant argues that the lack of an evidentiary hearing deprived him of his constitutional due process rights. "The court need not hold an evidentiary hearing on a motion for modification of maintenance." Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(e) (1996). When deciding a motion for modification of maintenance, the court need not conduct an evidentiary hearing "where the facts are relatively uncomplicated and the evidence can be fairly and efficiently presented by affidavits and documentary evidence." Christenson v. Christenson, 490 N.W.2d 447, 451 (Minn. App. 1992). The facts at issue in this
proceeding are the type of facts that can be fairly and efficiently proved by affidavits and documentary evidence. Appellant has not explained what facts he wanted established at an evidentiary hearing that would affect the determination of maintenance, so we cannot conclude that the lack of an evidentiary hearing deprived him of his constitutional due process rights. On remand, the district court may, at its discretion, hold an evidentiary hearing.
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.
. Because a maintenance obligation was previously established for the time before appellant reached age 65, it is appropriate to treat this proceeding as a modification of maintenance for purposes of evidentiary requirements.