STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In Re the Marriage of:
Kathleen Mary Jacobson, petitioner,
Gary L. Jacobson,
Filed September 22, 1998
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded
Dakota County District Court
File No. F19713602
Michael L. Perlman, Perlman Law Office, 333 Parkdale Plaza, 1660 S. Hwy. 100, St. Louis Park, MN 55416 (for appellant)
Judith L. Oakes, J. Oakes & Associates, Galtier Plaza, Suite 780, 175 E. Fifth St., Box 15, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Huspeni, Presiding Judge, Randall, Judge, and Peterson, Judge.
Appellant husband challenges the trial court's dissolution judgment and decree. Because we find that the trial court failed to make sufficient findings of fact regarding a lump-sum disability award, respondent's use of $6,000 to pay her attorney, and the potential capital gains tax liability on the sale of certain real estate, we reverse and remand for further findings. Because we find the trial court did not abuse its discretion in establishing the value of two real estate parcels and the debt owed to appellant's mother, we affirm as to those issues.
Gary and Kathleen Jacobson's marriage was dissolved in 1997. Throughout the marriage respondent operated an interior design business, generating minimal income. Appellant worked as a dentist until he left the practice due to a disability. The couple periodically received money from appellant's mother totaling approximately $85,000. While the dissolution action was pending, respondent withdrew $6,000 from joint marital assets to pay her attorney.
In a pretrial hearing, the court ordered that payments appellant received from his disability policy shall be considered income. Appellant later settled his disability claim for a lump sum of $186,815.
As part of the dissolution, the court awarded respondent a lump-sum payment in the amount of $86,000 from appellant's disability benefit,1 classified the money from appellant's mother as a "gift" but determined that the "present value" of the amount of that "gift" which appellant would repay was $35,000, and valued two real estate parcels. Both appellant and respondent filed motions for amended findings, or alternatively a new trial, and through appeal and notice of review both challenge provisions of the amended judgment and decree.
Appellant challenges the trial court's award of a lump sum from appellant's disability settlement, valuation of the debt to his mother, valuation of the real estate property, failure to consider the capital gains liability appellant will incur on the sale of real property, and failure to consider the $6,000 respondent withdrew from joint marital assets to pay her attorney.
Respondent, in her notice of review, alleges the trial court abused its discretion in failing to reserve spousal maintenance and in crediting to appellant marital assets equal to the liability for debt assessed against him.
1. Lump-sum disability insurance award
A trial court has broad discretion in dividing property. Rutten v. Rutten, 347 N.W.2d 47, 50 (Minn. 1984). Absent an abuse of discretion, the trial court's decision must stand. See id. at 51. In all family court cases, "[f]indings are necessary to support a judgment and to aid the appellate court by providing a clear understanding of the basis and grounds for the decision." Moylan v. Moylan, 384 N.W.2d 859, 863 (Minn. 1986).
In its pretrial order, the trial court declared that any settlement appellant received from his disability insurance was to be considered income. In the dissolution decree, the court awarded $86,000 of this settlement to respondent "in lieu of maintenance." Consistent with the pretrial categorization of settlement funds as "income," and in an effort to harmonize that categorization with both the findings and conclusions in the decree, we conclude that the award here was lump-sum maintenance and not a property award.2 The trial court, however, did not provide a rationale for the dollar amount of the award. In accord with Bollenbach v. Bollenbach, 285 Minn. 418, 438-39, 175 N.W.2d 148, 161 (1970), a trial court has discretion to award spousal maintenance in a lump sum. We must remand the lump-sum award here, however, to enable the trial court to indicate how it arrived at the $86,000 figure as necessary or sufficient to meet respondent's needs. The trial court's findings should include, but not be limited to, the amount of maintenance necessary to assist respondent in meeting monthly expenses and the number of years that need may continue. On remand, the court should also address whether, in consideration of all the findings regarding the need for maintenance, maintenance should be reserved to ensure continuing jurisdiction of the court over this issue.
2. Valuation of the debt owed to appellant's mother
A trial court's apportionment of marital debt is treated as a property division and reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard. Justis v. Justis, 384 N.W.2d 885, 888-89 (Minn. App. 1986), review denied (Minn. May 29, 1986). Debts are apportionable considering the particular facts of each case. Tasker v. Tasker, 395 N.W.2d 100, 105 (Minn. App. 1986). Courts have discretion to award debts to one party only. Lenz v. Lenz, 409 N.W.2d 68, 69 (Minn. App. 1987).
Commendably, the court detailed the circumstances surrounding the funds appellant's mother transferred to the parties and concluded that "[t]he only reasonable explanation of the transactions between [appellant and his mother] is that the transactions are gifts." The court then, however, calculated the life expectancy of appellant's mother, the amount appellant testified he would repay monthly, and determined the present value of the amount to be repaid to be $35,000. It is clear that although the trial court classified the money as a gift, the court ultimately determined that $50,000 was a gift and $35,000 was debt. This determination was well within the court's discretion.
3. Valuation of real estate
A trial court's valuation should be upheld if it falls within the range of credible estimates even though it does not coincide exactly with any one estimate. Quade v. Quade, 367 N.W.2d 87, 89 (Minn. App. 1985), review denied (Minn. July 11, 1985). An appellate court does not require the trial court to be exact in its valuation of assets; "it is only necessary that the value arrived at lies within a reasonable range of figures." Johnson v. Johnson, 277 N.W.2d 208, 211 (Minn. 1979).
In this case appellant, a licensed real estate agent, estimated that the DeLuna Point property was worth $95,000 and was listed at $113,000. Appellant also estimated that the Champion Hills property was worth $85,000 and testified that a similar neighboring property was worth $98,000. Respondent, although recognizing on cross-examination that she was "guessing" at the value of the two properties, estimated their value to be $125,000 and $100,000 respectively. Neither party presented expert testimony on the value of the properties. The court determined the DeLuna Point property had a value of $100,000 and valued the Champion Hills property at $98,000.
Appellant argues that only he provided competent evidence regarding the value of the properties, and the trial court erred in not adopting his estimations. The trial court, however, was in the best position to weigh the competency of both appellant and respondent's testimony and was not required to adopt appellant's valuations. The court's valuations are within a reasonable range of acceptable figures, and we will not disturb its credibility determinations. See Bury v. Bury, 416 N.W.2d 133, 136 (Minn. App. 1987) (property owners "presumptively acquainted with its value" and may testify without foundation); see also Sefkow v. Sefkow, 427 N.W.2d 203, 210 (Minn. 1988) (appellate courts defer to district court credibility determinations).
Accordingly, we affirm the court's valuations of both properties.
4. Respondent's $6,000 withdrawal
Pending the dissolution, respondent withdrew $6,000 from marital assets to pay her attorney. Appellant argues that he should be credited this amount.
While the court discussed attorney fees generally, and included findings regarding purchases appellant made or money appellant received from marital assets pending the dissolution, the court failed to make any finding regarding the $6,000 withdrawal in either the original order or the amended judgment and decree. Therefore, it is impossible for this court to ascertain whether the trial court considered this matter.
We remand the issue of the $6,000 withdrawal to enable the trial court to exercise its discretion in resolving the question.
5. Capital gains tax liability
Appellant argues that the trial court abused its discretion by failing to consider the capital gains tax liability he will realize upon the sale of the DeLuna Point property. Where a sale of real estate "is required or is likely to occur within a short time after the dissolution," a trial court should consider the resulting tax consequences. Aaron v. Aaron, 281 N.W.2d 150, 153-54 (Minn. 1979). Speculative future tax liabilities, however, need not be considered. Id.
The findings of the trial court here indicate:
[Appellant] invested approximately $70,000.00 in two failed business ventures since 1994 which may provide tax losses for any gains realized from the sale of other investments of the parties.
It is not clear to this court, however, whether this finding was intended to be a denial of appellant's request to credit him with the specific capital tax gain liability from the sale of the DeLuna Point property.3 We remand the issue of capital gain liability for further findings.
6. Crediting additional marital property to appellant
In marriage dissolutions, the court shall make a "just and equitable division of the marital property." Minn. Stat. § 518.58, subd. 1 (1996). A court's division of marital property need not be mathematically equal. Johns v. Johns, 354 N.W.2d 564, 566 (Minn. App. 1984). Where a trial court's division of marital assets is supported by evidence in the record, it will not be disturbed. Id.
Respondent argues that the trial court abused its discretion in dividing net assets between the parties. The trial court awarded net assets to respondent valued at $285,502. The award of assets to appellant was valued at $355,016, but appellant was ordered to pay his mother and former business obligations a total of $66,779, leaving him with total net assets of $288,237.
Respondent contends the $2,735 disparity is unfair, because the debts appellant has been ordered to pay are contingent, are based on appellant's payment history, and may never be fully paid. Respondent describes this result as an unequal division of marital assets which lacks an acceptable basis in both fact and principle. We must recognize, however, that the trial court was in the best position to make credibility judgments and decide the likelihood that these debts would be paid (the court in its discretion determined that the debt to appellant's mother was not $85,000, but $35,000). The court's findings on this issue are detailed and support its valuation and division of the marital property based on the evidence in the record. Therefore, we affirm the court's division of marital property.
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.
1. Findings of the court on this issue indicated in part that "an award of spousal maintenance would be appropriate" and "[respondent] should be entitled to * * * a portion of the proceeds of the [disability] settlement * * * in lieu of maintenance." The pertinent conclusion of law reads: "Neither party is awarded spousal maintenance from the other except that [respondent] is awarded $86,000 from funds received by [appellant] in settlement of his disability insurance claim."
2. The same funds cannot be both property and income. Kruschel v. Kruschel, 419 N.W.2d 119, 122 (Minn. App. 1988).
3. Appellant requested a clarification on this issue in his posttrial motion, but the language of the amended judgment was unchanged.