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:
Joanne Anita Jeno, petitioner,
Lawrence F. Jeno,
Filed January 12, 1999
Toussaint, Chief Judge
Steele County District Court
File No. F497928
Caren L. Schurhammer, 25 NW 2nd Street, Faribault, MN 55021 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge, Randall, Judge and Holtan, Judge.[*]
Appellant Lawrence Jeno challenges the dissolution court's default judgment awarding respondent permanent spousal maintenance and the parties' homestead, subject to an unrestricted lien in favor of appellant. Appellant argues that the dissolution court abused its discretion by awarding permanent spousal maintenance without making specific findings and awarding a marital lien on the homestead without providing a termination date for the lien. Because the dissolution court failed to make specific findings on the issue of permanent spousal maintenance, which is interdependent with the distribution of the marital property, we remand.
Because this appeal is from a default judgment, "[o]ur review is limited * * * to whether the evidence on record supports the findings of fact and whether the findings support the conclusions of law set forth by the trial court." Nazar v. Nazar, 505 N.W.2d 628, 633 (Minn. App. 1993), review denied (Minn. Oct. 28, 1993). The findings of the trial court will be upheld unless they are clearly erroneous. First Trust Co. v. Union Depot Place Ltd., 476 N.W.2d 178, 181 (Minn. App. 1991), review denied (Minn. Dec. 13, 1991). A reviewing court is not bound by and need not give deference to the lower court's decision on a purely legal issue. Frost-Benco Elec. Ass'n v. Minnesota Pub. Utils. Comm'n, 358 N.W.2d 639, 642 (Minn. 1984).
We must first determine whether there is evidence in the record to support the findings of the dissolution court that respondent is entitled to spousal maintenance. Here, the court found that respondent was employed, earned approximately $15,800 annually, was in need of spousal maintenance from the appellant, and appellate could provide maintenance. Because appellant did not participate in the default hearing, the only evidence in the record is the respondent's testimony. Respondent testified that she was employed, earned approximately $1,500 per month, and needed $400 a month to meet her monthly expenses. Respondent's uncontradicted testimony supports the court's findings that the she was in need of spousal maintenance. Therefore, the dissolution court's findings were not clearly erroneous.
Next, we must determine whether the court's findings support its conclusions of law. The dissolution court concluded that the appellant must pay spousal maintenance. Spousal maintenance may be considered if the spouse seeking maintenance:
(a) lacks sufficient property * * * to provide for reasonable needs of the spouse considering the standard of living established during the marriage * * *, or
(b) is unable to provide adequate self-support, after considering the standard of living established during the marriage and all relevant circumstances, through appropriate employment,
Minn. Stat. § 518.552, subd. 1.
The dissolution court's findings that respondent is entitled to spousal maintenance and is employed do not support the conclusion that respondent lacks sufficient property to provide for her reasonable needs. Neither do they support the dissolution court's conclusion that respondent was unable to provide self support through appropriate employment. See Rohling v. Rohling, 379 N.W.2d 519, 523-24 (Minn. 1986) (holding that spouse was not entitled to maintenance where she was able to adequately support herself, she was employed at the same place for 12 years, earned $755 a month, and had accrued retirement benefits of $1,000). There is no other evidence in the record to support the finding that respondent's stomach condition is a condition making it unlikely for her to become self supporting. Because the findings do not address respondent's employment or income prospects, it is unclear whether respondent satisfies the requirements for an award of spousal maintenance. Therefore, on remand, the dissolution court shall address the propriety of spousal maintenance.
But, the record shows only that respondent (1) needed $400 a month to meet her expenses; and (2) had a stomach condition for which she needed pills. There was no other evidence in the record to support the finding that this was a physical condition that would make it likely that she would not become self supporting.
Reviewing the record, there is insufficient evidence to support the dissolution court's findings that respondent was unable to meet her expenses on her income alone and that her physical condition precludes her from becoming self supporting. The dissolution court did not find either party's reasonable monthly expenses. Absent findings of the parties' monthly expenses, the dissolution court's findings regarding respondent's need for maintenance and appellant's ability to provide maintenance are conclusory. See Barrett v. Barrett, 394 N.W.2d 274, 277 (Minn. App. 1986) (rejecting finding wife could earn a living where the finding was conclusory). We remand for the dissolution court to address the parties' reasonable monthly expenses, respondent's need for maintenance (if any), and appellant's ability to contribute to respondent's need for maintenance. See Stich v. Stich, 435 N.W.2d 52, 53 (Minn. 1989) (ruling maintenance award unsupported by findings and remanding maintenance where dissolution court found parties' incomes but not their expenses or obligor's ability to provide maintenance); see also Hecker v. Hecker, 568 N.W.2d 705, 709 (Minn. 1997) (noting importance of "baseline" circumstances for purposes of measuring future claims of changed circumstances).
[*] Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.