This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. §480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).




In Re the Marriage of:

Robert C. Rosenberg, petitioner,



Susan M. Rosenberg,


Filed March 9, 1999


Anderson, Judge

Ramsey County District Court

File No. F38828453

Stanley Efron, Kristi L. Skordahl, Henson & Efron, P.A., 1200 Title Insurance Building, 400 Second Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55401 (for appellant)

Edward Galbraith, 3023 A Lakeshore Drive, Minneapolis, MN 55416 (for respondent)

Considered and decided by Anderson, Presiding Judge, Kalitowski, Judge, and Shumaker, Judge.



Appellant challenges the district court's order finding him liable for the parties' son's post-graduation college loans. We conclude the judgment was ambiguous; we remand to the trial court for findings on its interpretation of the ambiguity.


The parties' marriage was dissolved by a July 1989 stipulated judgment, stating that "[appellant] shall be responsible for the Wisconsin Higher Education Loan until the parties' emancipated sons graduate from college" and that "[appellant] shall hold the Respondent harmless from any of the foregoing financial liabilities."

After the children graduated from college, one son resumed paying his loan. While the second son apparently began to make payments after graduation, he did so with advances from appellant. By 1992, the second son apparently quit making payments on the loan and appellant made payments for that son. The second son has not reimbursed appellant for appellant's post-graduation payments on the loan. In spring 1997, appellant asked respondent to contribute to the loan repayment and respondent refused. Appellant later stopped making payments on that loan.

In April 1998, appellant moved the district court to construe the dissolution judgment to hold the parties jointly responsible for the post graduation payments due on their sons' college loans.

After a hearing on the motion before a referee, the district court adopted the referee's proposed ruling and ordered:

Pursuant to Paragraph 12 of the Judgment and Decree, [appellant] is solely responsible for the Wisconsin Higher Education loan balance and shall hold Respondent harmless from any claim based thereon.

The district court made no other oral or written statement to explain this ruling.


Stipulated dissolution judgments are deemed binding contracts. Tomscak v. Tomscak, 352 N.W.2d 464, 466 (Minn. App. 1984). Whether a stipulated dissolution judgment is clear or ambiguous is a legal question. Anderson v. Archer, 510 N.W.2d 1, 3 (Minn. App. 1993) (existence of clarity of stipulated judgment is legal question); Halverson v. Halverson, 381 N.W.2d 69, 71 (Minn. App. 1986) (existence of ambiguity of stipulated judgment is a legal question). Absent ambiguity, it is not proper for a court to interpret a stipulated judgment or a contract. See Starr v. Starr, 312 Minn. 561, 562-63, 251 N.W.2d 341, 342 (1977) (court cannot construe stipulation language that is plain and unambiguous); Telex Corp. v. Data Prods. Corp., 271 Minn. 288, 295, 135 N.W.2d 681, 686-87 (1965) (if contract is clear, "it is neither necessary nor proper in construing it to go beyond the wording of the instrument itself"). If ambiguous, the district court may interpret a judgment. Stieler v. Stieler, 244 Minn. 312, 318-19, 70 N.W.2d 127, 131 (1955). In doing so, the district court may consider the whole record as well as parole evidence. Palmi v. Palmi, 273 Minn. 97, 103, 140 N.W.2d 77, 81 (1966). But, "full effect must be given to that which is necessarily implied in the judgment, as well as to that actually expressed therein." Stieler, 244 Minn. at 319, 70 N.W.2d at 131-32.

Here, while the judgment states appellant is "responsible" for loan payments "until the parties' emancipated sons graduate from college[,]" it also states appellant "shall hold the Respondent harmless from any of the foregoing financial liabilities." (Emphasis added.) Appellant, emphasizing the first quoted provision, argues the judgment makes him responsible for only those loan payments due before the sons' graduations. Respondent, emphasizing the second quoted provision, alleges the district court properly read the judgment to make appellant solely responsible for the loans. The judgment's language also creates the possibility that the judgment did not apportion responsibility for the loan payments due after the sons' graduations.

Because the language is reasonably subject to more than one interpretation, we conclude that the judgment is ambiguous. See Erickson v. Erickson, 449 N.W.2d 173, 178 (Minn. 1989) ("Disagreement between the parties as to the interpretation of a dissolution decree may be tantamount to a finding of ambiguity."); see also Halverson, 381 N.W.2d at 71 (judgment language is ambiguous if reasonably subject to more than one interpretation).

Generally, the meaning of an ambiguous judgment provision is a fact question. See Emerick on Behalf of Howley v. Sanchez, 547 N.W.2d 109, 112 (Minn. App. 1996) (ambiguous judgment's meaning is fact question); Landwehr v. Landwehr, 380 N.W.2d 136, 140 (Minn. App. 1985) (meaning of ambiguous judgment provision is a fact question). Here, however, because the district court did not make findings to explain its ruling, it is unclear whether the district court, first, incorrectly ruled as a matter of law that the judgment required appellant to be responsible for the loans; second, found the judgment ambiguous regarding whether appellant was responsible for the loans and resolved that ambiguity in favor of respondent; or, third, found the judgment silent on who was responsible for the loans and apportioned them to father as omitted property under case law. See, e.g., Neubauer v. Neubauer, 433 N.W.2d 456, 461 n.1 (Minn. App. 1988) (property omitted from initial property division can be divided as "omitted property"), review denied (Minn. Mar. 17, 1989); Justis v. Justis, 384 N.W.2d 885, 889 (Minn. App. 1986) (debt apportionment reviewed as part of the property division), review denied (Minn. May 29, 1986). Because the meaning of an ambiguous judgment provision is a fact question, we must remand it to the district court. See Kucera v. Kucera, 275 Minn. 252, 254, 146 N.W.2d 181, 183 (1966) ("It is not within the province of [appellate courts] to determine issues of fact on appeal."). On remand, the district court shall: (a) resolve the ambiguity about whether responsibility for the post-graduation loan payments was apportioned in the judgment; (b) address which party is or should be responsible for those payments; and (c) make findings to support and explain its decision. We express no opinion on how to resolve the remanded issues, and whether to reopen the record on remand is a decision we leave to the discretion of the district court.