This opinion will be unpublished and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:

Kathleen Cecilia Neustrom, petitioner,



Thomas Charles Neustrom,


Filed March 30, 1999


Short, Judge

Itasca County District Court

File No. F3972224

Richard E. Prebich, Lara C. Whiteside, Richard E. Prebich Law Offices, 1932 Second Avenue East, Suite 2, Hibbing, MN 55746 (for appellant)

James Perunovich, Law Offices of James Perunovich, 402 East Howard Street, Hibbing, MN 55746 (for respondent)

Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge, Kalitowski, Judge, and Short, Judge.


SHORT, Judge

This appeal arises from the 1998 dissolution of a 17-year marriage. On appeal from the trial court's denial of post-judgment relief, Kathleen Neustrom argues the trial court abused its discretion in: (1) concluding her inheritance money was marital property; (2) finding she owes the balance due for roof repairs to the parties' homestead; and (3) imputing income and decreasing her estimated monthly expenses in determining its spousal maintenance award. We affirm.


A trial court has broad discretion in dividing property, apportioning debt and awarding spousal maintenance. Dobrin v. Dobrin, 569 N.W.2d 199, 202 (Minn. 1997) (spousal maintenance); Hertz v. Hertz, 304 Minn. 144, 146-47, 229 N.W.2d 42, 45 (1975) (division of property); Yackel v. Yackel, 366 N.W.2d 382, 384 (Minn. App. 1985) (apportionment of debt). But the question of whether property is marital is one of law, and we only defer to the trial court's underlying facts. Freking v. Freking[cedilla]479 N.W.2d 736, 739 (Minn. App. 1992).


Neustrom argues the trial court abused its discretion in dividing her inheritance money as marital property. But a party claiming property is non-marital must prove the necessary underlying facts by a preponderance of the evidence. Olsen v. Olsen, 562 N.W.2d 797, 800 (Minn. 1997); see Minn. Stat. § 518.54, subd. 5 (1998) (defining non-marital property and noting property presumed marital for division purposes in dissolution cases). For property to maintain its non-marital character, it must be readily traceable to an identifiable asset. Olsen, 562 N.W.2d at 800; Wopata v. Wopata, 498 N.W.2d 478, 484 (Minn. App. 1993).

The record shows: (1) Neustrom deposited all of her inheritance money into a joint account containing prior marital funds; (2) no limitations were placed on the use of the money in the joint account, and both parties had equal access to the account; (3) in 56 months over a six-year period, the parties entered into transactions involving this account without each other's consent; (4) the parties' transactions included purchases of tires and gasoline, cash advances, grocery shopping, and withdrawals to cover the business expenses of Neustrom's former spouse; (5) the transactions also included deposits of tax refunds, wages, and proceeds from boat sales of Neustrom's former spouse; and (6) Neustrom provided no documentary evidence linking her inheritance money to specific marital purchases.

Given these facts, Neustrom failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that her inheritance money was readily traceable. See Wopata, 498 N.W.2d at 484 (categorizing property as marital because record devoid of evidence explaining what ultimately happened to non-marital funds after received by respondent); Wiegers v. Wiegers, 467 N.W.2d 342, 345 (Minn. App. 1991) (concluding trial court erred in holding accounts were adequately traced to non-marital property because record contained no indication of source of funds used to acquire accounts). Under these circumstances, the trial court properly treated Neustrom's inheritance as marital property. See Haaland v. Haaland, 392 N.W.2d 268, 272 (Minn. App. 1986) (stating "[w]here all funds pass through a general fund * * * and there is no attempt to segregate * * * [t]he presumption that property acquired during the marriage is marital controls"); Tucker v. Tucker, 368 N.W.2d 335, 337 (Minn. App. 1985) (affirming trial court's conclusion that parties' commingling of assets indicated intention to transmute property into marital property), review denied (Minn. Aug. 20, 1985).


Neustrom also argues the trial court abused its discretion in ordering her to pay $1,100 toward roof repairs to her homestead. But Neustrom's former spouse paid one-half of the balance due for these repairs from a personal account containing only non-marital earnings. Given this fact, the trial court acted within its broad discretion in finding Neustrom responsible for the remaining balance. See Minn. Stat. § 518.58, subd. 1 (1998) (permitting trial court to value marital assets prior to initially scheduled prehearing settlement conference upon finding another date is fair and equitable); Yackel, 366 N.W.2d at 384 (noting trial court's apportionment of debt is reviewed under abuse of discretion standard).


Neustrom finally argues the trial court abused its discretion in imputing income to her and decreasing her monthly expenses to reach its spousal maintenance award. See Nash v. Nash, 388 N.W.2d 777, 780 (Minn. App. 1986) (reversing trial court's denial of maintenance due to longevity of marriage, wife's age and job skills, and husband's income), review denied (Minn. Aug. 20, 1986). However, a trial court has broad discretion in determining maintenance, and may impute income after considering the party's estimated earning ability. See Dobrin, 569 N.W.2d at 202 (noting appellate court must not re-weigh evidence and find own facts in reviewing maintenance decisions); cf. Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5b (1998) (dictating factors trial court must consider in imputing income).

The record shows: (1) Neustrom is 40 years old and in good health; (2) she has a post-secondary degree from St. Cloud Business College and worked full-time for wages at or near minimum wage for at least seven years of the parties' marriage; (3) Neustrom testified she is willing to work 30 hours per week in her current secretarial position; (4) the parties' 15-year-old daughter is actively involved in school, works part-time, and has no physical or emotional needs that require increased supervision; and (5) Neustrom has not submitted any full-time employment applications since the parties' marital dissolution award. Given these facts, the trial court properly imputed full-time, minimum wage income to Neustrom in its maintenance award. Moreover, a careful review of the record supports the trial court's reduction of Neustrom's estimated monthly expenses. Under these circumstances, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in awarding Neustrom temporary spousal maintenance of $300 per month. See Minn. Stat. § 518.552, subd. 3 (1998) (mandating permanent award of spousal maintenance when party's need for maintenance is uncertain); Dobrin, 569 N.W.2d at 203 (reversing appellate court's award of temporary maintenance because wife did not demonstrate effort to retain employment); cf. Carrick v. Carrick, 560 N.W.2d 407, 410 (Minn. App. 1997) (reversing trial court's imputation of income because wife was traditional homemaker and caretaker of four children for first ten years of her marriage, and only worked part-time as bingo clerk for second ten years).