may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In Re the Marriage of:
Jean Louise Parkin, petitioner,
John Ralph Parkin,
Filed June 15, 1999
Affirmed; motions denied
Beltrami County District Court
File No. F4881263
Ronald S. Cayko, Fuller, Baer, Wallner & Anderson, Ltd., 514 America Avenue, PO Box 880, Bemidji, MN 56619-0880 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge, Peterson, Judge, and Foley, Judge.[*]
Appellant challenges the district court's order denying her motions for modification of spousal maintenance and attorney fees. Appellant argues the district court abused its discretion by failing to find there had been a substantial change of circumstances causing the original maintenance order to be unreasonable or unfair. Appellant further contends the district court abused its discretion by denying her motion for attorney fees. Both parties seek attorney fees on appeal. Because we conclude the district court did not abuse its discretion, we affirm. The motions for fees are denied.
The parties' 19-year marriage was dissolved January 20, 1989, by judgment of dissolution pursuant to a negotiated stipulation. Appellant Jean Louise Parkin was granted primary physical custody of their two children, then ages 12 and 9. Respondent John Ralph Parkin was required to pay child support in the amount of $1,200 per month. Respondent was also required to pay maintenance of $1,550 per month until appellant's death, remarriage, or through January 1, 1999, whichever occurred first. The court granted appellant cost-of-living increases adjusting the amount of child support and maintenance in 1991 and 1994.
During the parties' marriage, respondent worked as a physician and appellant was a full-time homemaker. Respondent's gross income the year prior to dissolution was $91,815.56. Appellant had no income prior to dissolution, but had completed approximately one and one-half years of college credits, was able-bodied and capable of employment.
Following the dissolution, appellant pursued a course of study in technical illustration--graphic design at Bemidji State University. This education provided her the training necessary to build models for architectural firms. Appellant graduated from that program cum laude in November 1994. At some time before she completed the program, appellant learned there were no model building companies in the Bemidji area. However, the record before the trial court included a statement from Dr. Wally Peck, Chairman of the Industrial Technology Department at BSU. Dr. Peck indicated that roughly 90% of the program graduates are placed successfully within the field, although relocation is generally necessary. In the past, graduates who did not wish to relocate had freelanced, building models for businesses directly. Following graduation, appellant did not apply for any jobs in her field. Instead, she went to work as an assistant produce manager at a grocery store, earning a net monthly income of $940.
Sometime in 1993, appellant began to experience pain in her hands. She was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in February 1995. Surgery was performed on her right hand in early 1998, which was successful. She plans to have the same surgery performed on her left hand. Appellant produced no evidence of any permanent disability.
As of May 1998, child support terminated when the parties' younger child graduated from high school. At that time, appellant was receiving $2,037.11 per month in maintenance. Under the terms of the original judgment, maintenance was to end on January 1, 1999.
On June 11, 1998, appellant brought a motion for maintenance modification, seeking permanent maintenance of $3,820 per month, based on expenses of $4,760.08 and income of $940. Appellant also moved for fees. The district court denied both motions. This appeal followed.
1. Maintenance modification
A district court has broad discretion to determine matters relating to maintenance. Sand v. Sand, 379 N.W.2d 119, 120 (Minn. App. 1985), review denied (Minn. Jan. 31, 1986). This court will not find an abuse of discretion unless the district court's determination is based on a clearly erroneous conclusion against logic and the facts on record. Rutten v. Rutten, 347 N.W.2d 47, 50 (Minn. 1984).
When a stipulation fixing the respective rights of the parties is made part of the judgment, a district court "should view it as an important element because it represents the parties' voluntary acquiescence in an equitable settlement." Claybaugh v. Claybaugh, 312 N.W.2d 447, 449 (Minn. 1981). District courts should only reluctantly alter the terms of a stipulation governing maintenance. Id. But the existence of a stipulation does not prevent modification where the parties' circumstances have substantially changed. Sand, 379 N.W.2d at 125.
Modification of a maintenance order is governed by Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(a) (1998), which provides in pertinent part:
The terms of an order respecting maintenance or support may be modified upon a showing of one or more of the following: (1) substantially increased or decreased earnings of a party; (2) substantially increased or decreased need of a party * * *; (3) receipt of assistance * * *; (4) a change in the cost of living for either party * * *, any of which makes the terms unreasonable and unfair * * * .
The party seeking modification bears the burden of demonstrating (1) a substantial change in circumstances under the statute has occurred and (2) the change in circumstances has rendered the original maintenance award unreasonable and unfair. Hecker v. Hecker, 568 N.W.2d 705, 709 (Minn. 1997). A maintenance recipient's unexpectedly worsened medical condition can constitute the requisite change of circumstances under the statute. Rydell v. Rydell, 310 N.W.2d 112, 115 (Minn. 1981). Failure of a spouse to become fully rehabilitated while receiving temporary maintenance payments may also constitute a changed circumstance under the statute. Katter v. Katter, 457 N.W.2d 750, 753 (Minn. App. 1990). Even where a maintenance recipient makes no effort to rehabilitate, a change of circumstances may be found if the recipient lacks the ability to meet needs without continued maintenance. Hecker, 568 N.W.2d at 708-09. In that event, the substantial change is the "frustration of the parties' expectations of self-sufficiency and the resultant substantial increase in [the obligee's] need for maintenance." Id. at 709.
Appellant argues the district court abused its discretion by not finding there had been a substantial change in circumstances since the time of the original judgment. In support of this argument, appellant asserts she demonstrated the following changed circumstances: (1) respondent's substantially increased earnings; (2) appellant's unforeseen osteoarthritis; and (3) appellant's failure to rehabilitate.
The district court found respondent earned a gross income of $110,952 in 1997. The district court concluded that respondent's increased earnings alone was not sufficient to justify modifying maintenance. See Beck v. Kaplan, 566 N.W.2d 723, 726 (Minn. 1997) (holding greatly increased income of obligor spouse does not render the original decree unreasonable and unfair under Minn. Stat. § 518.64). The district court also found appellant had failed to produce any evidence her hands were permanently disabled. The court's findings are supported by the record and are not clearly erroneous.
With respect to appellant's rehabilitation, the district court found
that with the Respondent paying a large amount of money over an extended period of time, [appellant] did not prudently and carefully plan for her vocational rehabilitation and, further, that she chose to receive a degree in a field which may make it difficult for her to obtain employment in that field within the City of Bemidji. However, the Court also finds that if, indeed, her choice of vocational rehabilitation was poorly chosen, then it was a choice made by her. * * * It is incumbent upon the Petitioner to either move from the Bemidji area to pursue the course of study which she alone chose, or to make the best use she can of the college degree which was financed largely through the payments of the Respondent.
The court also found appellant had engaged in imprudent spending and was careless with her credit cards. Those findings are also supported by the record.
We recognize that a maintenance recipient's failure to rehabilitate can constitute the substantially changed circumstances required for a maintenance modification. To do so, however, either the maintenance recipient's reasonable monthly expenses must exceed the net monthly income the recipient would have earned if the recipient had rehabilitated, or the recipient's failure to become rehabilitated must be unexpected. See Hecker, 568 N.W.2d at 708-09 (affirming increased maintenance award despite recipient's refusal to rehabilitate where recipient would not have been self sufficient even if she had rehabilitated and where maintenance award was equal to amount recipient would have needed if she had rehabilitated); Katter, 457 N.W.2d 753 (noting maintenance recipient's unexpected failure to achieve a status assumed by dissolution judgment was material change in circumstances) (citing Rydell, 310 N.W.2d at 115).
As the moving party, appellant had the burden of proof. Hecker, 568 N.W.2d at 709. This record shows (a) the stipulated judgment required respondent to pay substantial maintenance; (b) the parties anticipated appellant would use this maintenance to, among other things, re-educate herself; (c) appellant completed her degree but did so in a field in which she knew there were no local jobs; (d) appellant refused to move to an area where she could get a job in the field of her degree; and (e) appellant engaged in imprudent spending and was careless with her credit. On this record, and in light the heightened burden for modifying stipulated maintenance awards, the district court did not clearly err by not finding that appellant satisfied her heightened burden by showing that she would have been unable to meet her expenses had she rehabilitated or that her failure to rehabilitate was unexpected. Therefore, we affirm the district court's denial of appellant's motion to modify maintenance.
2. Attorney Fees
The decision of whether to award attorney fees in dissolution cases is within the discretion of the district court, and this court will rarely reverse the district court on this issue. Maeder v. Maeder, 480 N.W.2d 677, 680 (Minn. App. 1992), review denied (Minn. Mar. 19, 1992). Based on our review of the record, we find no abuse of discretion in the district court's denial of appellant's motion for attorney fees. We also decline to award either party fees on appeal.
Affirmed; motions denied.
[*] Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.