STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In Re the Marriage of:
Margo Ellen Hawkinson, petitioner,
John Allen Hawkinson,
Filed August 3, 1999
Affirmed in Part, Reversed in Part, and Remanded
Stevens County District Court
File No. F892081
Charles C. Glasrud, Martin, Nelson, Glasrud & Klopfleisch, P.A., P.O. Box 66, Morris, MN 56267 (for respondent)
Robert V. Dalager, Fluegel, Helseth, McLaughlin, Anderson & Brutlag, Chtd., P.O. Box 527, Morris, MN 56267 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Anderson, Presiding Judge, Randall, Judge, and Schultz, Judge.
Appellant challenges two orders of the district court that denied his motions to (1) vacate or satisfy child support arrearage judgments against him and (2) enforce a court order requiring respondent to pay half of uninsured medical expenses for the couple's dependent children. We affirm as to the arrearage judgments but reverse and remand as to the medical expenses.
In February 1997, respondent secured a default judgment against appellant for failure to pay $7,422 in child support. In June 1998, respondent secured another default judgment for $2,667 in child support arrearages.
In July 1998, appellant moved the district court to vacate or satisfy the arrearage judgments against him because, at the time those arrearages accrued, the children were living with him and he was providing for the children's needs. Appellant also moved the district court to calculate respondent's obligation to contribute to the uninsured medical expenses of the children. But respondent testified by affidavit that appellant told her that he would take care of those expenses and that he never asked her to contribute.
In an October 1998 order, the district court refused to vacate the judgments and refused to compel respondent to contribute to the uninsured medical expenses because of her reliance on appellant's promise. In a January 1999 order, the district court, in addition to addressing other motions, denied a second motion by appellant to vacate or satisfy the arrearage judgments against him. This appeal of both the October and January orders follows.
I. Child Support Arrearages
There is no dispute that appellant failed to make certain monetary payments of child support. A child support payment is automatically considered a judgment against the obligor when it becomes past due. Minn. Stat. § 548.091, subd. 1a(a) (1998). Respondent twice took further action to have the judgments "docketed" by following statutory procedures that gave appellant notice that respondent was seeking to docket the judgments and gave him an opportunity to request a hearing to show that payments were made. Minn. Stat. § 548.091, subd. 1 (1998). Appellant did not request a hearing either time, and the judgments were docketed.
Appellant then exercised his statutory right to move for a hearing "under the rules of civil procedure" to obtain relief from the docketed judgments. Minn. Stat. § 548.091, subd. 4 (1998). The statute does not indicate which specific rules of civil procedure should be applied, but a party may move to vacate a judgment under Minn. R. Civ. P. 60.02.
Appellant, for the first time on appeal, cites specific provisions of rule 60.02. Respondent argues that appellant's rule 60.02 arguments cannot be made on appeal because appellant did not cite the rule to the district court. See Thiele v. Stich, 425 N.W.2d 580, 582 (Minn. 1988) (appellate court does not consider arguments not made below). But appellant's motions to the district court were in the nature of motions under rule 60.02, which governs vacating judgments, and we will review this argument. See Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 103.04 (scope of appellate review includes matters as required in the interests of substantial justice); see also State Bank of Morristown v. Labs, 275 N.W.2d 37, 39 (Minn. 1979) (looking to substance of motion when motion did not cite to appropriate rule).
Appellant argues that the judgments should have been vacated under rule 60.02(e), regarding satisfied judgments, because, when the support obligations accrued, he was providing child support by taking care of the children. It is true that a parent may satisfy his or her child support obligation "by providing a home, care, and support for the child." Minn. Stat. § 518.57, subd. 3 (1998). But this argument goes to the merits of the judgments, and a satisfied judgment is not a judgment that would not have existed were it argued on the merits. It is one that has been paid. American Sharecom, Inc. v. LDB Int'l Corp., 553 N.W.2d 433, 434 (Minn. App. 1996). Therefore, rule 60.02(e) does not justify vacating these judgments.
Appellant's argument that he provided support by caring for the children should have been made at a hearing before the judgments were docketed. A judgment may be vacated if a party has a valid argument on the merits of the judgment but excusably neglected to participate in a hearing before the judgment was entered. Minn. R. Civ. P. 60.02(a) (allowing vacation of judgment for excusable neglect). But appellant is not entitled to relief under rule 60.02(a) because he does not offer a good reason for not having requested a hearing before the judgments were docketed. See Finden v. Klaas, 268 Minn. 268, 271, 128 N.W.2d 748, 750 (1964) (for relief on grounds of excusable neglect, party must show, inter alia, reasonable excuse for failure to act) (quoting Hinz v. Northland Milk & Ice Cream Co., 237 Minn. 28, 30, 53 N.W.2d 454, 456 (1952)).
Appellant alternatively argues that he was entitled to relief under rule 60.02(f), a residual clause providing relief for "any other reason." But rule 60.02(f) is not to be applied unless the basis for relief is different from those specified in clauses (a) through (e) of rule 60.02. Chapman v. Special Sch. Dist. No. 1, 454 N.W.2d 921, 924 (Minn. 1990). Here, the basis of appellant's argument (that he has a valid claim on the merits of the judgment but failed to timely argue it) is addressed by the excusable neglect clause. Appellant cannot characterize his situation as the kind of exceptional circumstance contemplated by rule 60.02(f) just because he is unable to satisfy the applicable provision of rule 60.02.
It appears that appellant may have had a valid argument on the merits of the arrearage judgments. But, not having raised this argument in a timely fashion and not having a compelling reason to vacate the judgments, appellant is bound by the judgments.
The medical expense provision at issue here is part of the children's support. See Bock v. Bock, 506 N.W.2d 321, 326 (Minn. App. 1993) (medical support provision is treated as child support). The district court's reliance on the parties' stipulation modified the child support order by negating respondent's obligation for medical support. Cf. Gilbertson v. Graff, 477 N.W.2d 771, 774 (Minn. App. 1991) (forgiving arrears in child support is modification of the child support award). The district court's determination whether to modify child support is not reversed unless it was an abuse of discretion. Dabill v. Dabill, 514 N.W.2d 590, 597 (Minn. App. 1994).
The courts recognize and encourage stipulations on issues of parental rights. Tomscak v. Tomscak, 352 N.W.2d 464, 466 (Minn. App. 1984). But, in LeTendre v. LeTendre, this court affirmed a district court decision to invalidate the parents' stipulation to modify child support obligations because child support is a "nonbargainable" interest of the child that is "less subject to restraint by stipulation than other elements of a dissolution settlement." LeTendre v. LeTendre, 388 N.W.2d 412, 416 (Minn. App. 1986). Child support is the child's right, not the parents.
As in LeTendre, this case involves the parents' private agreement to modify a child support order. The stipulation, negating respondent's child support obligation, was invalid, and the district court abused its discretion by relying on the stipulation. The case must be remanded for a calculation of the parties' obligations for uninsured medical expenses.
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.
[*] Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.