STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In Re the Marriage of:
Deborah C. Manke,
n/k/a Deborah C. Baty, petitioner,
Charles A. Manke,
Filed September 7, 1999
Isanti County District Court
File No. F0-90-401
Mark W. Benjamin, Todd D. Donegan, Parker, Satrom, O'Neil & Benjamin, P.A., 123 South Ashland, Cambridge, MN 55008-1593 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Anderson, Presiding Judge, Randall, Judge, and Schultz, Judge.[*]
Appellant challenges the district court's refusal to require respondent to pay child support until his children complete college. We affirm.
4. That the Respondent shall pay to [appellant] as and for permanent child support for the minor children the sum of $500.00. Child support shall continue until the child(ren) is emancipated, self-supporting or graduates from college whichever shall occur first. That the Respondent shall disclose to [appellant] his 1990 tax return, at which time child support shall be adjusted to his net monthly income calculated from the average of his annual income for 1990. There shall not be necessary a finding that the requirements of M.S. 518.64, Subd. 2 have been met. Therefore, the child support shall be automatically adjusted upon motion by petitioner at that time.
At the May 21, 1990 dissolution hearing, the district court accepted the MTA and incorporated it into the judgment. The judgment included the parties' agreement concerning child support as well as standard language terminating child support upon a child's 18th birthday or completion of high school, whichever occurred last. Further, the judgment included language that stated:
For as long as the minor children are either in high school or attending college, upon the Respondent's death, the home shall be awarded to the children as and for child support.
In 1993, the district court entered an amended judgment concerning property issues between the parties. The 1993 amended judgment deleted the language concerning the disposition of the house upon respondent's death. Neither party objected to removal of this language from the 1993 amended judgment. However, the 1993 judgment still contained the conflicting child support obligations. The parties did not notice the conflicting language until the youngest child graduated from high school in 1997.
Appellant moved the district court pursuant to Minn. R. Civ. P. 60.01 to correct the clerical error. Respondent opposed the motion and moved to delete the provision requiring child support through college.
Prior to the evidentiary hearing, both parties filed memoranda and affidavits outlining their arguments concerning duration of child support. After reviewing the record, however, the district court determined the evidentiary hearing was not necessary and the matter could be adjudicated as a matter of law. The district court concluded the parties could not voluntarily agree to extend the child support duration without the district court making specific findings of fact at the time of the original judgment, as outlined in Minn. Stat. § 518.551 (1996). Appellant challenges the district court's decision.
The district court utilized Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5(i), to arrive at its decision. However, the language the district court relied on was not part of Minn. Stat. § 518.551 at the time of the original 1990 judgment. See 1991 Minn. Laws c.292, art. 5 § 75-78.
Minn. Stat. § 645.21 (1998) states that "[n]o law shall be construed to be retroactive unless clearly and manifestly so intended by the legislature." Minnesota courts have previously held that child support statutes cannot be applied retroactively. See Brugger v. Brugger, 303 Minn. 488, 494-96, 229 N.W.2d 131, 135-36 (1975) (holding age of majority is determined by statute in effect at time of dissolution); see also Borich v. Borich, 450 N.W.2d 645, 648 (Minn. App. 1990) (holding definition of child to be applied is one in effect at time of dissolution).
Despite the district court's reliance on the incorrect form of Minn. Stat. § 518.551, this court must examine the law using the proper form of Minn. Stat. § 518.551 in effect at the time of the original judgment. The applicable statute is found in Minn. Stat. § 518.551 (1988). See State v. Hannuksela, 452 N.W.2d 668, 673 n.7 (Minn. 1990) (stating that "it is the responsibility of appellate courts to decide cases in accordance with law and that responsibility is not to be `diluted by counsel's oversights, lack of research, failure to specify issues or to cite relevant authorities'") (citation omitted); Greenbush State Bank v. Stephens, 463 N.W.2d 303, 306 n.1 (Minn. App. 1990) (applying Hannuksela in a civil case), review denied (Minn. Feb. 4, 1991).
Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5(e) (1988) requires the district court to make findings if deviating from the guidelines. However, the statute does not contain any language requiring findings when the parties agree to a provision relating to child support in the judgment. Cf. Moylan v. Moylan, 384 N.W.2d 859, 863 (Minn. 1986) (holding trial court must make specific findings of fact as to factors considered in making award).
Minnesota law allows parties the freedom to contract except in cases where the contract violates public policy. Christensen v. Eggen, 577 N.W.2d 221, 225 (Minn. 1998). Stipulations are favored in marital dissolution cases as a means of simplifying and expediting litigation so as to bring to resolution an acrimonious situation. Shirk v. Shirk, 561 N.W.2d 519, 521 (Minn. 1997). The stipulations are accorded the sanctity of a binding contract. Id. When the judgment is entered based upon a stipulation, the stipulation is merged into the judgment, and it cannot then be the target of attack by a party seeking relief from the judgment. Id. at 522.
Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 4 (1988) specifically states "[u]nless otherwise agreed in writing or expressly provided in the decree, provisions for the support of a child are terminated by emancipation of the child * * * ."
Even though the parties may extend child support, the language found in the judgment does not automatically extend respondent's child support obligation through college. The relevant language contained in the judgment states:
4. That the Respondent shall pay to [appellant] as and for permanent child support for the minor children the sum of $500.00. Child support shall continue until the child(ren) is emancipated, self-supporting or graduates from college whichever shall occur first.
According to the judgment, the children are emancipated because they have attained the age of 18. Minn. Stat. § 518.54, subd. 2 (1988), defines "child" as "an individual under 18 years of age, an individual under age 20 who is still attending secondary school, or an individual who, by reason of physical or mental condition, is incapable of self-support."
The judgment's language containing three different durational measures for child support and stating the one occurring first will end the support obligation makes the issue of extending child support through college moot. One of the measures has occurred and triggered the end to the support obligation for respondent. By the unambiguous language of the judgment, respondent met his child support obligation when the children were emancipated.
[*] Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.