STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In Re the Marriage of:
James F. Plourde, petitioner,
n/k/a RuthAnne Jacobson,
Filed November 9, 1999
Reversed and remanded
Dakota County District Court
File No. F1-94-14654
Thomas R. Lehmann, Barbara S. Lutter, Lehmann, Lutter & Rabuse, P.A., 1380 Corporate Center Curve, Suite 214, Eagan, MN 55121 (for appellant)
Leland S. Watson, 836 Norwest Midland Building, 401 Second Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55401 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Anderson, Judge.
Appellant James F. Plourde brought this motion in April 1998 to reduce his spousal maintenance obligation based on respondent Ruth Anne Plourde's increased income. The district court denied appellant's motion, and an appeal was taken. In February 1999, this court remanded the matter to the district court for additional findings on respondent's net monthly income and on the parties' reasonable monthly expenses. Plourde v. Plourde, C9-98-1456 (Minn. App. Feb. 16, 1999).
On remand, the district court issued amended findings and again denied appellant's motion. This appeal followed.
Because the record establishes that respondent's increased income and available resources constitute a substantial change in circumstances that renders the terms of the original maintenance award unreasonable and unfair, we reverse and remand.
A party moving for modification of maintenance must prove that there has been a substantial change in circumstances and that the change of circumstances renders the current maintenance terms unfair. Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(a) (1998); Beck v. Kaplan, 566 N.W.2d 723, 726 (Minn. 1997). The requisite change in circumstances can be shown in a number of ways, including substantially increased or decreased earnings of a party, or substantially increased or decreased needs of a party. Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(a). Maintenance, whether permanent or rehabilitative, is intended to assist a former spouse in meeting her needs when her resources are insufficient. Minn. Stat. § 518.552, subd. 1 (1998).
Appellant argues that the district court failed to make an express finding on respondent's net monthly income. The absence of such a finding is particularly troublesome because the record establishes that respondent's income and available resources have increased substantially and appear adequate to cover her reasonable monthly expenses. The district court's decision nevertheless suggested that respondent's lack of need was irrelevant because any increase in respondents' income was contemplated by the parties at the time they stipulated to maintenance. We disagree.
The fact that a stipulation was the basis for an original maintenance award does not prevent a later modification. Hecker v. Hecker, 568 N.W.2d 705, 709 (Minn. 1997). In amended findings, the district court found:
When the decree was entered the parties clearly contemplated that Respondent would earn additional income on her investment of her marital share of their estate. It was also clearly contemplated that Respondent would earn additional wages working either full-time or additional part-time jobs.
Certainly, the district court properly concluded that some investment income was contemplated by the parties because the decree gave respondent income-producing property. But nothing in the original decree or the record supports the conclusion that the parties contemplated that appellant would continue to pay $1,250 per month, regardless of any increase in respondent's wages and income.
To the contrary, the decree specifically requires respondent to "report any substantial change in her employment situation and/or earnings to [appellant] immediately upon its occurrence." This requirement shows that the parties intended to allow appellant to seek modification of maintenance should respondent's earnings substantially change. The district court therefore abused its discretion by concluding that the parties' stipulation precluded further review of the maintenance award and in denying appellant's motion to modify on that basis. See Minn. Stat. § 518.552, subd. 5 (parties may expressly preclude or limit modification of maintenance through stipulation, if court makes specific findings that stipulation is fair and supported by consideration, and that full disclosure of parties' financial circumstances has occurred); cf. Beck, 566 N.W.2d at 726 (reversing court's modification because there was no evidence that moving party "did not or could not anticipate" changed circumstances and, thus, it was not unreasonable or unfair to hold parties to their negotiated agreement); Hillestad v. Hillestad, 405 N.W.2d 436, 439 (Minn. App. 1987) ("Appellant does not base her arguments on substantially changed circumstances, but on those circumstances either in existence or contemplated three years earlier at the time of the dissolution."), review dismissed (Minn. June 30, 1987).
In considering a modification motion, the district court should use the stipulation as the original circumstances against which a claim of changed circumstances should be compared. Hecker, 568 N.W.2d at 709. The May 1995 decree, which incorporated the parties' December 1994 stipulation, reflected that respondent's income was $10,000 per year and that her monthly expenses were approximately $2,215 per month. Based on those figures, appellant agreed to pay $1,250 per month in spousal maintenance until either party's death, respondent's remarriage, appellant's retirement, or a court order. Accordingly, the baseline income for respondent in this case is $10,000.
The record clearly reflects that respondent has had a substantial increase in income and available resources since the parties' stipulation. In 1995, her wages totaled $25,417 and her gross income was $37,486; in 1996, her wages were $36,101 and her gross income was $44,674; in 1997, she earned $25,548 in wages and had a gross income of $43,794. The record also shows that her needs have increased only slightly since the original award of maintenance, from $2,215 to her current monthly expenses of $2,620.
On remand, the district court is directed to reduce maintenance to an appropriate amount, considering respondent's reasonable needs and her increased income and available resources. See Minn. Stat. § 518.552, subd. 2 (setting out factors court must consider in determining amount of maintenance); see also Lyon v. Lyon, 439 N.W.2d 18, 22 (Minn. 1989) ("maintenance depends on a showing of need"). Considering the length of time that has passed since this motion was brought, the modification shall be retroactive to the date appellant's motion was first served on respondent. Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(d). For the same reason, the district court may reopen the record to take evidence on respondent's 1998 income and to consider a reasonable retirement contribution as part of respondent's expenses.
Finally, appellant requests that we direct the district court judge to remove himself from this case. Appellant made no motion in district court seeking this relief, and we decline to address the issue in the absence of any ruling by the district court. See Durell v. Mayo Foundation, 429 N.W.2d 704, 705 (Minn. App. 1988) (removal of judge rests within district court's discretion), review denied (Minn. Nov. 16, 1988).
Reversed and remanded.