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In re Marriage of Mielke

Minnesota Court of Appeals
Jun 19, 2001
No. C7-00-2235 (Minn. Ct. App. Jun. 19, 2001)


No. C7-00-2235.

Filed June 19, 2001.

Appeal from the District Court, Morrison County, File No. F298903.

Christopher D. Johnson, Michelle Bergholz Frazier, Best Flanagan LLP, (for appellant)

Michael P. Perry, Michael P. Perry Law Office, (for respondent)

Considered and decided by Randall, Presiding Judge, Schumacher, Judge, and Anderson, Judge.

This opinion will be unpublished and may not be cited except as provided by Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).


Appellant Gwen E. Mielke contends the district court erred in awarding temporary rather than permanent spousal maintenance and abused its discretion in determining respondent Steven M. Mielke's income and in calculating appellant's monthly expenses. We affirm.


The parties' fourteen-year marriage was dissolved in January 2000, when appellant was 49 years old and respondent was 46 years old. The parties had no children. Appellant holds a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing and worked as a registered nurse throughout the marriage. She has worked less than full-time since 1988 due to various medical conditions. Appellant now works 34 hours per week as a quality improvement coordinator for St. Cloud Medical Group, earning $18.72 per hour. Her gross income in 1999 was $32,141. Her monthly net income is $1,925, and her reasonable monthly living expenses are $2,800, excluding a $200 monthly credit card payment.

Respondent has been employed by Dade Behring since 1985 and works as an integrated delivery networks manager for health systems. Respondent's gross income in 1999 was $119,666, consisting of salary plus compensation for sales. His base salary increased in 2000 from $60,000 to $73,000. Respondent's monthly net income, based on 1999 earnings, is $6,299.64, and his reasonable monthly living expenses are $3,000.

The parties stipulated to the property division. Appellant and respondent each received $31,882 from the sale proceeds of the marital home, which they used as down payments for the purchase of separate homes. Appellant additionally received cash assets of $47,060 and $8,867.62 and retirement assets of $45,172.92, $14,244.53, and $58,846. The court awarded appellant temporary maintenance of $1,000 per month for one year and $500 per month for two additional years. Appellant asks that this court reverse and remand for findings supporting permanent maintenance in the amount of $3,000 per month.


Our standard of review from the district court's determination of a maintenance award is whether the district court abused its wide discretion. Chamberlain v. Chamberlain, 615 N.W.2d 405, 409 (Minn.App. 2000), review denied (Minn. Oct. 25, 2000). A maintenance award must be supported by adequate findings. LeRoy v. LeRoy, 600 N.W.2d 729, 733 (Minn.App. 1999), review denied (Minn. Dec. 14, 1999). A district court does not abuse its discretion unless it resolves the matter in a manner "that is against logic and the facts on record." Chamberlain, 615 N.W.2d at 409 (quoting Rutten v. Rutten, 347 N.W.2d 47, 50 (Minn. 1984)).

Appellant contends the district court abused its discretion in failing to award permanent maintenance. Specifically, appellant claims the district court erred by imputing income to her and requiring her to use funds from the property division to meet her daily expenses. Spousal maintenance is an award "of payments from the future income or earnings of one spouse for the support and maintenance of the other." Minn. Stat. § 518.54, subd. 3 (2000). "The maintenance issue essentially amounts to a balancing of the recipient's need against the obligor's financial condition." Crosby v. Crosby, 587 N.W.2d 292, 298 (Minn.App. 1998) (citation omitted), review denied (Minn. Feb. 18, 1999). The district court may award maintenance if it finds that the spouse seeking maintenance:

(a) lacks sufficient property, including marital property apportioned to the spouse, to provide for reasonable needs of the spouse considering the standard of living established during the marriage, especially, but not limited to, a period of training or education, or

(b) is unable to provide adequate self-support, after considering the standard of living established during the marriage and all relevant circumstances, through appropriate employment * * * .

Minn. Stat. § 518.552, subd. 1 (2000). The following factors are to be considered in determining the amount of maintenance and whether the award should be temporary or permanent:

(a) the financial resources of the party seeking maintenance, including marital property apportioned to the party, and the party's ability to meet needs independently * * * ;

(b) the time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking maintenance to find appropriate employment, and the probability, given the party's age and skills, of completing education or training and becoming fully or partially self-supporting;

(c) the standard of living established during the marriage;

(d) the duration of the marriage and, in the case of a homemaker, the length of absence from employment and the extent to which any education, skills, or experience have become outmoded and earning capacity has become permanently diminished;

(e) the loss of earnings, seniority, retirement benefits, and other employment opportunities forgone by the spouse seeking spousal maintenance;

(f) the age, and the physical and emotional condition of the spouse seeking maintenance;

(g) the ability of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought to meet needs while meeting those of the spouse seeking maintenance; and

(h) the contribution of each party in the acquisition, preservation, depreciation, or appreciation in the amount or value of the marital property, as well as the contribution of a spouse as a homemaker or in furtherance of the other party's employment or business.

Minn. Stat. § 518.552, subd. 2 (2000). Findings of fact regarding maintenance will not be set aside unless clearly erroneous. McCulloch v. McCulloch, 435 N.W.2d 564, 566 (Minn.App. 1989).

The court must consider each of the statutory factors to determine if a permanent maintenance award is justified. Gales v. Gales, 553 N.W.2d 416, 419 (Minn. 1996). Permanent maintenance is typically awarded in cases of older, dependent spouses in lengthy, "traditional" marriages. See Id. at 419 (discussing caselaw reversing permanent maintenance awards by district courts because spouses in each case were likely to attain self-sufficiency. The Gales court stated:

[O]ur family law jurisprudence establishes that, to consider an award of permanent maintenance, there must be an exceptional case such as the dissolution of a long-term traditional marriage in which there is an older, dependent spouse who has little likelihood of achieving self-sufficiency because of an absence from the labor market for a long period of time.

Id. at 421. The supreme court clarified Gales one year later, stating:

Gales did not change the law, but instead applied the criteria of Minn. Stat. § 518.552, subd. 2 to the record. We take this opportunity to remind counsel that each marital dissolution proceeding is unique and centers upon the individualized facts and circumstances of the parties and that, accordingly, it is unwise to view any marital dissolution decision as enunciating an immutable rule of law applicable in any other proceeding.

Dobrin v. Dobrin, 569 N.W.2d 199, 201 (Minn. 1997).

Here, appellant had a bachelor's degree in nursing, was 49 years old at the time of dissolution, and worked at nursing jobs throughout the marriage. Appellant occasionally missed work due to chronic medical conditions, but they did not interfere with her continued employment. The district court found that appellant did not match the profile of a dependent spouse in a lengthy, traditional marriage who was unable to achieve self-sufficiency. The court analyzed the statutory factors and concluded that:

[Appellant] is able to provide adequate self-support, considered in conjunction with the income she can earn from her property award, after a period of temporary maintenance. [Appellant] also has the option of seeking full-time employment.

Appellant contends the district court erred in imputing income to her by finding she could seek full-time employment to increase her income. The district court may impute a party's income to the party's earning capacity if it finds that the party was underemployed in bad faith. Carrick v. Carrick, 560 N.W.2d 407, 410 (Minn.App. 1997).

As a matter of law, a court may not impute income-because no bad faith exists-where a homemaker continues to work the same part-time hours at the same position and there is no evidence of intent to artificially reduce income.

Maurer v. Maurer, 607 N.W.2d 176, 181 (Minn.App. 2000) (citing Carrick, 560 N.W.2d at 410), rev'd on other grounds, 623 N.W.2d 604 (Minn. 2001).

The record shows the district court did not find that appellant was underemployed in bad faith and did not specifically impute income to appellant. Rather, the court recognized that appellant had worked less than a full-time schedule during the marriage and "could seek full-time employment in order to increase her income." Maurer and Carrick are distinguishable because both cases involved long-term marriages with full-time homemakers who did not work outside the home for most of the marriage. See Maurer, 607 N.W.2d at 181 (stating parties were married for 28 years, appellant was full-time homemaker until last several years of marriage, wife was 49 years old); Carrick, 560 N.W.2d at 411 (stating parties were married more than 21 years, wife did not work outside of the home first ten years of marriage, wife was full-time homemaker and caretaker of four children, wife was 49 years old). Here, there were no children of the marriage, the parties were married for 14 years, appellant was 49 years old, and she worked as a registered nurse before and during the marriage. Appellant is not the traditionally dependent spouse the cases intended to protect.

Appellant claims she should not be required to invade her property settlement to meet monthly expenses. See Duffey v. Duffey, 432 N.W.2d 473, 477 (Minn.App. 1988) (concluding it is inappropriate to force wife to invade corpus of property award to meet monthly living expenses). Under Minn. Stat. § 518.552, subd. 2(a), the court must consider the financial resources of the party seeking maintenance, including marital property apportioned to that party. Appellant was awarded approximately $118,263.45 in retirement assets plus an additional $55,927.62 in assets that the court found "could easily be liquidated * * * to assist [appellant] in meeting her present monthly living expenses." The court, however, did not necessarily intend that appellant invade the corpus of the property award but recognized that liquidating the assets could generate additional income. See Fink v. Fink, 366 N.W.2d 340, 342 (Minn.App. 1985) (stating financial resources include income generated by liquid assets). In considering the factors in Minn. Stat. § 518.552, subds. 1-2, the court made the following findings:

After a period of temporary maintenance, coupled with the income from the property award herein, the [appellant] should be able to provide for her reasonable needs.

* * * [Appellant] is able to provide adequate self-support, considered in conjunction with the income she can earn from her property award, after a period of temporary maintenance. * * *

* * * [Appellant] will have some additional income generated by the property awarded to her in this Decree.

(Emphasis added.)

The district court's findings of fact were not clearly erroneous. The court did not err in denying permanent maintenance.

Appellant contends the determination of respondent's income was not supported by adequate findings. Respondent testified at trial that his compensation structure included salary plus "sales compensation," which is composed of commissions and bonuses. His 1999 tax return showed gross wages of $119,666, but his 2000 income could not yet be determined because his sales compensation varies. The district court found respondent's testimony regarding his compensation to be accurate. Based on respondent's 1999 income, his base salary increase, his estimated bonuses for 2000, and his documented first quarter 2000 income, the district court found that respondent's 2000 income would exceed his 1999 income. The district court's findings concerning respondent's income were adequate.

Finally, appellant contends the district court abused its discretion by failing to include in her monthly expenses a $200 credit card payment and expenses for cable television, a cleaning service, and a health club membership. The court recognized that appellant "needs some additional income in order to pay off her credit card debt" but found that appellant could provide additional income by working extra hours or through income from the property settlement. The court decreased the cable television expense to the actual cost based on billing statements submitted by appellant. The cleaning service was used only intermittently and at most one day per month during the marriage. The court deducted the health club membership but allowed a therapy expense, which it assumed was temporary and could be used to pay for a health club membership when the therapy ended.

The district court did not err in awarding temporary rather than permanent spousal maintenance and did not abuse its discretion in determining respondent's income or in calculating appellant's monthly expenses.


Summaries of

In re Marriage of Mielke

Minnesota Court of Appeals
Jun 19, 2001
No. C7-00-2235 (Minn. Ct. App. Jun. 19, 2001)
Case details for

In re Marriage of Mielke

Case Details

Full title:In Re the Marriage of: Gwen E. Mielke, petitioner, Appellant, v. Steven M…

Court:Minnesota Court of Appeals

Date published: Jun 19, 2001


No. C7-00-2235 (Minn. Ct. App. Jun. 19, 2001)