Filed October 20, 1998.
Appeal from the District Court, Hennepin County, File No. 226156.
John A. Warchol, Warchol, Berndt Hajek, P.A., (for respondent).
Daniel J. Goldberg, Messerli Kramer, P.A., (for appellant).
This opinion will be unpublished and may not be cited except as provided by Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
Appellant Michael Jon Rodeghier challenges the trial court's award of spousal maintenance to respondent Deanna Lynn Rodeghier on grounds that the award exceeds respondent's needs, improperly includes savings as a need, and fails to account for respondent's investment income. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.
The parties were married for 25 years, during which time they both worked hard to acquire over a million dollars in marital assets. They enjoyed a comfortable and opulent, but not extravagant, lifestyle. They never borrowed money or made purchases on credit. Many of their purchases and expense payments were made from savings.
At some time prior to 1987, the parties started a business known as Midcon Power Service, Inc. Respondent handled all of the internal functions of the business and appellant was responsible for sales and consultations. The parties agreed to keep respondent's salary low so as to minimize employment taxes and social security contributions. This approach resulted in a permanent reduction of retirement and social security benefits for respondent. Respondent continued to work at Midcon until February 1996.
The trial court divided the parties' marital property equally. In doing so, the court awarded certain investment brokerage accounts to respondent. Appellant does not challenge the property division but contends that the trial court erred in failing to recognize dividend income that respondent will receive from the investments.
In its findings of fact as to respondent's monthly living expenses, the trial court included $350 as a "retirement contribution" and $200 as "savings." Appellant challenges the inclusion of general savings as an element of respondent's needs.
Appellant does not challenge the propriety of an award of spousal maintenance; nor does he disagree with the duration of the obligation. Further, he does not contend that he lacks the ability to pay. His disagreement is with the amount. He contends that the amount impermissibly inflates respondent's needs and fails to reflect respondent's additional investment income.
Determination of spousal maintenance is a matter within the trial court's discretion which we will not disturb on appeal absent an abuse of that discretion. Erlandson v. Erlandson , 318 N.W.2d 36, 38 (Minn. 1982). There must be a clearly erroneous conclusion before this court will find that the trial court abused its discretion. Rutten v. Rutten , 347 N.W.2d 47, 50 (Minn. 1984). Spousal maintenance is determined by balancing one spouse's ability to pay against the other spouse's needs. Erlandson , 318 N.W.2d at 39.
Minn. Stat. § 518.552 (1996) lists several of the factors that a court may consider in setting the amount of spousal maintenance. Among those factors is the standard of living established during the marriage. Minn. Stat. § 518.552(c). The parties' standard of living included the practice of accumulating and maintaining savings so that they could make purchases and pay expenses without incurring debt.
Although maintenance amounts are required to reflect needs, there is no requirement that the amounts are limited to bare necessities. Bollenbach v. Bollenbach , 175 N.W.2d 148, 155 (Minn. 1970). In the context of standard of living, "needs" are measured as much by an internal as by an external, objective standard. By the way they live, through the things they value, the parties define their "needs." Lifestyle needs, as well as basic survival needs, are proper components of a maintenance award. Minn. Stat. § 518.552(c) (standard of living is to be considered in maintenance award). In this case, the accumulation of general savings was a shared value and an integral part of the parties' standard of living. Recognizing that there is no issue as to appellant's ability to pay maintenance that includes general savings, it was not clearly erroneous for the trial court to factor general savings into the respondent's standard of living needs. See Rosenberg v. Rosenberg , 379 N.W.2d 580, 586 (Minn.App. 1985) (holding spouse who enjoyed "an affluent lifestyle during her marriage, cannot now be forced to subsist at a survival level"), review denied (Minn. Feb. 19, 1986).
As part of the property division, the trial court awarded to respondent investment funds valued at approximately $94,000. The award is not contested, but appellant argues that the court should have reflected in its findings the income respondent would derive from the funds. The trial court found that respondent "may have some dividend and interest income" from the property division but the "amount of that income is not presently subject to determination." Appellant moved for amended findings and conclusions, requesting, among other things, that dividend and interest income from respondent's investment funds be determined and considered. Characterizing the evidence respecting such income as speculative, the court denied the motion and deferred the matter for future determination.
Included in the evidence received at trial was the parties' 1996 joint income tax return. A schedule attached to that return itemized the parties' dividend and interest income. It is undisputed that the parties derived income from the listed investment accounts in 1996. It is undisputed that the trial court awarded some of those income-generating accounts to respondent. Thus, based on the evidence, more likely than not respondent will have some investment income that should be considered in determining the amount of her spousal maintenance award. See Fink v. Fink , 366 N.W.2d 340, 342 (Minn.App. 1985) (noting income generated by maintenance recipients' liquid assets to be considered when determining need for maintenance). Financial facts in a marriage dissolution need not be established with absolute exactitude. See Bury v. Bury , 416 N.W.2d 133, 136 (Minn.App. 1987) (stating district court not required to be mathematically exact in its valuation of assets as long as value arrived at lies within a reasonable range of figures) (quotations omitted). Reasonable estimates based on competent evidence may suffice. Id. To require absolute certainty in proof regarding stock market investments of fluctuating value is error. Since such investments perpetually fluctuate, the effect of such a requirement is that income that a party derives from an award of such investments never receives consideration. The trial court is in the best position to make the appropriate determination on remand.