In re Marriage of Sauve

This case is not covered by Casetext's citator
Minnesota Court of AppealsApr 27, 2004
No. A03-788. (Minn. Ct. App. Apr. 27, 2004)

No. A03-788.

Filed April 27, 2004.

Appeal from the District Court, Clearwater County, File No. F402274.

George L. Duranske III, Duranske Law Firm, Bemidji, Mn, (for appellant)

Ronald S. Cayko, Fuller, Wallner, Cayko Pederson, Ltd., Bemidji, Mn, (for respondent)

Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge; Lansing, Judge; and Halbrooks, Judge.

This opinion will be unpublished and may not be cited except as provided by Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).


In this spousal-maintenance dispute, appellant-husband argues that the record does not support the district court's findings regarding (a) respondent-wife's limited ability to provide for herself; (b) wife's monthly expenses; and (c) husband's monthly expenses. We affirm.


The parties were married in 1989 and divorced in March 2003. At the time of dissolution, appellant-husband Daniel Scott Sauve was age 37, and respondent-wife Patricia Marie Hockert was age 45. Husband was employed as a county engineer earning a salary of $75,000 per year or a gross monthly income of $6,249.99. Husband's salary was to increase to $81,000 per year effective January 1, 2004. Based on a gross monthly income of $6,249.99, the district court calculated husband's net monthly income to be $4,112.90.

Wife was employed by TEAM industries and, in 2002, earned $30,442.27 for wages, tips, and other compensation. In February 2003, wife received a raise from $14.00 to $14.75 per hour. Wife testified that TEAM previously paid bonuses every year but that the company had advised its employees that it would not be paying bonuses in 2003 because sales had declined. Wife estimated that she received $1,000 in bonuses in 2002. Wife worked 40 hours per week plus about two hours of overtime every two weeks. The district court found that wife's gross monthly income was $2,522.54 and calculated her net monthly income to be $1,599.22.

Husband claimed monthly expenses in the amount of $4,835.93. The district court found that husband's reasonable monthly expenses were $2,721.95. Contrary to husband's assertion that the district court made no findings on his monthly expenses or their reasonableness, the district court's finding on husband's expenses cites attached court exhibit 4, which contains an itemized list of husband's reasonable monthly expenses as determined by the court. The district court further explained in the memorandum accompanying its order:

I carefully reviewed both claims of monthly expenses and made changes where I thought the amount set out was not justified. For example, I do not believe it is reasonable under the circumstances to allow [husband] to claim a vehicle expense of over $1,000 per month. I therefore reduced his vehicle expense to the same amount being paid by [wife].

The district court found that wife's reasonable monthly expenses were $2,092.19.

The district court found that the parties' standard of living steadily improved during their marriage and that they enjoyed a high standard of living during the previous several years, enabling them to make almost all purchases in cash and take expensive vacations. The court found that the parties had sufficient discretionary income to purchase numerous recreational and nonessential items, including snowmobiles, four-wheelers, new vehicles, and boats.

Wife is a high-school graduate with some post-secondary training as a travel agent and hairdresser. During the marriage, husband was the primary wage earner, and the parties relocated several times to further his career. The district court found that without additional training or education, wife would be unable to either advance in her employment with TEAM or otherwise significantly increase her earnings.

In addition to their homestead, the parties owned a 26-acre real-estate parcel and a 35-acre real-estate parcel. Husband estimated the value the 26-acre nonhomestead parcel to be $23,400 and the value of the 35-acre parcel to be $21,000. Tax assessments showed the values to be $8,800 and $10,700, respectively. The two parcels had a mortgage balance between $5,000 and $6,000.

The district court awarded wife temporary spousal maintenance for a period of five years in the amount of $500 per month plus 50% of any post-secondary tuition expenses incurred by wife. The district court explained:

[Husband] has the ability to meet his necessary monthly living expenses and pay [wife] temporary, rehabilitative spousal maintenance in the amount of $500.00 per month. [Husband] also has the ability to pay, as and for additional temporary, rehabilitative spousal maintenance, 50% of any post-secondary tuition expenses [wife] incurs during the next sixty months.

The Court finds that it is reasonable and equitable for [husband] to pay [wife] annual temporary spousal maintenance in the amount of $6,000 plus 50% of her post-secondary tuition expenses. . . . [Husband] will earn gross income of $75,000.00 in 2003 and $81,000.00 in 2004. [Husband] has the ability to pay this maintenance obligation and granting [wife] temporary spousal maintenance is the only way [wife] will be able to improve her earning potential and become self-supporting.


This court will not reverse a district court's spousal maintenance award absent an abuse of discretion. Erlandson v. Erlandson, 318 N.W.2d 36, 38 (Minn. 1982). The district court's discretion is examined in light of the controlling statutory guidelines contained in Minn. Stat. § 518.552 (2002). Id. "Findings of fact concerning spousal maintenance must be upheld unless they are clearly erroneous." Gessner v. Gessner, 487 N.W.2d 921, 923 (Minn. App. 1992).

The district court awarded wife maintenance under Minn. Stat. § 518.552, subd. 1(b) (2002), which provides that spousal maintenance may be granted when the district court finds that the spouse seeking maintenance "is unable to provide adequate self-support, after considering the standard of living established during the marriage and all relevant circumstances, through appropriate employment." To establish the amount and duration of a spousal-maintenance award the district court must consider and make findings on the statutory factors set forth in Minn. Stat. § 518.552, subd. 2 (2002). Reinke v. Reinke, 464 N.W.2d 513, 514-15 (Minn. App. 1990). The issue is, in essence, a balancing of the recipient's need against the obligor's ability to pay. Erlandson, 318 N.W.2d at 39-40. Spousal maintenance is determined on the facts of each case, and no single statutory factor is dispositive. Id. at 39.

Citing Lyon v. Lyon, 439 N.W.2d 18 (Minn. 1989), husband argues that the district court erred in not considering the marital property awarded to wife in determining her need for maintenance. The Lyon court reversed a maintenance award to a wife who had been awarded income-generating assets that would produce about $200,000 per year, an amount that exceeded her living expenses of $78,000 per year. Id. at 21-22. The court noted that the case was "an anomaly" because "[i]t is not often there is a marital estate of $7.2 million," and "[i]t is unusual for the spouse seeking maintenance to receive $3.6 million on which to live." Id. at 22; see also Rask v. Rask, 445 N.W.2d 849, 853-54 (Minn. App. 1989) (holding that, in determining need for maintenance, district court erred in failing to consider interest income that would be generated by marital property award when wife received marital property award valued between $75,000 and $119,000 plus $50,000 for a down payment on a house).

Here, wife was awarded personal property valued at $13,202 plus an equalization payment of $7,820. In addition, the parties were to split the proceeds from the sale of the homestead, which was subject to a $96,000 mortgage, and from the sale of the two other parcels of real estate. The district court did not make a finding on the amount of equity in the homestead and found that the evidence was insufficient for the district court to accurately determine the value of the other real-estate parcels. Wife was also awarded retirement accounts with a total value of $15,619.59 plus an equalization payment of $18,090.33.

The district court found:

[Husband] admitted during cross-examination that [wife] cannot meet her expenses. It necessarily follows, then, that until the real estate is sold, [wife] would not be able to provide for her needs. [Husband] suggests that once the real estate is sold, she would have sufficient assets awarded to her to allow her to make ends meet. But his argument ignores that she will need to use some of that money as a down payment for a new house. It ignores the fact that he is awarded more than half of the assets, which means that she will have to spend money to purchase replacements. Thus, all the money awarded to her simply isn't going to be available for living expenses. But, even if it were, it seems unjust to require her to invade that money simply to make ends meet when he clearly has the ability to provide for her during a period of rehabilitation.

The record does not show that the value of marital property was sufficient to generate income for wife. "Courts normally do not expect spouses to invade the principal of their investments to satisfy their monthly financial needs." Fink v. Fink, 366 N.W.2d 340, 342 (Minn. App. 1985). We, therefore, cannot conclude that the district court erred in failing to consider the value of marital property awarded to wife in determining wife's need for maintenance.

Husband objects to the district court's failure to cite Minn. Stat. § 518.552 in its findings. Findings that show that the district court considered the relevant statutory factors are adequate. See Dobrin v. Dobrin, 569 N.W.2d 199, 201-02 (Minn. 1997) (recognizing statutory maintenance factors as implicitly addressed); Currey v. Currey, 393 N.W.2d 683, 686 (Minn. App. 1986) (explaining that adequate findings are those that explain that the relevant statutory conditions have been considered). The district court's findings show that it carefully considered the relevant statutory factors.

Husband's argument that he is unable to pay maintenance is apparently premised on his claimed monthly expenses of $4,835.93. But the district court found that husband's reasonable monthly expenses were $2,721.95, leaving him with a net income surplus of $1,390.95 per month. The district court found that wife's reasonable monthly expenses were $2,092.19, more than $600 per month less than husband's. The district court did not clearly err in finding husband's reasonable monthly expenses.

Husband concedes that the parties relocated repeatedly because of career opportunities for him. But he argues that, during the marriage, respondent was satisfied with her employment and made no effort to further her education. The fact that wife did not seek to further her education and obtain more lucrative employment during the marriage does not mean that she is not entitled to maintenance upon dissolution. See Coffel v. Coffel, 400 N.W.2d 371, 375 (Minn. App. 1987) (stating spouse seeking maintenance is not required to change vocations for a more lucrative position); Sand v. Sand, 379 N.W.2d 119, 124 (Minn. App. 1985) (stating spouse seeking maintenance does not incur an obligation to increase her earning power through occupational retraining), review denied (Minn. Jan. 31, 1986).

Husband objects to the district court's findings that wife would not receive a bonus in 2003 and was working only two hours of overtime every two weeks. Wife's testimony supports those findings. This court defers to the district court's credibility determinations. Sefkow v. Sefkow, 427 N.W.2d 203, 210 (Minn. 1988).

Husband argues that because wife might not in fact further her education, she is not entitled to a temporary maintenance award to give her the opportunity to increase her earning potential. To obtain reversal, however, an appellant must show both error and prejudice, Midway Ctr. Assocs. v. Midway Ctr., Inc., 306 Minn. 352, 356, 237 N.W.2d 76, 78 (1975), and husband cites no authority supporting his position that the district court erred. We reject as speculative husband's argument that if wife does further her education, the tuition-reimbursement obligation could make his maintenance obligation excessive. See Hafner v. Hafner, 406 N.W.2d 590, 593 (Minn. App. 1987) (stating "this court cannot act on speculation").

The district court did not err in failing to consider husband's future child-support obligation in determining his ability to pay maintenance. A preexisting maintenance obligation is deducted from gross income when determining net income for child-support purposes. Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5(b)(viii) (2002).

Nothing in the record supports husband's claim that the district court's decision may have been improperly influenced by marital misconduct by husband

Husband objects to several property valuations by the district court. Parties to a divorce proceeding are competent to testify as to the value of their property, and the difference between the witnesses' valuations is a credibility issue. Bury v. Bury, 416 N.W.2d 133, 136-37 (Minn. App. 1987). The court's valuations were within the range of values submitted by the parties.

The district court did not abuse its discretion in determining maintenance.