Reversed Toussaint, Chief Judge Anoka County District Court File No. F9984322
Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and
A spouse receiving temporary spousal maintenance under a dissolution decree is required to make reasonable efforts to become self-sufficient, and mere inquiry into educational and employment opportunities, without further acts to pursue those opportunities, is insufficient to show a substantial changein circumstances to justify awarding permanent maintenance.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Toussaint, Chief Judge
In this maintenance-modification dispute, appellant argues that the district court abused its discretion by converting his temporary obligation to a permanent obligation, contending that (a) respondent failed to show a substantial change in circumstances rendering the existing maintenance award unreasonable and unfair and (b) neither the record nor the findings support the district court's award of permanent spousal maintenance. Because the record does not contain facts sufficient to show a substantial change in circumstances, we reverse.
Appellant Nick Youker and respondent Patricia Youker were married in 1981, and a petition to dissolve the marriage was filed in Anoka County District Court in 1997. In 1998, the amount and duration of spousal maintenance was litigated in a two-day trial. The district court found that although respondent had skills and education that would be useful in a job search, she needed three more years of education and training to obtain better employment and to earn a higher income. On April 1, 1999, the court entered the dissolution decree and awarded spousal maintenance of $1,000 per month for three years. Neither party appealed the initial award of spousal maintenance.
During the marriage, respondent was a homemaker, cared for the parties' son, earned a two-year degree in fashion merchandising and marketing, and worked in lower-paying positions than that of appellant. During the dissolution proceedings, respondent was employed as a visual specialist, arranging mannequins and merchandise displays, at Kohl's department store.
After the dissolution, respondent continued her employment with Kohl's and received periodic raises. She considered enrolling in an interior-design program at one college, but she ultimately chose not to do so. She determined that the programs at that and other institutions were inconvenient in either distance or scheduling since they did not offer a sufficient number of evening or weekend classes. Respondent chose not to attend classes full-time because the cost of tuition, coupled with the reduction of earnings, made attending a full-time program infeasible. She also discovered that interior-design programs require an additional four-year apprenticeship after completion, and her salary during that apprenticeship would be less than her current earnings. Consequently, respondent did not enroll in any degree-granting program during the temporary maintenance period, though she did enroll in a correspondence course to enhance her employment as a visual specialist. She had completed half of that course by the March 2002 hearing.
Similarly, respondent did not search for any other employment "other than looking in the newspaper." Instead, she continued in the Kohl's position because she was "not interested in anything else." Although she investigated higher-paying positions at Kohl's and HOM Furniture, she did not apply for those positions because they required travel at least one week per month. Because she had no one else to care for the parties' minor son, she viewed as unacceptable any job that required overnight travel.
On March 4, 2002, respondent moved to modify the duration of the maintenance award from temporary to permanent. Respondent conceded that her reasons for requesting the modification were the same as those given during the court's initial dissolution hearings. Those reasons included the fact that she is not currently self-supporting and that she spent the majority of a long-term marriage as homemaker and primary caretaker of their child.
On June 28, 2002, the district court issued its order finding that a change in circumstances warranted modification of the temporary maintenance award. In explaining its decision, the district court cited respondent's investigation into educational opportunities and her consideration of employment opportunities. In particular, the court noted that if respondent had (1) stayed at her current position and attended one night class per semester, her program would have taken more than three years to complete; (2) left her employment to attend classes full-time, she would have been in a worse financial position than at present; and (3) pursued other available positions, they would have required her to travel. The district court concluded that respondent's "reasoned decision" not to pursue further education or employment constituted ...