Wright County District Court File No. F3-01-2631
Considered and decided by Wright, Presiding Judge, Shumaker, Judge, and
The Minnesota maintenance statutes do not preclude a trial court from divesting itself of jurisdiction to modify an award of permanent maintenance when the parties to a divorce so stipulate according to law.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Crippen, Judge*fn1
Appellant, a maintenance obligor, contends that the trial court erroneously upheld a divestiture-of-jurisdiction clause as the basis for denying his petition for relief from his obligation to pay permanent maintenance. Because state statutes do not preclude the court from divesting itself of jurisdiction when the parties have so stipulated and the requirements of Minn. Stat. §á518.552, subd. 5 (2002) are met, we affirm. We also conclude that appellant did not state other grounds for relief under either Minn. Stat. §á518.145, subd. 2 (2002) or the doctrine of inherent judicial powers.
Appellant Charles B. Evans, III, seeks review of the trial court's denial of post-petition relief concerning his obligation to pay maintenance to his former wife, respondent Carol Evans. In October 2001, the parties were divorced in a judgment adopting a stipulation requiring appellant, then 59, to pay permanent maintenance to respondent in a sum, which, after three years, would remain at a constant amount of $1,200 per month. The stipulated judgment also expressly provided that "[t]he Court is divested of jurisdiction to modify the spousal maintenance [award]."*fn2 The judgment further contained a finding that the marital termination agreement was fair and equitable and supported by consideration, and that there had been full disclosure of the parties' financial circumstances.
Approximately one year later, appellant moved to modify the judgment, premised on the tax consequences to him arising from the property settlement and his assertion that because of his health it would be difficult for him to continue his income from a part-time job.*fn3 The record contains no evidence that the tax liability was unforeseeable at the time of the judgment. The trial court denied the motion, determining that the parties had expressly waived modification and that the court was divested of jurisdiction to modify the maintenance award. This appeal followed.
Did the trial court err in refusing post-judgment relief to override the parties' stipulation for divestiture of its jurisdiction over permanent maintenance?
Appellant first contends that under Minn. Stat. § 518.145, subd. 2(4) (2002), the clause in the judgment divesting the court of jurisdiction to modify maintenance is void as a matter of law. He rests his contention on Minn. Stat. § 518.552, subd. 3 (2002), which states a standard of openness for the modification of permanent maintenance following a divorce judgment. But we observe, initially, that this declaration is confined to circumstances in which the court has determined that the need for permanent maintenance is uncertain, which is not the circumstance here. And the usual continuing jurisdiction of the court, stated in Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 1 (2002), can be altered by a stipulation of the parties that is approved by the judgment court. See Minn. Stat. §á518.552, subd. 2 (2002) (granting trial court power to ...