Hennepin County District Court File No. 27-FA-10-3436
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Halbrooks, Judge
This opinion will be unpublished and may not be cited except as provided by Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2012).
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded
Considered and decided by Larkin, Presiding Judge; Halbrooks, Judge; and Rodenberg, Judge.
UNPUBLISHED OPINION HALBROOKS, Judge
Appellant challenges the district court's ruling that he pay respondent $2,510 per month in spousal maintenance until the younger of their children turns 18, arguing that neither the amount nor the duration of maintenance is supported by the record. Because we conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion by setting the duration of spousal maintenance, we affirm in part. But because the district court included in respondent's reasonable expenses the credit-card payments that appellant was ordered to pay as part of the dissolution property division and the payments on family loans that respondent was ordered to pay, we reverse in part and remand.
Appellant James Stone and respondent Janet Stone were married on May 5, 2005. Before the marriage, appellant completed four years of undergraduate training and a medical degree. Respondent had completed a bachelor's degree in studio art with a minor in education. At the time of the marriage, appellant was in his general-surgery residency at the Medical College of Virginia, earning approximately $49,000 per year. During the five years of marriage prior to separating, appellant's annual income ranged from approximately $40,000 to $85,000. Respondent earned $15,410 in 2005, primarily working in retail. After their first child was born in December 2005, respondent stopped working outside of the home for the remainder of the marriage. Their second child was born in February 2008.
The parties moved in late 2008 so that appellant could pursue a specialty in pancreatic transplants at the University of Minnesota. They separated in February 2010, and appellant petitioned for dissolution in April 2010. At that time, appellant's annual income was approximately $54,000, or $4,500 per month. Soon after the separation, both parties relocated to Virginia. Respondent began working as a childcare provider, earning approximately $2,223 a month, and appellant took a position as a general surgeon, earning a $250,000 salary. Although the parties had not carried any credit-card debt during their marriage, both parties accrued significant debt during their separation in the form of credit-card debt and loans from their families. This debt was used largely for attorney fees, but also for living and travel expenses.
The district court held a one-day trial, focusing primarily on the issue of spousal maintenance. Respondent requested $5,000 per month in temporary maintenance, while appellant argued that spousal maintenance was inappropriate. Respondent submitted two proposed budgets: one for $5,001, and one for $6,494. The larger budget took into account the cost of renting a house with a yard and separate bedrooms for each child. The parties agreed that respondent's apartment at the time of the proceedings did not meet the marital standard of living, but disagreed on an appropriate housing budget. Appellant testified that he was able to rent a four-bedroom house with a yard near the school that their children would attend for $1,525 per month. Respondent's proposed budget included $2,100 in rent, but she conceded at trial that appellant's living circumstances were "reasonable" and agreed that she could provide a similar home for the children on a monthly rental budget of $1,500-$1,600.
The district court ordered appellant to pay $2,250 per month in temporary spousal maintenance until the earliest of the following: death of either appellant or respondent, remarriage of respondent, last child reaches the age of 18 years, or further order of the district court. At the time of the judgment, the children were ages 3 and 5.
The district court stated that the award was equitable and fair "considering the standard of living established during the marriage, the duration of the marriage, and [r]espondent's contributions as homemaker while [appellant] completed training in his specialty." It noted that "[respondent's] time as a homemaker enabled [appellant] to complete his medical training and specialty training, at least in part, and it is fair and reasonable that she receive some benefits as a result." It concluded that "[a]lthough the parties were married for only six years" the temporary award "is fair and reasonable to provide for a standard of living for [respondent] and the children while in her care."
The district court also awarded respondent $1,527 per month in child support, based on each parent having 50% parenting time. Finally, the district court divided the marital debts and property. It ordered the parties to pay their own credit-card debt and family loans, as well as their own attorney and expert fees and costs. But "[i]n lieu of an equalization payment," it ordered appellant to pay off the balance on respondent's three credit cards.
Appellant moved for a new trial or amended findings on the ground that the district court erred in awarding spousal maintenance. He argued that (1) respondent's budget included several inappropriate or overstated expenses, (2) the district court improperly calculated child support, (3) the district court improperly credited respondent for her role while appellant was completing medical training, and (4) the duration of maintenance was inappropriate given the length of the marriage. Respondent filed a ...