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In re Marriage of Engelhart

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

June 3, 2013

In re the Marriage of: Laura M. Engelhart, petitioner, Respondent,
v.
Robert J. Engelhart, Appellant.

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

Dakota County District Court File No. 19-FX-08-002319

Richard D. Goff, Law Offices of Richard D. Goff, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondent)

Jennifer M. Evans, Evans Law Office, Eagan, Minnesota (for appellant)

Considered and decided by Schellhas, Presiding Judge; Kalitowski, Judge; and Worke, Judge.

KALITOWSKI, Judge

In this appeal from a post-decree order, appellant Robert Engelhart argues that the district court abused its discretion by (1) denying his motion to modify his permanent spousal-maintenance obligation to respondent Laura Engelhart; (2) denying his motion to establish that respondent pay him child support; and (3) granting respondent's motion that he pay one-half of their minor child's private-school tuition. We affirm.

DECISION

Appellant and respondent married in 1989 and divorced pursuant to a stipulated judgment and decree in 2010. The parties stipulated to their monthly incomes and expenses and agreed that appellant would pay respondent permanent spousal maintenance of $4, 700 per month. The parties also agreed to share legal and physical custody of their three minor children and stipulated to a reservation of child support. In April 2012, appellant moved to modify his spousal-maintenance obligation based on changed circumstances and to establish child support concerning M.E., the parties' only remaining minor child. Respondent moved to require appellant to pay one-half of M.E.'s private-school tuition. The district court denied appellant's motions and granted respondent's motion.

I.

We review a district court's decision concerning modification of spousal maintenance established in a divorce decree for an abuse of discretion. Rubenstein v. Rubenstein, 295 Minn. 29, 32, 202 N.W.2d 662, 663-64 (1972). A district court abuses that discretion if it makes a clearly erroneous conclusion that is against logic and the facts on record. Dobrin v. Dobrin, 569 N.W.2d 199, 202 (Minn. 1997). We defer to a district court's findings of fact, and will uphold them unless they are clearly erroneous. Antone v. Antone, 645 N.W.2d 96, 100 (Minn. 2002). "Findings of fact are clearly erroneous where an appellate court is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made." Goldman v. Greenwood, 748 N.W.2d 279, 284 (Minn. 2008) (quotation omitted).

"When a stipulation fixing the respective rights and obligations of the parties is central to the original judgment and decree, the district court considering the modification motion must appreciate that the stipulation represents the parties' voluntary acquiescence in an equitable settlement." Beck v. Kaplan, 566 N.W.2d 723, 726 (Minn. 1997). The Minnesota Supreme Court has "cautioned the district court to exercise its considerable discretion carefully and only reluctantly when it is faced with a request to alter the terms of an agreement which was negotiated by the parties." Id.

Modification of spousal maintenance is appropriate if a change in circumstances makes the original amount unreasonable and unfair. Minn. Stat. § 518A.39, subd. 2(a) (2012). Changed circumstances can be established by showing a substantial increase or decrease in the gross income or need of either the obligee or the obligor. Id. The movant for modification bears the burden of demonstrating a substantial change in circumstances and that the change renders the current maintenance amount unreasonable and unfair. Beck, 566 N.W.2d at 726. When the party seeking modification fails "to present clear proof of a substantial change in circumstances, " the district court is not required to consider other statutory factors. Tuthill v. Tuthill, 399 N.W.2d 230, 232 (Minn.App. 1987).

The district court concluded that appellant did not satisfy his burden to prove that his income and respondent's expenses had substantially decreased. Appellant challenges the district court's conclusion, arguing that many of its findings of fact are clearly erroneous and that his decreased income and respondent's decreased expenses are a substantial change in circumstances that ...


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