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In re Marriage of Doyle

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

June 17, 2013

In re the Marriage of: Colleen M. Doyle, petitioner, Appellant,
v.
Keith R. Klein, Respondent.

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

Washington County District Court File No. 82-F5-06-007572.

Alan C. Eidsness, Melissa J. Nilsson, Henson & Efron, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota (for appellant)

Kathleen M. Newman, Michael P. Boulette, Kathleen M. Newman & Associates, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondent)

Considered and decided by Smith, Presiding Judge; Cleary, Judge; and Hooten, Judge.

HOOTEN, Judge

Appellant-obligee challenges the district court's amended order, which, on remand from this court, denied her request for permanent maintenance and awarded temporary spousal maintenance. Appellant argues that the district court abused its discretion by finding that she is capable of obtaining full-time employment and becoming self-supporting by May 2013 through income from employment and investment. Appellant also argues that the district court abused its discretion by lowering the tax rate used to calculate her spousal maintenance to an amount not supported in the record and erred by considering respondent-obligor's motion to clarify the tax implications of the maintenance award.

We affirm the district court's findings regarding appellant's capability to work full-time after a few years of part-time employment and her anticipated part-time and initial full-time salary. We also affirm the district court's clarification of the tax implications of the maintenance award. But, because there is no evidentiary support for the district court's calculation of increases in appellant's full-time employment income, the taxes applicable to the maintenance calculation, and the finding that appellant will be self-supporting by May 2013, we reverse and remand for redetermination of the amount of the maintenance award and whether such maintenance should be temporary or permanent.

FACTS

Appellant Colleen Doyle and respondent Keith Klein were married in September 1988 and their marriage was dissolved in April 2008. Appellant was 45 years of age at the time of the judgment and decree, and has a bachelor's degree in business administration and a law degree from the University of Minnesota. She was admitted to the practice of law in 1990 and has maintained her law license since that time. After law school, appellant worked full-time for a year at West Publishing in research and development, earning an annual salary of approximately $30, 000, but left the position in 1991 after the birth of the parties' first child. Appellant also performed legal consulting work between 1992 and 2003, earning between $2, 500 and $10, 000 per year. Other than this part-time legal consulting work, appellant was primarily responsible for the care of the parties' two children, both of whom have had multiple health issues. The parties' oldest child emancipated in 2009 and the youngest child emancipated in May 2012.

Respondent has a bachelor's degree in business administration and accounting, a master's degree in business administration, and is a certified public accountant. The district court found that respondent had a base salary of $290, 000 in 2007, plus bonuses and benefits. Respondent's base salary alone resulted in approximately $24, 167 of gross monthly income.

Appellant sought permanent spousal maintenance. Although she is licensed to practice law, appellant claims that she is not able to work full-time because several times each year, she has a serious reaction to undetermined allergens that requires her to go to the emergency room. She also claims to have a lifting restriction due to osteopenia, a thinning of the bones, and other non-symptomatic health concerns. Even though appellant did not work outside the home for most of the marriage, she was able to manage nonprofit entities in a volunteer capacity and remained physically active. In light of appellant's health concerns, the parties' neutral employment expert determined that appellant could perform "flexible, " part-time legal work with an annual income of $20, 000 to $25, 000 as a paralegal or $25, 000 to $40, 000 as an attorney. Appellant's physician testified that full-time employment was not advisable because of her health issues. Jan Lowe, respondent's vocational expert, concluded that appellant could find full-time employment as an attorney with an annual salary between $65, 000 and $105, 000.

In its Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Order for Judgment and Judgment and Decree dated April 8, 2008, the district court denied appellant's claim for permanent maintenance. Instead, the district court awarded appellant temporary maintenance beginning in August 2007, which gradually decreased each year due to anticipated increases in her salary and a decrease in her living expenses as the children emancipated. The maintenance award expired after May 2013. In awarding temporary maintenance, rather than permanent maintenance, the district court found that appellant would be capable of only part-time employment for a few years, earning an annual salary of $20, 000, and then, notwithstanding her health concerns, would be able to work full-time earning $45, 000. The district court also determined that each party will have annual investment income of $16, 537 from the proceeds of the sale of multiple homes. The district court reasoned that appellant would be able to meet her reasonable monthly expenses with her salary, along with her investment income, maintenance and child support. In an order issued in November 2008, the district court made numerous amended findings, including a finding that it overstated appellant's monthly expenses. Based upon its finding that appellant's reasonable monthly expenses were less than that set forth in its judgment and decree of April 8, 2008, the district court subsequently entered an amended judgment and decree incorporating the amended findings and recalculation of spousal maintenance. Both parties appealed.

We affirmed the district court's finding regarding appellant's monthly expenses, which were $10, 233 for appellant and the children, and $8, 015 for appellant after the children emancipated. Doyle v. Klein, No. A09-200, 2010 WL 771628, at *2 (Minn.App. Mar. 9, 2010). But we determined that the district court's finding "that appellant could earn $45, 000 after three years of part-time employment, " was "incomplete" because it failed to credit either party's employment expert and because appellant's expected income was "insufficient to meet the reasonable monthly needs determined by the district court, particularly in light of the fact that both income figures represent gross income." Id. We also noted the district court's failure to "make a finding as to appellant's expected income or level of employment after five years." Id. Because of the lack of findings, we remanded this matter to the district court "for a determination of appellant's expected income after five years, consistent with her education and experience, and a determination of whether her expected income will allow her to meet her reasonable expenses." Id.

On remand, respondent filed a motion seeking relief relating to the tax ramifications of the amended judgment and decree and requesting clarification that the maintenance award was intended to be taxable to appellant and deductible by respondent on state and federal returns. Appellant filed a responsive motion requesting denial of respondent's motion, arguing that his motion was actually an untimely motion to amend the judgment and decree.

At the remand hearing, appellant called two professional career counselors from local law schools who testified about salary prospects for local entry-level attorneys. Both testified that appellant would be perceived as an entry-level attorney given her experience and period away from legal employment. Respondent offered an updated report from Lowe, which included a chart that was based upon occupational data derived from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) from the second quarter of 2010. This chart, which assumed a median salary of $121, 077 for a Minnesota attorney in 2010, was constructed to illustrate Lowe's opinion that in three years from her start as a full-time attorney, appellant would be earning this median income. Utilizing a starting salary of $65, 000 for full-time employment in 2007, Lowe ...


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