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In re Marriage of Curtis

Supreme Court of Minnesota

November 16, 2016

In re the Marriage of: Christine J. Curtis, Appellant,
v.
Gregory M. Curtis, Respondent.

         Court of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts

          Andrew M. Tatge, Matthew C. Berger, Gislason & Hunter LLP, New Ulm, Minnesota, for appellant.

          Roger H. Hippert, Nierengarten & Hippert, Ltd., New Ulm, Minnesota, for respondent.

          David L. Olson, Edina, Minnesota; Michael D. Dittberner, Linder, Dittberner & Bryant, Ltd., Edina, Minnesota; and Mary Catherine Lauhead, Law Offices of Mary Catherine Lauhead, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for amici curiae Committee of the Minnesota Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and Committee of the Family Law Section, Minnesota State Bar Association.

          Stras, J. Took no part, Chutich, McKeig, JJ.

         SYLLABUS

         1. In determining whether a spouse needs maintenance in a marital-dissolution action, a district court has discretion to consider the income-earning potential of converting liquid assets, including investments, into a different form.

         2. When spouses in a marital-dissolution action stipulate to an equitable division of property, and the district court considers the income-earning potential of converting liquid assets into a different form in deciding whether to award maintenance, the district court must take into account any tax consequences from the conversion.

         Reversed and remanded.

          OPINION

          STRAS, Justice.

         This appeal from a marital-dissolution action requires us to determine when, and under what circumstances, a district court may consider the income-earning potential of investment assets equitably distributed to a spouse in deciding whether to award maintenance. The district court declined to award maintenance to Christine Curtis, who sought maintenance from Gregory Curtis, reasoning that she could reallocate the investment assets equitably distributed to her in the property settlement to produce sufficient income to meet her reasonable monthly needs. A divided panel of the court of appeals affirmed. We reverse the decision of the court of appeals and remand to the district court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I.

         Christine and Gregory Curtis married in 1990. During their marriage, Gregory worked as a dentist, and he continues to operate his own dental practice today. Once the parties' first child was born, 5 years into the marriage, Christine stopping working outside the home. The parties have two children, now 17 and 21 years of age.

         In October 2012, after approximately 22 years married to Gregory, Christine filed a petition to dissolve the marriage. In the course of the dissolution proceedings, Christine and Gregory stipulated to a custody arrangement for the children and to an equitable division of the marital property. Under the stipulation, Christine received the marital home in Sleepy Eye, an Ameritrade investment account worth roughly $2, 038, 000, a certificate of deposit with an approximate value of $171, 000, and various other assets. The stipulation awarded Gregory, among other assets, a second home in Sleepy Eye, a lake home, a vacation property in South Carolina, and a commercial building. Based on the estimates of the parties, the district court found that Christine received roughly 57 percent of the value of the marital property available for distribution, worth a total of about $2, 800, 000, and Gregory received approximately 43 percent, valued at around $2, 170, 000. The court approved the stipulation and entered partial final judgment dissolving the marriage.

         The parties' stipulation did not address Christine's request for spousal maintenance, which remained unresolved after the district court entered partial final judgment. The court conducted a trial on the spousal-maintenance issue to determine whether Christine's income was sufficient to cover her reasonable monthly needs. At trial, Gregory stipulated that he could pay spousal maintenance in any amount ordered by the court and Christine presented evidence regarding her monthly income and expenses. Based on the evidence, the court determined that Christine's reasonable monthly expenses were $7, 761.81. Nevertheless, the court did not award spousal maintenance to Christine, reasoning that she could exchange her assets in the Ameritrade account and the funds in the certificate of ...


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