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In re Marriage of Johnson

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

September 25, 2017

In re the Marriage of: Steven Johnson, petitioner, Respondent,
v.
Cheryl Johnson, Appellant.

         Carlton County District Court File No. 09-FA-12-128

          Cheryl M. Prince, Hanft Fride, Duluth, Minnesota (for respondent)

          Bill L. Thompson, Law Office of Bill L. Thompson, Duluth, Minnesota (for appellant)

          Considered and decided by Schellhas, Presiding Judge; Reilly, Judge; and Smith, John, Judge. [*]

         SYLLABUS

         If a dissolution judgment awarding the marital home to a spouse has become final, a subsequent postdissolution order directing that spouse to sell the home is an improper modification of the judgment's property division, unless the judgment authorizes the sale.

          OPINION

          REILLY, Judge

         The 2012 judgment dissolving the parties' marriage awarded wife the parties' marital homestead and required her to hold husband harmless for homestead-related expenses. Wife did not hold husband harmless regarding those expenses, and in 2014 the district court ordered wife to sell the home. When wife failed to do so, in 2016 the district court allowed husband to take possession of the home and ordered him to sell it. Wife appeals the 2016 order. Because the 2014 order affects the 2016 order, and because neither party served written notice of filing of the 2014 order, the 2014 order is within our scope of review in wife's current appeal from the 2016 order. We conclude that the sale ordered in the 2014 order was based on a misapplication of the law regarding hold-harmless agreements, and the district court's requirement that husband take possession of, and sell, the home improperly modified the 2012 judgment. Because the district court abused its discretion by ordering the sale of the home, we reverse and remand.

         FACTS

         The stipulated property division in the December 2012 judgment dissolving the marriage of husband Steven Johnson and wife Cheryl Johnson (a) awarded wife the marital homestead; (b) made wife "solely responsible for the expenses related to the homestead, including but not limited to the mortgage payment, taxes, utilities and other related expenses"; and (c) required wife to "hold [husband] harmless." Wife stopped making the mortgage and other home-related payments in February 2013, and husband sought an order (a) compelling her to refinance the mortgage and remove his name from that mortgage; and (b) finding wife in contempt for failing to make the payments required by the judgment. In May 2013, the district court ordered wife to refinance the mortgage. The order also required wife to remove husband's name from the mortgage and from "all household related bills and other joint credit for which she is responsible pursuant to the divorce decree." The order did not find wife in contempt. When wife failed to comply with the order, in August 2013 husband again moved the district court to find wife in contempt.

         In an order filed in December 2013, the district court found that wife had not refinanced the mortgage, ruled her to be in civil contempt of court, and gave her 45 days to purge the contempt by refinancing the mortgage. When wife did not do so, the district court filed a May 2014 order stating:

[B]ecause [wife] has failed to refinance the homestead and remove [husband's] name from the mortgage, his credit rating is being affected by her inability to pay the mortgage. Therefore, it is only fair that [wife] immediately place the home on the market for sale and allow [husband] to have regular updates and input regarding the sale process.

         Wife did not appeal this order.

         In February 2016, husband sought an order finding wife in contempt for failing to make regular mortgage payments and sell the home. Husband also asked the district court to transfer the home to ...


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