County District Court File No. 09-FA-12-128
M. Prince, Hanft Fride, Duluth, Minnesota (for respondent)
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. [*]
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.
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.
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.
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.
did not appeal this order.
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 ...