MN Dad's New Job and Child's Special Needs Give Court Many Issues to Grapple

Minnesota case law summary: Divorce.

Paul Edward Stutler v. Cristina Araica Moreno. MN divorce

The husband and wife were married in 1986 and had four children. The youngest child was born in 2001 and has Down Syndrome. In 2009, they separated and filed a divorce action in Dakota County, Minnesota. They resolved most of the issues, and agreed to present the remaining issues to a consensual special magistrate.

The husband was unemployed at the time of the original divorce hearing, but commenced employment in October 2011. Various child support and spousal maintenance issues were addressed in subsequent hearings. At the conclusion of those somewhat complicated hearings, both parties appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

The first issue on appeal was whether the trial court had properly awarded retroactive child support and spousal maintenance. The Court of Appeals agreed with the husband that this was improper. Minnesota law generally forbids the award of retroactive support when there is no pre-existing obligation. In this case, there was an earlier order, but it was improper to construe it in such a way as to find a pre-existing obligation.

The husband also argued that the trial court erred in ordering him to maintain life insurance. The Court of Appeals agreed, since the trial court had failed to make specific findings as to the husband's insurability, which is required before such an order can be made.

The husband also argued that the trial court had erred in modifying his spousal maintenance obligations after he became employed. He argued that the relevant standard of living was that before his new employment. The Court of Appeals reversed this portion of the trial court's order, because the trial court had erroneously relied on off-the-record information in making its determination as to the relevant standard of living.

Similarly, the husband argued that the trial court had erred in including post-divorce bonuses when calculating his support obligation. The Court of Appeals, however, held that this was proper, especially since there was a cap on the husband's obligation.

The husband was paying about $670 per month in TERFA payments. TERFA is a form of medical insurance for disabled children, and the husband argued that his monthly payments should have been considered in calculating his expenses. The Court of Appeals agreed, and held that the trial court had abused its discretion in not considering these expenses.

The trial court had set the wife's earning capacity at $6000 per year, and both parties disputed this amount. The wife had a master's degree in broadcast journalism, but had last worked full time 22 years earlier. The Court of Appeals examined the evidence but did not disturb this finding, which it also applied to the child-support calculation.

For these reasons, the Court of Appeals affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the case.

Nos. A13-0056, A13-0460 (Minn. Ct. App. Feb. 3, 2014).

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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