New Minnesota Family Law Case – Rauworth v. Rauworth

In Rauworth v. Rauworth, A13-2104 (Minn. Ct. App. Feb. 2, 2015), the Minnesota Court of Appeals issued significant rulings on (1) post-trial motions; (2) permanent maintenance; and (3) attorneys’ fees.

Post-Trial Motions:  The court upheld the district court’s decision to award an increase of $570 in spousal maintenance, but reversed the district court’s decision to award retroactive maintenance.

The district court had awarded the additional $570 because of the tax consequences of spousal maintenance, which is taxable income to the spouse receiving maintenance and a deduction to the spouse paying spousal maintenance.  The court noted that the rule allowing for amendment of findings of fact requires courts “to apply the evidence as submitted during the trial of the case, and may neither go outside the record, nor consider new evidence.  The court found that the ex-wife’s post-trial exhibit should have been excluded, but that there were enough facts outside of the post-trial exhibit to support the change.  At trial, the ex-wife’s expert had testified about the tax consequences of spousal maintenance, so there was evidence from trial on the issue.  Further, the court found that the change did not unduly prejudice the ex-husband as his income was greater than his expenses, and he would be able to deduct the spousal maintenance from his income on his tax return. Symbol of law and justice in the empty courtroom, law and justice concept.

The court, however, held that the district court erred in awarding six months of retroactive maintenance, as this was a new issue filed for the first time on a motion for amended filings or a new trial.   The court noted that the ex-wife could have moved for the payment of interim maintenance under Minnesota Statute Section 518.131, subd. 1(b).

Permanent Maintenance:  The court upheld the district court’s decision in denying permanent maintenance, noting that the party seeking maintenance has the burden of proof.  In this case, the wife was awarded $600,000 in retirement funds, which would yield retirement income when she reached retirement age.  The court held that the award of rehabilitative maintenance, limited to twelve years, was fair and just because she would have access to retirement income at the end of twelve years.  The court did note that, if she were unable to meet her living expenses at that time, she would be able to bring a motion to modify the maintenance award later on.

Attorneys’ Fees:  The court held that the district had acted within its discretion in denying need-based attorneys’ fees.  The court held that the ex-wife did not show any need for attorneys’ fees as she has a full-time job, she got nearly $800,000 in marital property, and she was awarded substantial maintenance through 2025.   Based on this decision, courts are likely to deny need-based attorneys’ fees where a party has substantial income, including maintenance, and has been awarded substantial assets.

As this case illustrates, it is important to raise all relevant claims and request all relevant relief when you first file for divorce, or, at least, at trial, as it may be impossible to raise new claims after a divorce judgment is entered.  Therefore, if you are considering a divorce, consider hiring an experienced family law attorney to assist you.