MN court: Judge can’t force woman to sell home for not making mortgage payments

When Steven and Cheryl Johnson, of Carlton County, were divorced in December 2012, she got the house with the provision that the expenses for it were entirely up to her.

[Wife] is awarded the homestead free from any claim or
interest by [husband]. [Wife] is also solely responsible for the
. . . taxes, utilities and other related expenses, and she shall hold
[husband] harmless. [Wife] is solely responsible for paying
any late fees on the mortgage payments made since the court

So when she stopped making mortgage payments in February 2013, her husband asked the court to order her to refinance the mortgage without his name so that his credit wouldn’t be dragged down with hers.

Although a court ordered her to do so several months later, she refused. A judge ruled her in contempt of the court. In 2014, the court said it was only fair that she be forced to subsequently sell the home.

When she didn’t do that either, the judge allowed the husband to sell the home to get his name off the mortgage.

Today the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled a judge can’t do that.

“Here, it is undisputed that wife neither paid the homestead-related expenses nor held husband harmless regarding those expenses. It is also undisputed that, while the stipulated judgment could have done so, it does not specify a remedy for wife’s failure to satisfy her obligations in these matters,” Judge Denise Reilly wrote on behalf of a three-judge panel.

Here, however, instead of awarding husband a money judgment, the 2014 order directed wife to “immediately place the home on the market for sale.” When she did not do so, the district court allowed husband to take possession of wife’s homestead. This required sale is not authorized by the hold-harmless provision (or any other provision) in the dissolution judgment.

Additionally, the required sale is contrary to the idea that, generally, the remedy for breach of an indemnification obligation is to be monetary in nature. Because the general idea that the remedy for a breach of an indemnification obligation is to be monetary is not displaced by a provision in this judgment, the nonmonetary remedy imposed by the district court for wife’s violation of her indemnification obligation constitutes a misapplication of the law.

“While we wholeheartedly sympathize with the frustration of the district court and husband at wife’s repeated failures to comply with the court’s directives, we cannot countenance a remedy that is contrary to the relevant law,” the court said.