Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.

In re marriage of Willenberg, 271 Kan. 906

This case addresses the following issue:

When can a trial court reconsider its prior ruling?

This case explored the issue of whether a trial court had the authority to reconsider its prior rulings and make appropriate amendments and alterations when a motion to reconsider is filed. In exploring this issue, the court concluded that pursuant to the rule governing amendments to rulings, the trial court did in fact have the authority to reconsider its previous ruling regarding the award of maintenance.

The respondent (Michael Willenberg) was granted a divorce from the petitioner (Antoinette Willenberg) on 4/26/00. Antoinette’s request for maintenance was denied on 5/5/00. Property division was ordered on the same day. Shortly after receiving the judgment regarding property division and maintenance, Michael filed for bankruptcy. In response to the bankruptcy filing, Antoinette filed a motion to reconsider regarding the denial of maintenance. The district court reconsidered and ordered maintenance of $10,500 to Antoinette. Michael appealed.

Michael argued that the Court cannot modify the judgment based on him filing for bankruptcy 12 days after the decision was filed. Michael reasoned that the court erred in its application of K.S.A. 60-259, because it provided grounds for a new trial, none of which were stated by Antoinette. Michael also argued that due to the automatic stay in the bankruptcy, the court had no authority to modify the ruling. Ultimately, the court decided that the district court did in fact have the authority to make a modification.

Regarding Michael’s first argument, the court said that it is true that K.S.A 60-259 refers to some provisions relating exclusively to a new trial, but not all. K.S.A. 60-259(f) refers to a different subject and states “a motion to alter or amend the judgment shall be served and filed no later than ten days after entry of the judgment.” Therefore, Antoinette used the correct path to get the court to reconsider the judgment. Furthermore, the court explained that the trial court had jurisdiction to consider a motion to alter or amend filed pursuant to K.S.A. 60-259(f) and that the entire purpose was to allow the trial judge the opportunity to correct prior errors.

As for the Michael’s second argument, the court concluded that there was no violation of the statute precluding modification of a maintenance award without consent, as there was no modification of an original award of maintenance involved. The judgment was ultimately affirmed.

In sum, when a timely motion to reconsider is filed, the trial court can reconsider its prior findings and make appropriate amendments.