Minnesota child support obligations are determined using guidelines established by the legislature. These guidelines (called the ‘Child Support Guidelines’) provide a presumed support amount for courts to use when making an order. This support amount is based on parents’ incomes and the amount of parenting time awarded to each parent, which are then applied to the support ‘guidelines’. These guidelines are codified at Minnesota Statute §518A.35.
But Minnesota courts can deviate (upward or downward) from the guidelines to prevent children and parents from living in poverty, if it is believed that the children need more than or that a parent should pay less than what the guidelines say. This authority is codified at Minn. Stat. §518A.43 subd. 1.
The factors that a court must consider when deviating from the child support guidelines include:
- a parent’s earnings and financial circumstances;
- whether the child has extraordinary needs;
- whether the child has a comparable standard of living between the parents’ households;
- whether the child lives outside the United States and has a different cost of living;
- who parent receives the income taxation dependency exemption;
- whether the parent has substantial debt; and
- whether the parent’s total child support exceed garnishment limits.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals recently upheld the decision of a Child Support Magistrate to deviate upwards from the Minnesota Child Support Guidelines, after a parent who had an ongoing child support obligation (‘obligor parent’), took a lower-paying job. As normally, taking a lower-paying job means that the obligor parent would pay less child support amount per the Child Support Guidelines.
But the Child Support Magistrate did not apply the guidelines, and instead found the following reasons to deviate upward from them:
- even with less pay, the obligor parent still earned almost 3x as much as the recipient parent;
- the obligor had been the family’s sole provider before the divorce;
- the obligor did not show that the new job was insufficient to support the obligor parent while supporting the recipient parent; and
- deviation was necessary for the children’s reasonable standard of living and to prevent the children from living in poverty.
Also of note, the obligor parent’s decision to earn less income, came after the parents had originally agreed that obligor would pay more child support than what the guidelines called for. The obligor parent therefore made a compelling case that far more child support was being paid than what the Child Support Guidelines called for, and child support should be reduced.
The Child Support Magistrate disagreed….finding that child support serves the “nonbargainable interests of children” and is less subject to restriction by agreement than are other aspects of a divorce. O’Donnell v. O’Donnell, 678 N.W.2d 471, 475 (Minn. App. 2004).
When child support is based on an agreement by parents to deviate from the Child Support Guidelines, that deviation cannot later be used to show that ongoing child support is unreasonable and unfair. Instead, the parent must show that an actual change in circumstances makes the child support obligation unreasonable and unfair.
In the case of the obligor parent who took a lower-paying job, the Court did not find that using the Child Support Guidelines showed any hardship to the obligor parent. Rather, the Court held that an upward deviation from the guidelines was necessary, as it prevented the children from living in poverty. The obligor was ordered to keep paying more child support than what the guidelines called for….an upward deviation.
Child support laws in Minnesota take many factors into consideration. It is yerimportant when looking at a child support obligation, to consult with an attorney knowledgeable in Minnesota child support laws.
Contact Beyer & Simonson
If you are facing divorce and any of the divorce-related issues such as spousal maintenance, child support, child custody, property division, or domestic abuse matters, you need our experienced Minneapolis divorce attorneys to help you. Contact Beyer & Simonson in Edina, Minnesota today at (952) 303-6007.