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The court will make an order regarding child support whenever there has been an award of custody of a minor child. Child support may be “reserved”, that is reserved for a determination of amount or other terms at a later time. This is unusual and normally done because the court does not yet able to determine the current monthly income of the parties or the living arrangements of the parents and/or child(ren) are uncertain.
In this discussion we assume that the two parents of the child(ren) who are the subject of a support order are the parties involved in the award of child support and this is normally the case. However, others who care for or provide assistance for the child(ren) may be awarded support, including various public agencies, other relatives of the child and even unrelated adults.
There are 3 types of child support: “basic support”, “child care support” and “medical support”. Basic support is calculated based on an assortment of factors. The most important factor is normally the gross income of the parents. The income used to figure basic support is adjusted to reflect non joint children (kids from another relationship). Medical support obligations, unreimbursed medical expenses, child care support obligations, and social security and veteran’s benefits are also taken into account. Minnesota Statutes, §518A.34, 518A.35. Basic support is also adjusted to reflect the parenting time of each parent. Minnesota Statutes, §§518A.36. Child support is based on Minnesota guidelines for support. To compute your basic support obligation you may use the Child Support Calculator found at http://childsupportcalculator.dhs.state.mn.us/Calculator.aspx The guidelines set a presumptive child support figure. The court is empowered to deviate from the guidelines if special circumstances exist, but usually doesn’t. The court must consider:
a) all earnings, income financial circumstances and resources of each party;
b) extraordinary financial needs and resources, physical and emotional condition and educational needs of the child;
c) the standard of living the child would have enjoyed if the parents were living together, but given that the parents must now have separate households;
d) whether the child lives in a foreign country and what the cost of living is in such country;
e) the receipt by a parent of the income tax dependency exemption;
f) certain debts of the parents to private creditors; and
g) whether the court ordered child support exceeds the limitations of Minnesota garnishment law. Minnesota Statutes, §518A.43.
Ask your lawyer for a further explanation if any of these factors might apply to you.
“Gross income” for child support is defined differently for child support and tax purposes. Minnesota Statutes, §§518A.29, 518A.30, 518A.31, 518A.32. For instance, in certain situations even money received as a loan may be included as income. A statute describes how business or self employment income is handled. Minnesota Statutes, §§518A.30. Another statute includes “potential income” which need not ever be received by anyone if a person is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed. Minnesota Statutes, §§518A.32.
“Child care support” is used to equitably spread the cost of work or educationally related child care expenses incurred for a child. The allocated ratio of the respective incomes used to determine support of each parent is used to allocate child care support expenses. Minnesota Statutes, §§518A.40. This figure is adjusted to reflect tax credits related to the child(ren) by the parents and further adjusted for a low income person obliged to pay support.
Every order on child support must address appropriate health care coverage, state whether suitable coverage for a child is available, what coverage the child has, and what the respective responsibilities of the parents are for carrying health care coverage. Minnesota Statutes, §§518A.41, subd.2. The court will also allocate the costs of coverage between the parents. If coverage is not available the court will determine what contribution to medical expenses (if any) will be made by each party. The court will also allocate unreimbursed medical expenses between the parties.
Child support can change much more readily than custody or property division provisions of a final decree or order. The law provides for a semi-automatic biennial cost of living increase in the amount of child support ordered. Minnesota Statutes, §518A.75. The increase can be contested, generally, if the income of the parent paying support has not increased as fast as the cost of living. For details, ask your lawyer.
A statute also provides for modification of child support. Minnesota Statutes, §518A.39. Child support can be modified when any of 8 factors make the terms of the support order unreasonable and unfair:
a) substantially increased or decreased gross income of either parent;
b) substantially increased or decreased need of either parent or of a child that is a subject of the order;
c) receipt of various types of public assistance;
d) a change in the cost of living of either parent;
e) some extraordinary medical expenses of the child(ren);
f) a change in health care coverage which is available or substantial increase or decrease in the cost of coverage;
g) addition of work related or education related child care expenses; or
h) the emancipation of the child.
Further, child support ceases when a child dies or is emancipated. As a general rule, child support is payable when
a) a child is under age 18;
b) a child is under age 20 and still attends secondary school; OR
c) by reason of mental or physical condition the child is incapable of self support. Minnesota Statutes, §§518A.39, subd. 5; 518A.26, subd. 5.
A child support obligation is considered “satisfied” (meaning paid in full or discharged) when the child is found to be living with and integrated into the family of the parent obligated to pay support with the consent of the parent to have been paid support. Minnesota Statutes, §518.38, subd. 3. However, this law may not apply if child support payments are owed to a public agency.
When a parent who has a child support obligation dies, support can be modified, commuted or reduced to a lump sum payment. Minnesota Statutes, §518A.39, subd. 4.
Child support is sometimes paid directly to the parent owed support, but in most cases payments are ordered to be made to Minnesota’s Child Support Payment Center. Payments, less a small handling fee, are then paid to the parent owed support. If payments are not made or only partially paid various remedies are available to force the defaulting parent to pay, including the following:
a) interest is owed on late payments;
b) payments owed by the state can be “recaptured”, that is taken by the state to satisfy the arrears;
c) if not employed and capable of gainful employment, she can be ordered to seek employment;
d) a license to drive can be suspended;
e) an occupational license, such as a license to practice law or medicine can be suspended;
f) a lien for the amount of the arrears can be ordered against a motor vehicle;
g) a recreational license can be suspended;
h) names can be publicized by the state;
i) judgment for the arrears can be entered making various collection remedies available such as garnishment, attachment and levy an property of the defaulter which is not exempt;
j) the defaulting parent can be ordered to pay the arrears, if she has the ability to pay, and ultimately found in contempt and jailed if payment is not made