Child Support & Maintenance

Child Support in Minnesota

Minnesota uses what is referred to as an “income shares” approach in determining an appropriate level of support for minor children. Child support is based upon a mathematical calculation which takes into account the gross monthly income of both parents and the amount of time the child or children spend with each parent. Although the calculation itself is very simple, issues such as determining whether someone is voluntarily un-employed or under-employed and what their “potential” income is, or determining the income of a self-employed parent, can present special challenges to the court. Additionally, there may be circumstances where a “deviation” from the child support guidelines is appropriate and should be ordered by the court. Under Minnesota law, “Child Support” is actually made up of the following three components:

I. BASIC CHILD SUPPORT

Basic child support is what most people think of when they think of child support. That is, a payment of cash made by one parent to the other parent on a monthly basis. The exact dollar amount is arrived at by including the income of both parents into the child support guideline calculator.

II. CHILDCARE SUPPORT

Childcare support involves apportioning responsibility between the parents for childcare expenses that are incurred by either parent, so long as they are work-related or education-related. The child support calculator does not apportion the monthly childcare cost strictly in proportion to income, as the calculator takes into account the tax benefits to the party actually paying the childcare expense.

III. HEALTHCARE SUPPORT

Healthcare support involves apportioning responsibility between the parents for the children’s healthcare insurance premiums, as well as co-pays, deductibles and any uncovered healthcare expenses, including expenses for medical, dental and orthodontic, vision and mental healthcare treatment. Healthcare insurance is most frequently set by requiring that the parent with the best insurance plan maintain the coverage, and by then apportioning the cost of the monthly premium and any uncovered healthcare expenses, in proportion to the parties’ respective incomes, on a percentage basis.

CHILD SUPPORT GUIDELINES

Minnesota employs the use of a “Child Support Calculator” which applies child support guidelines enacted by the legislature. The amount of support specified by the “calculator” is most often set by the court. However, where circumstances warrant, a judge or child support magistrate may make either an upward or downward deviation from the “guidelines”. The court is required to consider: (a) the gross monthly income (or potential gross monthly income) of each parent; (b) the number of joint minor children; (c) the amount of parenting time exercised by each parent; (d) the cost for a child’s healthcare insurance premiums; (e) the cost of any work-related or education-related childcare; (f) the tax consequences of paying the childcare expenses; and (g) whether either parent is legally obligated to support and is providing support for any non-joint minor children.

The State of Minnesota, Department of Human Services maintains the Child Support Calculator on their web site at
http://childsupportcalculator.dhs.state.mn.us/

“INCOME” FOR CHILD SUPPORT PURPOSES

For salaried or hourly workers, monthly income is determined by either dividing the annual salary by twelve months, or multiplying an hourly worker’s rate of pay time 40 hours multiplied by the average of 4.33 week in a month. Usually overtime income is not considered unless it is mandatory or unless the parent has consistently worked overtime hours at the time the action is commenced. Parents that are unemployed, self-employed or underemployed present special challenges to the court, which has a tremendous amount of discretion. The court has the ability to “impute” or estimate income as circumstances warrant. A parent’s educational background and the current job opportunities available in the economy are relevant considerations.

DURATION OF CHILD SUPPORT

Under Minnesota law, a parent’s obligation to pay child support continues until the child attains 18 years of age AND graduates from high school (but not past age 20 if still in high school), or until the child marries, joins the armed services or if there has been a total “relinquishment of parental control”.  There are also circumstances where it’s possible for child support to be ordered beyond age 20, for example, when children have special needs or challenges, however Minnesota is among a minority of states where there is no legal obligation for a parent to contribute towards college or post-secondary educational expenses.

GIFTS NOT CONSTITUTING CHILD SUPPORT

Buying gifts – either for the other parent or the child, or giving food, or clothing for the children technically do not count as “child support”. Each county has a child support enforcement unit which will assist in the establishment and enforcement of child support or spousal maintenance (alimony) orders at low or minimal cost. Either party can apply for these services at through the office of their local county attorney’s office.

NON-SUPPORT AND PARENTING TIME

Failure to pay child support is not a valid reason to limit parenting time, just as the failure to be allowed to see or be with a child is not a valid reason to withhold child support payments.