Minnesota utilizes a “child support calculator,” which can be quickly used to determine the child support obligation in a particular case. It’s based on the child support guidelines found in Minnesota statute, and it’s fairly straightforward: punch in the numbers, get a child support amount. But does that amount have to be the amount in your case? Can it be increased or decreased? If so, for which reasons?
Child Support At A Glance
The starting point for child support in Minnesota is the “presumptive” amount. This is the amount shown by the Minnesota Child Support Guidelines Calculator. For an explanation of how the calculation works, you might find this article helpful. Very basically, the parties’ incomes for the purposes of child support are determined, an obligation for each party is calculated and adjusted for certain reasons, and the final obligation is determined.
Getting to the presumptive amount of child support is not difficult if you have the correct inputs. This is not a given, however, because many of the inputs can be very complicated in certain cases (for example: determining a person’s income if unemployed, underemployed, or self-employed). But, assuming the inputs are correct, then calculating the child support is simple – there’s no “discretion” or guesswork. Punch in the numbers, press “calculate,” and bingo: you’ve got your child support amount.
You might be thinking, “That seems unfairly rigid, what if there are unique circumstances in my case that would make the presumptive child support amount unfair?” That’s where deviations enter the picture. Deviations are not a different calculation, they are a departure from the calculated amount. They adjust the presumptive amount upward or downward.
Child Support Deviation
Minnesota child support deviations are contained within Minn. Stat. § 518A.43. The purpose of the deviation law is “to encourage prompt and regular payments of child support and to prevent either parent or the joint children from living in poverty.” Essentially, deviations allow the court some leeway in the otherwise black-and-white child support guidelines, to make the obligation “equitable” and “justly deal with the interests of the parties.” In other words, it gives the court the ability to make the child support fair based upon each case’s unique facts.
But a person cannot request a deviation for any reason, or based on any circumstances. The law allows deviations only in certain situations and based on specific factors.
Factors Considered For Deviation
The court must consider the following factors when making a child support deviation:
- All earnings, income, circumstances, and resources of each parent (including property),
- The extraordinary financial needs and resources, physical and emotional condition, and educational needs of the child to be supported;
- The standard of living the child would enjoy if the parents were currently living together;
- Whether the child resides in a foreign country that has a substantially higher/lower cost of living;
- Which parent receives the tax benefit for the child;
- The parents’ debts; and
- Whether the obligor’s child support obligations exceed the garnishment restrictions in MN law.
The parties present evidence under these factors and the court will use them to decide whether the child support amount should deviate under several grounds.
Grounds For Deviation
There are several grounds for an upward or downward deviation to the presumptive child support amount:
1. Income disparity between parties. If the obligor has between 10 and 45 percent parenting time per year, and there is a “significant disparity of income” between the parties that the presumptive obligation would be “detrimental to the parties’ child” then the court can deviate.
In an unreported 2017 case (Curry v. Levy), the Minnesota Court of Appeals remanded to the district court to better analyze whether a deviation should be made when the mother earned $52,500 and the father earned $142,000 per year in gross income. This suggests that when one parent earns 2.5 to 3 times more than the other, a deviation might be appropriate – although the court didn’t set specific parameters, so the appropriate disparity range is unknown and probably fact-specific to each case.
2. Debt owed to private creditors. If a parent has incurred debt to support a child or to generate income and is able to substantiate the debt with documentation, a deviation can be made for a maximum of 18 months.
A good example of such a debt might be student loan debt since a person typically incurs student loan debt in the hope that he/she might eventually generate greater income and have a better ability to support the child.
3. Self-support limitation. If a parent can show that he/she doesn’t have enough after-tax income to provide for his/her own support, child support can be increased or reduced. This is one of the most important things about Minnesota child support, because 1) it’s a common issue for parents; and 2) not every state allows for a deviation for a parent’s inability to self-support (ND doesn’t, for example).
4. Significant income or a large family. If the parties’ combined incomes exceed $15,000 per month and a child has a disability or other substantial need for additional support, the court can increase the obligation. Likewise, if the parties have more than six children, a deviation can be allowed. See, Minn. Stat. § 518A.35, subd. 2.
The Minnesota Child Support Guidelines presumptive child support amount is not always a “concrete” number; it can be increased or decreased if the statutory factors are applied to the above grounds, and the court finds the deviation to be fair. Presenting a deviation case to the court requires an experienced attorney. Call the Severson, Wogsland & Liebl Family Law Team at 701-297-2890 or email us using the contact form below if we could be of assistance to you with this, or other family law matters.
The information contained in this article and on this website is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact an attorney to obtain advice with respect to your particular set of facts.