Few things weigh more heavily on a parent’s mind than whether his or her child support amount is correct. No one wants to pay too much or receive too little. But as circumstances inevitably change, it’s difficult for a parent to determine whether child support can or should change as well.
The Basis For Modifying Child Support In Minnesota
Child support can be modified when the existing obligation becomes unreasonable or unfair, according to Minnesota Statute § 518A.39 subd. 2(a). There are eight situations, in which, this can be shown:
- The substantially increased or decreased gross income of an obligor or obligee;
- The substantially increased or decreased need of an obligor or obligee or the child(ren);
- The receipt of public assistance;
- A change in the cost of living for either party as measured by the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics;
- Extraordinary medical expenses of the child not provided for in a medical support order;
- A change in the availability of appropriate health care coverage or a substantial increase or decrease in health care coverage costs;
- The addition of work-related or education-related child care expenses of the obligee or a substantial increase or decrease in existing work-related or education-related child care expenses; or
- Upon the emancipation of the child.
In addition to showing an obligation is unreasonable or unfair, a party must also show that a “substantial change in circumstances” has occurred.
Substantial Change In Circumstances
By far, the most common reason a parent seeks modification of child support is when the income of one of the parents’ increases or decreases. The question becomes: what is a “substantial” change under the foregoing statute, which renders the obligation unfair or unreasonable? Minnesota law is helpful in laying out a framework to answer that question.
The party seeking modification has the burden to show a “substantial change in circumstances.” The party can establish a presumption of this if, under Minnesota Statute § 518A.39 subd. 2(b):
- A new child support calculation under the guidelines would differ (either higher or lower) from the current obligation by at least 20 percent and $75.
- The medical support provisions of an order are not enforceable by the public authority or the obligee;
- Health coverage, ordered to be paid by a parent, is not available to the child(ren);
- The existing support obligation is in the form of a statement of percentage and not a specific dollar amount;
- The gross income of an obligor or obligee has decreased by at least 20 percent through no fault or choice of the party; or
- A deviation was granted because the child lives in a foreign country, but resides there no longer.
Once a presumption is established, it becomes the burden of the party opposing the modification to rebut it. In other words, if a party can show one of the six factors above, he or she will most likely get the modification, unless the other party can then show that the modification should not occur. Keep in mind, a moving party isn’t forced to establish a presumption in the first place, but obtaining a modification without the presumption will be difficult.
The Most Common Path To Modification
As stated above, the most prevalent basis for modification is a change in one parent’s income. And the most common way parents show that the change in income should result in modification, is by comparing the current child support amount to an obligation calculated on the new income. If the new calculation varies from the old by 20 percent and $75, a modification is likely.
Also, according to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, if the 20 percent/$75 showing is made (or any of the other six factors under subd. 2(b)), then the party no longer has to show any of the eight factors in sub. 2(a), although the party must still show that the obligation is unreasonable or unfair.
What Doesn’t Create A Presumption For Modification?
The statute, and Minnesota case law, not only lay out the groundwork for creating a presumption of modification, but also list scenarios which do not create a presumption:
- When a party becomes responsible for the support of another child (a child to only one, but not both, parties), born after the obligation was established.
- Changes in income or financial circumstances for the parents’ other spouses;
- A voluntary reduction in income in bad faith, to avoid or reduce an obligation;
- Overtime pay, in certain circumstances;
- A new law, unless the law specifically states otherwise; or
- When child support is based on a pre-2005-2008 calculation (before the guidelines were modified), and modification is sought for the first time, but would result in hardship for a party.
Other Related Information
A few other important facets:
- Child support can only be modified as far back as the date a motion is filed;
- A parent is presumed to have the ability to work full-time. If the motion for modification is based on unemployment/underemployment, the parent will have to overcome the presumption, before obtaining a presumptive child support modification;
- A parent seeking modification bears the burden of providing sufficient evidence of the change in circumstances, whether that is evidence of the change in income (pay statements, tax returns, etc.), changes in the cost of living, extraordinary medical expenses of a child, etc.
- Changes in the amount of a spousal maintenance obligation between the parties can provide a basis for child support modification;
- The death of an obligor does not terminate the obligation, unless agreed to in writing, or contained in the order, but can be modified, revoked, or commuted to a lump-sum payment;
- Childcare support can be decreased based on the actual change in childcare costs at the time of the decrease; and
- Medical support ( a requirement for the parties to contribute to the child’s health insurance coverage) can be modified without modifying the full support order if requested within certain timeframes, and upon certain showings.
If you have questions regarding the topic of this article, or for assistance with child support, or other family law issues, please call our Family Law Team at 701-297-2890.
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.