Child Support in Minnesota

People frequently ask me how the Minnesota child support laws work.  There is a new Minnesota child support law, because the old law was modified significantly in 2007.  Now, child support is calculated using the gross incomes of both parents.  But, that’s not the most significant change.  The most significant change is that the amount of child support one pays (or that one receives) depends upon parenting time.  In my opinion, this aspect of the law resulted in an unintended consequence that can prove fincially disastrous to some parents.

Now parties to a divorce proceeding tend to fight about parenting time, because under the new Minnesota child support statute, the amount of parenting time has a very significant economic impact.  And of course, it really doesn’t matter how much parenting time a parent actually exercises in “real life”–the only thing that matters is what the court order says. 

Here’s what I mean: suppose parent A has gross monthly income of $5,000.  Suppose parent B has gross monthly income of $3,000.  Suppose they have two children.  Suppose that, historically, parent B has done all of the actual parenting time.  Parent B gets the kids up in the morning and gets them off to school.  Parent B buys the kids clothing.  Parent B reads to the kids and tucks them into bed at night.  Parent B cooks the meals and does the cleaning.  And suppose that, for whatever reason, Parent A does not want to pay (much) child support.

Here’s the deal: if Parent A has the kind of parenting time that one would expect under these facts (between 25% and 35% of the time) then Parent A would pay child support to parent B in the amount of $921.  Parent A’s basic support obligation is actually $1,047 per month, but Parent A receives a “parenting expense” adjustment of $126 per month.  This seems fair enough.

But, assume that Parent A lobbies really hard for 45% parenting time.  And assume that Parent A manages to convice the court that this makes sense, even though historically Parent A has not been an equal parent.  With 45% parenting time, Parent A only has to pay $304 per month.  Parent A gets a parenting expense adjustment of $743.

Of coures, Parent A can often convince a court that Parent A should get at least 45% parenting time.  And, once 45% parenting time is awarded, Parent A’s child support obligation is established at $304 per month.  After that, Parent A can continue to be the same kind of parent that Parent A was before the divorce.  Parent A can call Parent B and say “I’m too busy to take care fo the kids–you take them.”  Parent A can do this as often as Parent A wants.  Of course, Parent B will take care of the kids because historically this is something that Parent B always has done.  And Parent A can refuse to pay for half of the kids expenses–half of their clothing, ice time if they play hockey, school lunches. 

It doesn’t take a legal genius to see that Parent B is at a financial disadvantage.

The problem with the new Minnesota child support statute is that it makes it easier for Parent A to avoid supporting the family after the divorce.  Now, I am not saying that all “Parent A”s are like this.  But, the new Minnesota child support statute is deficient because it makes too much rest upon the designation of the amount of parenting time.  It was intended to take the “fight” out of child support by making the amount of support a computer calculation that took into account gross income only.  However, all it did was shift the “fight” to a new terrain.  Now people fight about the designation of percentage of parenting time.

There are legal strategies that both Parent A and Parent B should follow when confronted with this situation.  If you want to know more, call Fiskum Law at (952) 270-7700.

Daniel Fiskum is a Minnesota divorce attorney who has been practicing since 1992. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota and has been named a "Super Lawyer" by the Minnesota Journal of Law and Politics. Mr. Fiskum is currently writing a book for attorneys and non-attorneys entitled "The Streetfighter's Guide to Divorce," which is scheduled for publication in May, 2010. Many of his blog entries will appear in the book. You may contact attorney Fiskum directly at (952) 270-7700. His office is located in the Carlson Towers in Minnetonka, Minnesota. The Fiskum Law website is found at www.fiskumlaw.com.

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