The legislature in 2007 revamped the child support laws and created a mathematical formula to determine child support. To find it quickly just to go the resources page of and click “child support calculator”. The most material components you will need for the calculator is:
- your gross monthly income,
- your ex’s gross monthly income,
- how many children you have together,
- how many children you have through other relationships living in your home; and,
- how much parenting time you have on an annual basis.
If you can’t pay your bills because you owe too much or because of multiple child support obligations, you can request a ‘hardship deviation’ downward from the child support guidelines amount. But be forewarned–they are rarely granted. Your situation has to be fairly dire and without fault for a judge or magistrate to grant you that deviation. Sob stories rarely move the court but you can certainly try—as long as you back it up with relevant evidence.
2. THERE ARE THREE FORMS OF CHILD SUPPORT, NOT JUST ONE.
Many who hear of others paying child support assume that there is one form of child support. That is not true. There are actually three forms of support. The first is called “basic child support.” This is the dollar amount the “calculator” (described above) states that you must pay for general child support. But there are two other forms which don’t always exist in all cases—childcare support and medical/dental insurance support for the children. The calculator allows you to input the amounts spent monthly for these expenses and to account for who pays for them. Sometimes offsets become necessary because, for example, the person paying child support (called the “Obligor”) may be the one paying for the children’s health/dental insurance. In this case the receiving parent of “basic child support” (Obligee) is supposed to pay the Obligor a share of that expense. Rather than pay it directly an offset is taken which leads to a reduction in the Obligor’s net child support obligation. Childcare support works the same way. The child support calculator mentioned above will determine the amounts of contribution by each party.
3. THE COUNTY ATTORNEY’S OFFICE MAY INTERVENE IN YOUR CASE.
The County Attorney’s office WILL involve themselves in your child support motion IF
public assistance is being expended on behalf of a parent or child in the case or, if a party contracts with the County to involve them (assigning them rights to collect). In these cases, the County Attorney showing up at the hearing will, generally speaking, be very knowledgeable about these type of proceedings and will likely be known by the judge or magistrate. They also tend to get things started at a hearing by telling the judge what has been agreed to and what hasn’t (some county courts encourage negotiations before the hearing (Anoka) but some don’t seem to care about this (Hennepin). This doesn’t automatically translate into a “win” for the County but they know the system and the law and if you are not prepared, including being competently represented by a lawyer, you may find yourself swimming against the current (particularly if you are the Obligor). The County Attorney will say that they do not represent the other parent and that is technically correct—they don’t. They represent the “public authority” or the “state’s interest”. But it will sure feel like they are representing the parent who contracted with them or who is receiving public assistance. This is not a situation where you should ‘go it alone’ in child support court. Even if you believe you cannot afford a lawyer to represent you at the hearing you should at least get legal advice in advance of the hearing. Many law firms offer reduced fee or free consultations. You just need to check around.
4. THE COURT WILL NOT ALLOW YOU TO WAIVE CHILD SUPPORT.
I from time to time hear a parent coming to my office saying “my ex and I have agreed that I don’t have to pay her child support. Can you write that up?” Well, er, no. I mean I can write it up but the judge or magistrate will likely not permit it. In Minnesota, it is not permissible to waive the payment of child support even if you and our ex agree on it. The reason? The child support is viewed as the child’s money, not the parents. Now this doesn’t mean that you can insist on a child receiving it and spending it. It means that it is intended for the child’s benefit. Waiving child support thus would hurt the child and the courts don’t want that. Now with this said there are ways, in limited situations, to get child support payments to zero or near there (presuming you have an agreement with your ex) but you will need to talk to competent legal counsel about that as the process takes some explaining and does not work in all cases.
5. IF YOU ARE SELF-EMPLOYED IN CHILD SUPPORT COURT YOU HAVE A BIG TARGET ON YOUR POCKETBOOK.
If you are self-employed and you are served with papers to initiate or modify child support—beware! The court has plenty of discretion to establish your income at whatever it sees fit! And of course the higher your gross income, the more you pay in child support. How is this possible? Here are just a few of the ways:
- They give cursory weight to your federal 1040 tax returns. You should still provide them to the Court but they can look beyond these documents in determining your income. If you have not established a legal entity for your self-employment, then the court will look to your tax Profit & Loss (“P&L”) statement but that doesn’t end the discussion.
- All or part of expenses listed as “business” on a P&L may be retitled by the Court to “personal” if the Court sees a mixed use of the expense for personal and business use. Examples includes cell phones, internet, car maintenance, car insurance, etc.
- Depreciation expenses permitted on a tax return for businesses may be ignored by the Court in determining income available for child support. This can significantly affect your personal gross income level.
- If you don’t produce tax returns, W2s, or P&Ls, the court can calculate your gross income based on your monthly living expenses or by amounts going through your banking accounts.
- The Court has a quick trigger finger when it comes to assertions that you are receiving “cash” but not reporting it as income on your tax returns. You will very likely be deemed to be hiding money if your ex puts up any plausible story of how you are doing this.
6. BE PREPARED TO TRY YOUR CASE AT THE INITIAL CHILD SUPPORT HEARING!
If your child support case is being heard in the “Expedited Process” or, another way of saying it, before a “Magistrate” instead of a Judge, then you must be prepared to try your case at the initial hearing. If the County is involved then almost assuredly your case will be in the Expedited Process. These hearings are fairly informal in comparison to cases tried before judges but you are expected to present evidence, provide testimony and conduct cross-examination of the other party or witnesses. These cases don’t last long, on average. Maybe 15 to 30 minutes. Sometimes they go longer, maybe an hour. Beyond that time frame is rare particularly in the Expedited Process.
If your initial hearing is before a Judge then that hearing will likely proceed as a “motion hearing” where the attorneys (or parties if unrepresented) make legal arguments before the Judge. But, evidence can be taken at such hearings so you must be prepared to properly offer such evidence utilizing the formal rules of court. Generally, judges recognize that parties without lawyers don’t know all the rules of court and so they do tend to extend some grace and patience. But that can wear out in a hurry. Judges generally have sized up your case in a matter of minutes, sometimes even before you have opened your mouth, if there are particularized written motions, affidavits and exhibits presented to the judge beforehand.
There is no going back to retry your case so be prepared going in.