When Can Minnesota Family Lawyers Modify Child Support Obligations?

For many families, child support payments are a significant chunk of their monthly income. But only about a third of obligees (people receiving support) receive the full amount every month. Many obligors (people paying support) pay what they feel is fair as opposed to what is ordered. In these situations, the child support amount should probably be modified, so obligor, obligees, and children have similar expectations.

Child support obligations are somewhat easier to modify in Minnesota than they are in some other jurisdictions. The Gopher State is an income share state. Since the child support obligation accounts for a number of economic and noneconomic factors, judges can usually modify support amounts.

Intentionally underpaying support is a bad idea. It’s only a matter of time before the state takes action. So, whether you need to increase or decrease the child support obligation, it’s best to partner with a Minnesota family lawyer.

Income Decreases

Monthly income is one of the leading factors in child support determinations. So, if the obligor’s income has decreased, a child support modification is usually in order. It’s normally best to act quickly in these cases since child support decreases are normally not retroactive.

Proof of income is normally enough evidence, particularly for obligors who only have W-2 income. Self-employed obligors might need to submit additional proof, such as several years of tax returns or several months of bank statements, to show the income decrease was authentic and consistent.

Minnesota family lawyers usually cannot decrease the amount if there is evidence that the obligor intentionally left a higher-paying job to reduce his or her child support obligation. Evidence of intentional underemployment includes things such as social media posts or likes about the high cost of child support or the supposed unfairness of these payments. Such chatter is especially common on some dubious fathers’ rights websites.

Minnesota Family Lawyers and Income Increases

Income increases are a bit more difficult to prove unless a Minnesota family lawyer conducts extensive discovery. This process is often expensive and time-consuming. So, it’s better to look for circumstantial evidence of income increase, like lifestyle upgrades or a sudden improved ability to pay monthly bills. If the obligor contests the increase despite this evidence, many judges order obligors to pay the other side’s attorneys’ fees.

Establishing changed income is not enough. That change must also be substantial and permanent. As a rule of thumb, any change greater than about 10 percent is substantial. Judges mike modify child support obligations for lesser amounts, but such changes are not easy. Additionally, the increased income must be permanent. Self-employment income spikes and occasional bonuses are almost always insufficient.

Income change modifications are typically agreed motions. Generally, a Minnesota family lawyer simply submits these orders. Most judges sign them without hearings.

Frequently, both parents are not 100 percent convinced that a modification is needed. Pre-filing mediation is often useful in these situations. A third-party mediator, who is usually an unaffiliated Minnesota family lawyer, works with both sides to facilitate a settlement.

Assuming both parties negotiate in good faith, mediation is about 90 percent successful. This form of alternative dispute resolution saves everyone time and money.

Emotional Changes

The timesharing arrangement is also a factor in Minnesota child support orders. So, the timesharing division is also a potential factor in child support modification actions. However, emotional-based modifications are not easy to prove.

The same basic principles apply. The emotional changes must be substantial. Usually, only a significant change in the number of overnight visits convinces judges to make such modifications. Alternatively, conversions from partial visitation to full visitation might suffice as well. For example, Father might have had limited contact with his son until he overcame an alcohol addiction.

Parental Alienation Syndrome, which comes in many forms, often clouds these issues. Alienating parents try to drive an emotional wedge between the targeted parent and the child. If the judge sees any evidence of PAS, such as a sudden change of parental preference, they will usually not modify custody or support unless a social worker makes a favorable recommendation.

Talk to a Compassionate Attorney

Various factors could support a successful child support modification motion. For a free consultation with an experienced Minnesota family lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. Home and after-hours visits are available.

When can a Buffalo, MN Family Law Attorney Adjust a Child Support Obligation?

Typically, child support obligations should be adjusted, either up or down, at least once every three years. That’s the only way to keep up with things like employment changes, lifestyle changes, and emotional changes. Child support adjustments usually require parenting plan modifications as well, because these changes frequently overlap. For example, a new job usually means a different commute time or even a relocation.

In both these situations, it’s very important that the judge approve the changes. Informal side agreements regarding parenting time changes, even if these pacts are in writing, are unenforceable in Wright County family court. Additionally, as far as the state is concerned, the child support obligation listed in the decree, and not the one the parties agreed on, is the only one that matters.

So, even if the child support change is agreed, a Buffalo, MN family law attorney should be part of the process. Typically, judges approve agreed changes without holding hearings. Moreover, if the parties do not agree 100 percent on everything, a Buffalo, MN family law attorney can usually bring them together. That way, they can present an agreed order to the judge and streamline the modification process.

Income Changes

Most people change jobs at least twelve times during their careers. Most of these changes involve compensation changes as well. Additionally, even if people stay put, annual salary adjustments are commonplace.

As for proof, sometimes a recent paystub is sufficient, for obligors requesting increases or decreases. But that’s not true in most cases. A significant number of people freelance on the side, or they might be completely self-employed. Additionally, some compensation, such as a company car or provided housing, does not appear on paystubs.

Obligees seeking to increase the child support obligation often face different issues. So, a Buffalo, MN family law attorney requests financial documents during discovery. Obligees can also look for red flags, such as lifestyle changes, which indicate the obligor is making more money.

Income changes, along with any other ground for modification, must be mostly involuntary. Obligors cannot leave high-paying jobs in order to reduce their child support obligations. The same thing holds true for alimony reductions. Circumstantial evidence of intentional underemployment includes social media posts about high support payments.

Buffalo, MN Family Law Attorneys and Expense Changes

In a few states, parental income, and specifically the obligor’s income, is basically the only factor to consider. But Minnesota is an income share state. Child support payments in these states are designed to give the children the same standard of living they would have had if their parents were still married.

So, in Wright County, expense changes could prompt payment changes. Some expenses, such as insurance costs, are factored into the child support guidelines. Others, such as private school tuition costs, are not factored in.

Expense changes will not support a motion to modify child support unless they were unanticipated at the time the decree was entered. Daycare expenses are a good example. These changes are inevitable. Children get older, leave daycare, and attend school. The added money obligees receive through elementary and middle school years helps them cope with the increased expenses which come during the high school years.

Moreover, expense changes must be in the best interests of the children. That’s different from the best interests of the parents. Private afterschool care might be much more convenient than the YMCA, but it may not necessarily be in the best interests of the child.

Emotional Changes

Speaking of children growing older, child support terminates at age 18, in most cases. Most decrees include language to that effect, but sometimes, a Buffalo, MN family law attorney needs to file a motion to modify based on age, marriage, emancipation, or whatever.

Not all emotional changes are this dramatic. As mentioned, Minnesota is an income share state. So, the parenting time division is relevant to the child support obligation. As children get older, visitation time often changes as well. Eight or ten overnights a month might become a dozen or more.

If the emotional change is significant, the judge will probably adjust the child support obligation appropriately. Usually, this adjustment is just a matter of recalculating the guideline amount using the correct number of overnights. Smaller changes, such as children staying with Mom after school, probably do not qualify as significant.

Reach Out to a Compassionate Lawyer

Child support obligation amounts are not set in stone. For a free consultation with an experienced Buffalo, MN family law attorney, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. Convenient payment plans are available.

Five Ways a Hutchinson, MN Divorce Lawyer Can Change Guideline Child Support

In a perfect world, child support checks would always come on time and the child support guidelines would always apply. This arrangement would be ideal for both parents and children. But alas, child support payments are often late, and in fact, they sometimes never come at all. And, Minnesota’s child support guidelines are not applicable in every situation.

However, the guideline presumption is quite strong. So, unless there is very strong evidence on at least one of the points listed below, a Hutchinson, MN divorce lawyer should assume the guidelines apply.

These areas apply in both initial determinations and subsequent modifications. In fact, it may be easier to apply these workarounds in modifications, In these situations, residential parents can point to a payment history and identify its inadequacies.

Complete Financial Picture

In the words of the statute, income generally accurately reflects “all earnings, income, circumstances, and resources of each parent.” But that is not always the case.

Many people have indirect income. Perhaps they drive a company car or have similar benefits. Other people live in half of a duplex and rent the other half. If a parent has indirect income, the situation becomes complex. A Hutchinson, MN divorce lawyer must convert that benefit into a cash amount and include that amount in the income calculation.

A brief word here about overall child support. Minnesota is an income share state. So, the income of each parent is relevant in the child support determination.

Child’s Extraordinary Needs

The most important word here might be “extraordinary.” All children are unique, so they all have certain gifts and/or certain disabilities. Unless the gift or disability significantly affects the child’s daily life, it is probably not an “extraordinary” need. A variation of the collateral source rule may come into play as well. For example, if the child has a disability but health insurance covers most of the costs, a Hutchinson, MN divorce lawyer might not be able to overcome the guideline presumption.

Furthermore, there is a difference between needs and wants. It is not always easy to draw the line. Musically gifted children should develop their gifts, but they do not necessarily need to attend expensive private schools or take pricy private lessons.

Standard of Living During the Marriage

Hutchinson, MN divorce lawyers also deal with this factor in alimony matters. Statistically, divorced women are more likely to live in poverty than divorced men. So, children who reside with their mother might need additional financial support to have a similar standard of living.

But not so fast. First, the guideline presumption is very strong. It takes more than statistics to overcome it. Second, the statute includes a disclaimer. The award must “recogniz[e] that the parents now have separate households.” In other words, the children may not have as much as they had before. As long as the dropoff is not unreasonably large, the guidelines amount probably applies.

Foreign Residence

This factor does not apply very much. If the children live in a foreign country for more than a year, and the cost of living is substantially lower in that county, a child support reduction may be in order. The same thing applies in reverse. Hutchinson, MN divorce lawyers may be able to increase child support payments if the foreign cost of living is substantially higher. The good news is that, if this factor is relevant, it is relatively easy to prove in court.

Hutchinson, MN Divorce Lawyers and Child Tax Exemptions

On the other hand, this factor almost always comes up. Residential parents routinely claim the federal child tax credit. Residential parents also usually claim the dependent care credit. In most cases, these credits are a few thousand dollars a year, which translates to a few hundred dollars a month. So, if a family has several children and most or all of them are in daycare, an adjustment might be in order.

The wild card in all these factors may be the child support income limits. Guideline amounts apply in most income situations, but not in all of them. Additionally, obligors cannot pay more than half of their income for child support and child support arrearage, no matter what.

Work with a Compassionate Attorney

Child support guidelines are not always applicable in original determinations and subsequent modifications. For a free consultation with an experienced Hutchinson, MN divorce lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We have several area offices to serve our clients.

When Should Hutchinson, MN Family Law Attorneys Change Child Support Orders?

The Minnesota Attorney General oversees child support obligations in this state. That oversight typically includes an administrative review. Periodically, usually once every three years, the Attorney General allows either parent to request a child support adjustment.

Many parents believe the administrative review process is better than a legal modification. But that’s not usually the case. Administrative reviews often take many months. Furthermore, neither parent has a legal advocate in this process. The Attorney General represents the state, and not the obligee (person receiving child support).

So, it is typically best to partner with a Hutchinson, MN family law attorney and legally modify the divorce paperwork. Both parents can have their own legal advocates. Furthermore, if you request more support, you get it sooner. Additionally, if you request a reduction, these orders are usually not retroactive. So, you receive no credit for the money you overpaid.

Income Adjustment

Minnesota is an income-share state, so the income of the obligor (person paying support) is not the only factor used to determine the amount. Nevertheless, income changes are by far the most common grounds for child support increase or decrease.

A McLeod County family law judge will change the amount if the obligor’s net income is substantially different. Minnesota law presumes that a $75 monthly difference is a substantial change. The judge may adjust the amount in other circumstances as well, but a Hutchinson, MN family law attorney must produce additional evidence of substantial change.

There are some other requirements as well. In addition to a substantial change, the party requesting modification must prove that the income change was:

  • Involuntary: People cannot quit their jobs to reduce or eliminate their domestic financial obligations. To prove lack of involuntariness, Hutchinson, MN family law attorneys can use evidence like social media posts complaining about high child support amounts.
  • Permanent: This element sometimes comes up if the obligor is self-employed. Business income often fluctuates wildly, especially if the obligor’s business is seasonal. The person requesting modification must convince the judge that the change is permanent, or at least long-lasting, and not just part of the business cycle. If a farmer buys new land to raise more crops, the income change is permanent. But if the obligee times the filing to occur during harvest, the change is not permanent.
  • Unexpected: Job changes, salary reviews, and promotions or demotions are all unexpected changes. Retirement, however, is usually not an unexpected change. This factor is especially important with regard to expense adjustments, as outlined below.

Typically, the party requesting modification must establish all these elements by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).

Hutchinson, MN Family Law Attorneys and Expense Changes

People who have children can probably testify that young children are very expensive to raise, chiefly because of daycare costs. When children enter school, the associated expenses usually decrease. Then, the older they get, the more expenses increase.

These are all anticipated change which, for the most part, will not support a motion to modify child support in McLeod County. Daycare expenses are the major exception, as these costs are part of the aforementioned income-share calculation, at least in many cases.

Instead, the direct expense change must be related to the child’s needs and something which was not anticipated at the time the previous orders were entered. For example, some children develop chronic illnesses that require costly medical care, or they fall behind in school and require educational support. Things like these are clearly unanticipated.

As discussed above, the change must be permanent. If a child is struggling in a particular subject or breaks a leg, there may be increased expenses, but the increase is temporary. On a related note, there is often a difference between the child’s needs and the child’s wants, or the parent’s wants.

Indirect Expense Alteration

Not all expenses are directly related to child-rearing. For example, the government tracks the cost of living, an index which accounts for food, housing, and other necessary expenses. According to the Social Security Administration, this figure hit a seven-year high in 2019, and it will probably increase even further for 2020. Cost of living adjustments are not just statistical. Housing and other expenses often go up or down for individual families.

Indirect expense alterations are difficult to prove in this context. They must affect the children in some way. And, they must have been unanticipated at the time of divorce. Unfortunately for people seeking cost of living increases, everyone knows that prices almost always go up.

Talk to a Tenacious Lawyer

In general, child support obligations should be modified at least once every two years. For a free consultation with an experienced Hutchinson, MN family law attorney, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. Convenient payment plans are available.

Seven Ways a Hutchinson, MN Family Law Attorney Can Bypass the Child Support Guidelines

Like most other states, Minnesota is an income-share jurisdiction in terms of its child support guidelines. These guidelines, which are presumptively reasonable, take into account the parenting time division, collective parental income, and a few other key factors.

However, as all good Hutchinson, MN family law attorneys know, there is a big difference between “presumptively” reasonable and “absolutely” reasonable. Every family, and every situation, is different. So, a McLeod County judge may deviate from the guidelines, either up or down, if the requesting party produces sufficient evidence on one of the following points.

High-Income Families

According to Minnesota law, the child support amount guidelines do not apply to individuals who earn more than 40 times the federal minimum wage. Admittedly, not very many people earn $290 per hour, which is forty times the $7.25 per hour minimum wage. However, that figure is not an absolute number. The higher the person’s income gets, the more the presumption of reasonableness fades. So, a higher-than-average income, coupled with any evidence of any other factor, is often enough to overcome the presumption.

All Available Financial Resources

Many jobs offer substantial non-cash benefits. For example, self-storage managers often live rent-free onsite and traveling salespeople usually drive company cars. In these cases, the non-cash benefits mean more disposable income, since these individuals do not pay rent or car payments. Therefore, a Hutchinson, MN family law attorney can argue that the payment should be higher or lower, depending on whether the obligee or obligor receives such benefits.

Extraordinary Needs

Some children have special medical, emotional, educational, or other needs. The one-size-fits-all guidelines do not account for these requirements. Note that the child must have extraordinary needs. Most parents would agree that teenagers are more expensive to raise than younger children, but age is not an extraordinary need. Furthermore, there is a difference between the child’s needs and the child’s wants.

Debt Division

Generally, the property division is separate from the child support obligation. But in Minnesota, that’s not always the case. If a parent pays a child-related debt, like a child’s old hospital bill, and certain other conditions are present, a Hutchinson, MN family law attorney can often adjust the monthly child support payment.

Standard of Living During the Marriage

Much like the first factor discussed above, this factor is also income-based. Typically, it applies when a high-earning spouse and a low-earning spouse divorce, and the children stay with the low-earning spouse. Since Minnesota is an income share state, the child support payment must enable the children to live basically the same lifestyle they would have had if their parents remained married. If that outcome requires a child support adjustment, then so be it.

Tax Considerations

Unlike the previous factor, this factor comes up a lot. In fact, it’s one of the most common reasons for deviation from the guidelines. The recent Tax Cut and Jobs Act doubled the child tax credit to $2,000 per child. That’s quite a bit of money, especially if there are several children in the family. Arguably, to offset this amount, the residential parent must either file Form 8332 and sign over at least part of the child tax credit or accept a lower monthly payment from the obligor. Of course, that $2,000 tax credit does not necessarily translate to a $2,000 benefit.

Residence in a Foreign Country

In our ever-shrinking world, international families are more and more common. Additionally, a job may take a person overseas. If the children live in a foreign country for more than a year, and that country has a substantially higher or lower cost of living than the United States, a McLeod County judge may revise the child support payments either up or down.

Count on an Experienced Lawyer

Minnesota’s child support guideline amounts are not absolute. For a free consultation with an experienced Hutchinson, MN family law attorney, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We routinely handle matters in McLeod County and nearby jurisdictions.

Five Ways a Buffalo Child Custody Lawyer Can Enforce Support Obligations

All over the country, nonresidential parents owe billions of dollars in child support to residential parents. In fact, arrearage is the norm in these cases. Only 44 percent of child support obligees receive the full, court-ordered amount.

For the most part, Minnesota has debtor-friendly laws. It is difficult or impossible to seize assets to pay creditors, especially if the debtor files bankruptcy. Judges are happy to resolve legal disputes, but they are hesitant to be debt collectors. Many judges believe that such action is outside their scope of responsibilities. Since debtors prisons are illegal in the United States, they may be right.

But family support, especially child support, is different. If an obligor owes delinquent support, a Buffalo child custody lawyer can show the obligee a number of options. They range from attention-getting to almost draconian, so generally, you can pick the level of action that’s best for you and your family.

Order to Obtain Employment

The old “I can’t pay child support because I don’t have a job” excuse is not very effective these days. Statewide, unemployment is at a 10-year low. In some areas, such as St. Paul, it is even lower. Because of this environment, many Wright County family law judges are more willing than ever to issue orders to obtain employment, if all three of the following conditions are present:

  • No Employment Verification: In this context, odd jobs and perhaps even independent contracting gigs, like driving for Uber, may not be “employment.” Typically, a judge requires evidence of steady employment, like a few recent paystubs.
  • Substantial Arrearage: The obligor must owe at least three times one months’ support obligation. So, if the monthly obligation is $1,000, a judge will not sign an order to obtain employment unless the obligor owes at least $3,000. Both child support and alimony count here.
  • Failure to Comply with Payment Plan: Many times, obligors promise to add catch-up payments to their monthly obligations. If they make empty promises, a judge may step in.

Generally, the orders require obligors to find jobs that pay approximately what they were making before. Additionally, if the obligor does not make at least five verified attempts to find a job each week, the judge will be very unhappy.

Tax Refund Intercept

This collection method is quite popular during the annual tax season. It may be even more popular this year. Due to the 2017 tax code reforms, many people may be getting larger refunds this year.

A tax refund intercept may not satisfy the entire arrearage amount. But it is extremely easy to collect, as the IRS is quite cooperative in these situations. Tax refund intercept is also a good way for a Buffalo child custody lawyer to learn the obligor’s current address and perhaps even bank account information. This information could be extremely useful in other related family law situations.

Drivers’ License Suspension

Another tax refund intercept plus is that there is no minimum amount. That’s not true in most other cases, including drivers’ license suspension. To take this action, the aforementioned triple arrearage requirement applies. Plus, the order must include a 90-day stay, so the obligor has time to set up a payment arrangement.

This measure may not work right away. Most people who have suspended licenses ignore them and keep driving anyway. But it’s only a matter of time before the obligor gets pulled over or needs to renew the drivers’ license. To move things along faster, the suspension order might also include a motor vehicle lien.

Buffalo Child Custody Lawyers and Professional License Suspension

This enforcement measure is something like an old stick of dynamite. It could do a lot of damage, or it could blow up in your face.

Many people count on a law license, nursing license, medical license, or another state-issued license to make money. Additionally, if they practice the profession while that license is suspended, they could face disciplinary sanctions. So, an occupational license suspension sometimes gets the obligor’s attention faster than anything else.

Then again, the whole thing could backfire. If obligors lose their earning ability, they may petition the court for a child support reduction. More than likely, a Wright County family law judge will at least seriously consider that request.

A Buffalo child custody lawyer will look at all the financial, emotional, and other aspects before making a recommendation in this area.

Bond Payment

This method often supplements one of the methods discussed above. Assume Ralph owes Alice $5,000 in child support. Alice works with a Buffalo child custody lawyer, and faced with possible drivers’ license suspension, Ralph agrees to a payment plan. The judge may also order Ralph to post a bond, perhaps one month’s child support, so Alice will have money if he falls behind again.

Sometimes, a Buffalo child custody lawyer can include a bond payment order in the divorce decree. Typically, Ralph or the other potential delinquent dad must be self-employed and have a history of nonpayment.

Count on Savvy Attorneys

Obligees who are owed child support money have several legal options in Minnesota. For a free consultation with an experienced Buffalo child custody lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. After-hours visits are available.


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