Common Minnesota Child Support Questions

chxOf the issues involved in a divorce in Minnesota, child support is generally recognized as the simplest to resolve. That does not mean, however, that the determination of basic support, medical support and daycare support is necessarily easy in every case.

Here are some of the more common questions our child support lawyers are asked concerning child support in Minnesota:

Who Must Pay Child Support?

Parents of minor children have a duty to provide for their financial support. Marital status does not matter. In other words, the same standards apply in a paternity case (involving unmarried individuals) and a traditional marital dissolution action.

Who Is A Child?

Pursuant to the Minnesota child support statutes, a child is defined as an individual under 18 years of age, or 20 years of age who is either: (1) still in high school; or (2) incapable of self support because of physical or mental impairment.

Can I Be Ordered To Pay Support For An Adult Child?

If a child has emancipated, or reaches the age of majority (18) , the Court loses jurisdiction over the issue of child support – again, unless one of the exceptions noted above is triggered.

What Is Basic Child Support?

Basic child support is the more traditional form of child support – a cash payment made from one parent to the other for the needs of the minor child (such as food, housing, clothing, education, and transportation).

What Is Medical Support?

Under Minnesota law, parents are obligated to divide, in proportion to their income, the cost for medical and dental insurance premiums for a child. They are also required to divide uninsured medical and dental expenses in proportion to their income (known as the PICS).

What Is Childcare Support?

Pursuant to Minnesota’s child support statutes, parents will be ordered to divide, pursuant to the PICS, the work-related childcare costs associated with minor children.

Can Parents Waive Child Support?

Because the Court considers child support to be “the child’s money,” it will not permit an outright waiver of child support. Instead, a “reservation” of support may take place. A reservation simply allows the parties to have no order on the issue in the moment, but return to Court later to address it, if they choose to do so.

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Minnesota Divorce Basics: Invading Non-Marital Property

propertydivIn terms of dividing the assets and liabilities of the parties following divorce, the first step in the analysis involves determining which assets are “marital” and which assets are “non-marital.”

Simply stated, marital assets are those acquired during the marriage, through marital efforts. Non-marital assets are those that one spouse: (1) brings into the marriage; (2) inherits during the marriage; (3) receives as a gift during the marriage; or (4) acquires through the sale of other non-marital property.

The general rule is that non-marital assets are awarded, in their entirety, to the spouse who demonstrates that their property interest is, indeed, non-marital. There are, however, exceptions.

In some situations, the Court may determine that it is appropriate to divide a non-marital asset. Pursuant to Minn. Stat. Sec. 518.58, Subd. 2:

If the court finds that either spouse’s resources or property, including the spouse’s portion of the marital property … are so inadequate as to work an unfair hardship, considering all relevant circumstances, the court may, in addition to the marital property, apportion up to one-half of the property otherwise [non-marital] to prevent the unfair hardship. If the court apportions property other than marital property, it shall make findings in support of the apportionment. The findings shall be based on all relevant factors including the length of the marriage, any prior marriage of a party, the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities, needs, and opportunity for future acquisition of capital assets and income of each party.

The practical reality is that the Court will rarely invade non-marital property. There are two common situation in which the Court will do so: (1) if one spouse will be left insolvent; or (2) if non-marital interests represent the entire estate of the parties.

If the estate of the parties contains some marital and some non-marital interests, the Court may unequally allocate marital property in lieu of a division of non-marital interests.

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Key Concepts In Dividing Property During Divorce In Minnesota

homAt the end of the day, the vast majority of divorces in Minnesota result in an equal division of the marital estate (those assets and liabilities incurred, or accrued, during the marriage.

“Equal division,” however, is not the relevant standard. Pursuant to Minn. Stat. Sec. 518.58, the Court must make a “just and equitable division of the marital property of the parties.” What constitutes a “just and equitable” allocation? Well, usually equal – but not always.

In Minnesota, the family law judge has the ability to consider a number of statutory factors in dividing property unequally, including:

  • The length of the parties’ marriage;
  • Whether either party has been married before;
  • The age, health, occupation and sources of income of each party;
  • The vocational skills of each party;
  • The employability of each party;
  • The income of each party; and
  • The nature of the marital estate (both assets and debts).

Does this happen very often? No – except for cases involving a dissipation of assets.

“Dissipation” is described by statute as “without the consent of the other party…in contemplation of divorce, separation or annulment…” transferring, encumbering (creating debt against), concealing or disposing of marital assets, except in the usual course of business or for necessities of life.

Here are a few examples of dissipation:

  • Selling a motorcycle to a family member for $1.00, knowing it will be bought back for $1.00 following divorce;
  • Placing large amounts of debt relative to an extra-marital affair (hotel rooms, restaurants, airline tickets) on a credit card;
  • Incurring significant gambling losses;
  • Destruction of items of personal property (electronics, furniture or clothing);
  • Investment losses relating to an obvious scam; or
  • Spending large quantities of money on drugs or alcohol.

Should dissipation occur, the Court will likely allocate assets in such a way that the non-offending spouse is put back in the position they would have been, but for the dissipation – usually by allocating other assets to them. The party claiming dissipation bears the burden of proving that it occurred.

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Hennepin County Divorce Resources

henAbout one-half of the divorce and family law cases our lawyers handle are venued in Hennepin County. Located in downtown Minneapolis, the Hennepin County Family Justice Center provides a central hub for all sorts of resources for litigants doing through a divorce, custody dispute, or domestic abuse proceeding. The nice thing about Hennepin County is that there are a number of terrific resources available outside the four walls of the courthouse as well.

Here’s our “best of” list of helpful Hennepin County divorce and family law links:

If you have an idea for an additional link, I invite you contact our office with the relevant information.

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Minnesota Divorce Lawyers Rely on New Judicial Resource: Pendleton’s Blog

mosMinnesota divorce attorneys have an emerging resource to rely upon in preparing their cases, and it’s coming straight from the bench. Anoka County District Court Judge Alan Pendleton’s blog, entitled “Pendleton’s Judicial Training Updates,” has now captured national attention from legal commentator and author Robert Ambrogi – and for good reason.

Whether custody, child support, personal property disputes, the involvement of children in a court proceeding, or family law motions in general, Pendleton offers the analytical framework utilized by the bench, in a rather user-friendly format. The nice thing is that the issues he addresses tend to be those causing some confusion for lawyers.

For example, our attorneys routinely debate how, and whether, to involve a child within a particular case. Pendleton provides insight relative to a highly sensitive question.

In addition to family law proceedings, Pendleton’s blog provides insight concerning domestic abuse proceedings, appeals, contempt, and the rules of evidence. Most posts provide an easy-to-navigate summary of a particular legal issue. The information provided certainly doesn’t dive into the minutia but, rather, offers a starting point for analysis.

Moreover, Pendleton offers links to the most common resources relied upon by lawyers and judges, including the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure, the Minnesota Rules of Evidence, and the Minnesota Rules of Appellate Procedure. Attorneys should strongly consider bookmarking the blog for that reason alone. Frankly, new lawyers should read every post on his site.

Pendleton’s work is one of a small number of blogs authored by District Court Judges in Minnesota. Anyone can subscribe, either by e-mail or RSS feed. Cutting-edge stuff, and a trend this author hopes continues.

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The Latest Family Law ADR Trend: Moderated Settlement Conferences

mediation1Moderated settlement conferences have become a bit of a trend in Minnesota, creating an easier, and more affordable way to resolve a divorce. Many family court judges are encouraging litigants to engage in this form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR).

A moderated settlement conference usually occurs after the “pretrial” hearing, but before the couple has a formal trial. It is a last opportunity to allow the parties to make decisions regarding the remaining issues in their family court case. Even if the parties have attempted mediation or an early neutral evaluation, the relevant information in their case may not have been as well-developed at the time.

The types of cases that are usually perfect for a moderated settlement conferences are those that are relatively close to resolution. A conference may be needed, however, because some key issue remains in dispute, such as child custody or alimony.

A third party moderator is hired to manage the conference. They are typically an experienced family law attorney, or retired judge, tend to act the part of both a mediator and an evaluator. The scope of the moderator’s responsibilities is outlined by the parties, and their attorneys, based on the issues and the facts that are causing conflict.

Conferences are typically held at the courthouse, depending on the availability of the judge. If held at the courthouse, referees or judges will make themselves available to immediately approve agreements that have been reached by the parties, preventing the litigants from “undoing” things.

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The Law on Annulment v. Divorce in Minnesota

annulThe two ways to end a marriage, voluntarily, are annulment and divorce. An annulment is the legal procedure that treats a marriage as if it never existed. It is legally erased. A divorce, however, is the legal dissolution of the marriage. Both parties are returned to single status.

The avenue a couple can pursue depends on the circumstances surrounding the marriage. For instance, annulments are typically granted because the marriage was never valid in the first place. In Minnesota, litigants may seek an annulment if any of the following exist:

  • Coercion – This is also known as “forced consent” and it occurs when one spouse was forced into the marriage under duress;
  • Bigamy  – One party may have already been married to someone else;
  • Mental incapacity – One spouse was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the nuptials and was not able to provide informed consent;
  • Mental illness – One spouse was emotionally or mentally ill at the time of the marriage;
  • Familial relationship – If the couple was related, then the marriage is prohibited by law;
  • Fraud – One spouse aggress to the marriage based on misrepresentations made by the other;
  • Inability to consummate – Either spouse was not physically able to have sexual relations to consummate the marriage; or
  • Underage spouse – One spouse may have been too young to legally enter into the marriage without the consent of the court, or a parent.

Annulments typically conclude soon after marriage occurs, so there are typically no spousal maintenance or child custody issues involved – as in many divorce cases. Divorce can also involve the division of marital assets and debts, which makes the case more complicated, and longer to resolve

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First Divorce Decision: Where to Venue Your Case?

coutThe venue for a divorce, generally, refers to the location where dissolution proceedings will be heard.

If you are filing for divorce in the State of Minnesota, venue refers to the county in which your divorce will be handled.

The first step in initiating divorce proceedings in the State of Minnesota involves the service and filing of a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.

In order to file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, either you, or your spouse, must have been a resident of the State of Minnesota for a period of at least 180 days.

If both you and your spouse live in the same county, the venue issue will be a fairly simple one: that county will serve as venue.

On the other hand, you may live in one county, while your spouse lives in another. In such a situation, you may decide in which county you want to file for divorce. It’s a race to serve the other side and file with the court.

While the laws of custody and marital dissolution do not differ from county to county, the manner in which you are treated could.

We recommend that you speak to a Minnesota divorce lawyer before you make a decision concerning the venue for your divorce. We’re happy to help. Please call (763) 323-6555 to speak with our attorneys free of charge.

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What are the Differences Between Judges, Family Law Referees and Child Support Magistrates?

gavjuIn Minnesota, family law matters are typically handled either by a family court judge, referee, or child support magistrate.  There are minor variations in the legal authority and responsibilities of each such official, and there is also some variation in the types of cases that they preside over. 

Most family court hearings in Minnesota are presided over by judges. A family court referee may get involved, but only in certain counties that allow referees to preside over proceedings – for instance Hennepin County or Ramsey County. Because of the volume of cases these counties experience, a family court referee may be hired at the discretion of the county itself. The referee is not appointed by the governor.

There is no major difference between a family court referee and a judge, and a family court referee has, more or less, the same kind of legal authority that a judge has.  Yet, when the family court referee signs an order, it must also be approved by a judge.  There is no need to appear at a separate hearing before the judge for approval of the referee’s order.

Child support magistrates, as the term suggests, are only involved in those cases where the issue revolves around child support and enforcement of child support payments. In the State of Minnesota, all counties have child support magistrates.

If you have a question about your rights in a divorce or family law case, call (763) 323-6555. Our attorneys will speak with you free of charge, and provide you with the best information possible.

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I’ve Filed for Divorce in Minnesota. What’s Next? Go!

stopwatAs early as three weeks after filing for divorce, the parties must appear before the judicial officer assigned to their case. This first appearance is called the “Initial Case Management Conference.”

The ICMC is an informal hearing. No arguments are presented, or decisions made – except for a determination concerning how to move forward in the most efficient manner.

Any issues that are not resolved among the parties can be resolved through the selection of a settlement process known as early neutral evaluation. The fundamental purpose of the ICMC is to obtain a referral for ENE – or elect to litigate.

FENE

One neutral expert is assigned in the Financial Early Neutral Evaluation (“FENE“) program. They start by gathering all of the necessary financial information, and listening carefully to the position of each party (with the assistance of their lawyer). A candid assessment made regarding the strengths and weaknesses of each side’s case. Negotiation follows.

Fortunately, more than 70% of cases are resolved through FENE, with approximately $1,000 in neutral expert fees. This may seem expensive, but the end result is a fraction of the cost of traditional litigation and trial.

SENE

Social Issue Early Neutral Evaluation (SENE) is used to resolve custody and parenting issues. In this type of evaluation, there are two custody experts assigned – one male and one female, to avoid any perceived gender bias.

The evaluators meet with the parties, and their lawyers, to listen to their position. Once all of the information is presented, the evaluators break, and meet privately to discuss the matter. Then, they return to provide an evaluative opinion about the likely outcome if the matter moved forward to a more traditional custody study. Once the opinion is given, the parties discuss and negotiate. Approximately 65% of SENE referrals result in a settlement.

If you have questions about the ICMC, FENE or SENE process, we invite you to contact us. These programs are designed to facilitate an early settlement – even in the most difficult cases. Our lawyers have participated in hundreds of these evaluations, and we are prepared to assist you, as necessary. Please call (612) 789-2100 to speak with a lawyer free of charge.

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