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No matter how carefully the terms of child custody and support are determined during divorce, few parents walk away feeling that the agreement is fair. This is understandable, considering that any time away from the children, combined with potentially fewer funds to care for them are natural concerns.

In reality, the Minnesota legislature also recognized a lack of fairness in how the law makes allowances for parenting time when determining child support adjustments. They issued legislation to create a Child Support Work Group, which was required to propose methods that would be fairer. Their report was issued in January, and our Minnesota child support lawyers can see certain advantages and disadvantages to the proposed methodology.

Current Calculations Can Create a Child Support Cliff

As with current calculation methods, child support obligations look at the base and special financial needs of the children. Then, the allocation to each parent is based primarily on individual income and parenting time. Under the current law, however, the parenting time considerations, which are based on overnight stays, only allowed for three parenting time ranges:

  • When parenting time is less than 10 percent, the person paying child support (the obligor) receives no adjustment to child support payments.
  • When the obligor’s parenting time is from 10 to 45 percent, he or she benefits from a 12 percent reduction in child support obligations.
  • When parenting time ranges from 45.1 percent to 50 percent, parenting time is presumed to be equal, meaning that the obligor need not pay any child support.

In other words, a 0.1 percent increase in the number of overnight stays, which could conceivably equate to one additional overnight stay per year, could eliminate any child support payments to a parent with primary physical custody. This sudden elimination of child support is known as the parenting time adjustment cliff, which can cause severe conflicts between divorced parents — and potential hardship for the children.

New Calculations Replace the Cliff With a Curve

The Child Support Work Group report proposes a new system based on the formula used in Michigan. Without delving deeply into the math, this system flips obligations when the difference in the parent’s prorated share exceeds the cubed difference of shared parenting time. This complex-sounding method replaces the cliff with a gentler curve while fairly assessing both parents’ expenses. Perhaps just as important, the Group believes it will reduce parental disputes over requests for more or fewer overnight visits.

On the other hand, the proposed changes have certain downsides. First, it reduces the adjustment amount within the 10 to 30 percent parenting time range. Perhaps just as important, the difficulty of the calculations makes adjustments less transparent to the parents. Unlike other models, no one can just refer to a handy table. A calculator is definitely required.

The proposed child support changes have not yet been approved, and they most likely would not occur until 2017. Either way, parents are right to have certain concerns about how a change to overnight visits might affect the financial considerations of caring for their children. Before entering any formal or informal agreements, call us at (763) 783-5146 or use our convenient contact form to learn how changes in parenting time can affect the child support bottom line.