By: Julie Vogel In a previous blog by Tasya Rivera Martin, she outlined how the Child Support Guidelines are used in setting the presumptive level of child support in Minnesota family law cases. But what if your circumstances just don’t fit? Are you forced to fit your square peg into the round hole of the Guidelines?
The short answer is – it depends. There are exceptional circumstances in which you may request an upward or downward deviation from the Guidelines.
For instance, a recent change in the statute contemplates just such a situation. While a disparity in income between the two parents is generally not enough, in itself, to justify a deviation, the law now provides that where the parent with between 10 and 45% of parenting time has a significantly lower income than the parent who has the children more than 50% of the time, the Court may “elect not to order [such party] to pay basic support.” This is to address the unusual situation where the noncustodial parent earns very little income, but would be forced to contribute a share of that income to the custodial parent, who earns a very high income and may not need the additional income. A caveat: The disparity in income needs to be so great that to order the lower earning parent to pay child support “would be detrimental to the parties’ joint child,” e.g., that the noncustodial parent would be left with insufficient income to care for the child during his or her parenting time. Minn. Stat. §518A.43, Subdivision 1a.
In considering whether to grant an upward or downward deviation from the guidelines, the Court must consider the factors set forth at Minn. Stat. §518A. 43, Subdivision 1:
- All earnings and resources of each parent
- Any extraordinary financial needs and resources, physical and emotional condition, and educational needs of the child
- The standard of living the child would enjoy if the parents were currently living together, but recognizing there are now separate households
- Whether the child resides in a foreign country for more than one year that has a substantially higher or lower cost of living
- Which parent receives the income taxation dependency exemption for the child
- Certain specified debts of the parents
- Whether the payor’s total payments for court-ordered child support exceed certain limitations set forth in wage garnishment statutes
Additionally, Minnesota case law makes clear that the purpose of deviating from the Guidelines is not to raise the parent’s standard of living, which is instead the purpose of spousal maintenance or alimony. Any deviation in child support must be directly related to the child’s needs.
The case of State v. Hall is illustrative. In that case, Daryl Hall was the father and the district court found as an entertainer Mr. Hall earned $1.4 million dollars annually, while the mother of the child earned very minimal income supplemented by public assistance. In declining to grant an upward deviation in the face of such a vast disparity of income, the Court of Appeals found that the request was not directly tied to the child’s requirements, and instead was an effort to raise the mother’s standard of living, which was impermissible.
In short, if you feel that your circumstances are exceptional, whether because of a significant disparity in income or special educational needs requiring additional funds, you should explore whether the Guidelines are a good fit for you and your child. While you will bear a fairly heavy burden to show that a deviation is allowable, if you can relate your request to the best interests of your child, you may prevail.