On August 1, 2018, a new child support law went into effect in Minnesota. The question many people have is simple: so what? Well, child support is all about the math. In 2018, the math has changed in significant ways.
The new law requires the Court to know the exact number of overnights each parent will have with their child to determine the percentage of time each parent has, averaged over a two-year period, to apply a Parenting Expense Adjustment. Minn. Stat. Sec. 518A.36. The Parenting Expense Adjustment, which is a new concept in Minnesota law, recognizes that a parent exercising parenting time incurs costs such as food, clothing, transportation, recreation, and other household expenses.
Before the law changed, parents who had less than 50% of parenting time with their children fell into one of three categories: 10% or less parenting time, 10-45% parenting time, and 45-50% parenting time. Parents with less than 10% parenting time did not receive a Parenting Expense Adjustment and paid the full amount of basic child support as determined by law. Parents in the 10-45% range received a 12% reduction in their basic child support as the Parenting Expense Adjustment. Parents in the 45-50% range had their support calculated as if they had equal parenting time, usually resulting in a large reduction in child support.
The old version of the law was frequently unfair to parents in the 10-45% range. First, the difference between 10% and 45% is huge, so parents who a fair amount of parenting time (but just not quite 45%) were penalized, while parents who had less time (closer to 10%) received a windfall. Because of this inequity, the Minnesota Legislature decided to make a change to the law to require that parenting time orders calculate the exact percentage of parenting time for each parent. Typically, this is done by counting how many overnights each parent has with the child. The Court can still look, however, at “overnight equivalents” when a child spends significant time with a parent, but not overnight. This is often the case when two parents work different shifts and a child spends most daytime hours with one parent, in charge of the daily caregiving routines, school picks up and drop offs, and meals for the child, but at nighttime, the child sleeps at the home of the other parent.
Why does this new law matter? First, if you are not living with your child full time, you have an obligation to pay support, and if there is no court order in place, you could be summoned to Court by the other parent or the county child support office, or, you could initiate the child support process yourself to recognize the voluntary financial support that you may already be paying. Second, if there is a court order for support in effect, but there is vague language such as “reasonable and liberal parenting time,” or no mention of parenting time, you should consult with a family law attorney about whether it is appropriate to file a motion or petition with the Court to address the parenting time schedule you are using, or are seeking to establish. Furthermore, if you have a parenting time schedule in your court order as well as a child support order, you may benefit by having your child support obligation re-calculated under the new law. This is especially true if your parenting time falls in the 30-45% range. You can file a motion to modify your child support based solely on the new law if a re-calculation of your support causes a change in your child support obligation by at least $75 and 20%.
Minn. Stat. Sec. 518A.36, subd. 3 states that if parenting time is equal, and the parental incomes for determining child support are also equal, then no basic child support is owed, unless there is an unequal sharing of expenses for the child. While it may be incentivizing to seek equal parenting time to avoid child support obligations, the Court must consider the best interest factors for parenting time, found in Minn. Stat. Sec. 518.17, and not just the parties’ finances. It can be very difficult to modify a parenting time schedule, especially if the other parent does not agree to it.
Please contact Wilson Law Group at 612-436-7100 for a free, initial consultation if you wish to review an existing child support order.