A Lesson from Child Support Court: “Pull No Punches”

Posted on Tuesday, August 21st, 2018 by Tim Simonson and is filed under Child Support,  Finances,  Minnesota.

Minnesota Child Support Law mandates that child support is determined primarily by the parents’ incomes.

Because income is so important to a court when figuring out a child support obligation, some parents have tried being “less than candid” when reporting income to the court.  The intent of this strategy, not surprisingly, is to end up paying less child support.  This strategy has not proven successful historically, and usually has the opposite of the effect of the one intended.  Here’s why.

Adverse Inferences

Failing to provide financial information to a court, can allow that court to make ‘adverse inferences’ against a parent when figuring out income.  This proposition was made clear by the Court of Appeals in Spooner v. Spooner  410 N.W.2d 412, 413 (Minn. Ct. App. 1987).   And this means that a court can ‘assume’ that a parent is making more money than he or she wants the court to believe, and therefore pay more child support than that parent intended to, or is capable of paying.

Failing to bring evidence of income allows the court to look at other ways to figure out a parent’s income.  The Minnesota Supreme Court in Butt v. Schmidt, decided that when there isn’t enough evidence of a parent’s income, courts are allowed to use these other ways of figuring out income.  747 N.W.2d 566, 574 (Minn. 2008).  Minn. Stat. § 518A.32, subd. 1.  The law prescribes three (3) ways that a court can assign income to a parent; regardless of what that parent is actually earning:

(1) Estimate. The court can ‘estimate’ a parent’s probable earnings level based on employment potential, recent work history, occupational qualifications and job opportunities in the community;

(2) Unemployment/Worker’s Compensation. If a parent is receiving unemployment compensation or workers’ compensation, that parent’s income may be calculated using the actual amount of the unemployment compensation or workers’ compensation benefit received; or

(3) Minimum Wage. The amount of income a parent could earn working 30 hours per week at 100 percent of the current federal or state minimum wage, whichever is higher.

Note that these methods leave open the possibility of the court making assumptions based on work history, occupational qualifications, and employment potential.  None of these methods mandate fairness or favorability to the parent; in fact, courts are permitted to do the opposite and made adverse findings about the parent’s income.  Spooner v. Spooner.  410 N.W.2d 412, 413 (Minn. Ct. App. 1987).  The result is a child support obligation that a parent cannot sustain because it is based on inaccurate income data.

That is why it is important that a parent provide accurate information and be prepared when called to court to address a potential child support obligation.  Hold nothing back.  When facing a potential child support obligation, please consult with an attorney experienced in family law.

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