by Judge Michelle Lawson
Both parents have the legal obligation to support their children financially. The law presumes the custodial parent provides for that support by providing for the child’s daily basic needs in the home. The non-custodial parent is required to provide support through a monthly financial contribution, referred to generally as child support.
There are three types of child support in Minnesota: basic support, medical support and child-care support. Basic support is that cash amount the non-custodial parent is required to pay each month to provide for the child’s basic needs. Medical support is either in the form of providing medical and dental insurance for the child, contributing to the cost of the other parent’s policy that covers the child, or reimbursing for Medical Assistance or MinnesotaCare insurance provided by the state. Finally, child-care support is the non-custodial parent’s contribution to daycare costs for the child related to the custodial parent’s employment or education. This column will examine how basic child support is calculated in Minnesota.
The Minnesota Department of Human Services provides a web-based child-support calculator used in determining the appropriate child-support amount in any given scenario. It can be found here: http://childsupportcalculator.dhs.state.mn.us . It must be used to determine the appropriate amount of support in any given scenario.
Child support is calculated based on the gross income of each of the parents and how many children are being supported. There are deductions from gross income allowed for children who are not common to the parties, referred to as non-joint children.
Gross income not only includes actual income but may include potential income as well. The law presumes each parent is capable of being employed full-time, which is presumed to be 40 hours per week.
Once the gross income of each parent is determined, they are added together to determine the total amount of gross income of both parents. The calculator is programmed with the cost to raise a child or children at any combined income level in order to determine how much money is required between the two parties to provide for the support of the child. The calculator determines the percentage of the pooled gross income that is attributable to each parent. That percentage represents each parent’s pro-rata obligation to support the child.
That concept is best explained through an example. Let’s say mom makes $2,000 a month and dad makes $3,000 a month in gross income. Their combined gross income is $5,000 per month. Dad’s percentage of that income is 60 percent while mom’s percentage is 40 percent. If there are two children involved that would indicate, at their combined income level, it would cost $1,260 per month to raise two children. Let’s assume the children reside primarily with dad. Mom’s monthly financial obligation for basic support will be 40 percent of that $1,260 or $504 per month before the parenting expense adjustment is applied, which is explained below.
When the non-custodial parent has court-ordered parenting time of at least 10 percent and less than 45 percent of the overnight stays, that parent receives what is called a parenting expense adjustment to their basic support obligation; which is a 12-percent deduction from the basic support obligation. A non-custodial parent with less than 10-percent overnight parenting time is not eligible for a parenting expense adjustment. In the event the parenting time is between 45.1 percent and 50 percent of the overnight stays, the basic support would be calculated as a joint-custody scenario
Another point that deserves mention is the use of a self-support reserve when calculating basic support. Child-support obligations will never take a parent under 125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. A parent will not be left with less than $1,149 in gross income each month. The law recognizes in order for a parent to be able to work and support their child(ren) they must also be able to provide for their own basic needs.
The calculation of child support is not as complex as many would believe. Gathering the appropriate information and using the online child-support calculator removes most of the complexities, making child-support calculation no more than math and applying existing formulas to the gross income of the parents involved.
Michelle Lawson, based in Moorhead, is a Clay County District Court judge.