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A couple that divorces when their children are small, or parents who never married, may find themselves co-parenting together for almost two decades. That’s a long time, and a lot is likely to change over that period. At the outset, parents may agree on a child support arrangement that makes sense for them and their children.

If you have a child support order in place, you may find that it works pretty well for you initially. But as inevitable life changes happen, you may realize that your child support order no longer fits your family’s financial situation. Fortunately, Minnesota child support law allows you to request a modification of support.

So, if you’re paying child support and think you are paying too much, or you are receiving child support for your children and think the payment amount is unfairly low, you can file a motion to modify your support order. However, in part to prevent parents from constantly hauling each other into court over child support, Minnesota requires that you show a “substantial change in circumstances” to get a modification. What exactly does a substantial change in circumstances look like?

“Substantial Change in Circumstances” and Minnesota Child Support Law

Your ex won last week’s big Powerball jackpot? Definitely a substantial change in circumstances. Your child’s favorite brand of boxed macaroni and cheese went up in price? Not substantial. Of course, most of the circumstances that might make you reconsider your child support order fall somewhere in between. Some of the many reasons you or your co-parent might ask to modify child support include:

  • One parent gets a job or promotion that substantially increases their gross income
  • One parent suffers a substantial decrease in income, or a job loss
  • A child experiences a substantial increase or decrease in need, such as extraordinary medical expenses that arise or resolve
  • The availability of health care for your child changes, or the cost of healthcare coverage increases or decreases
  • A parent or child is now receiving public assistance
  • One of the parents experiences a change in the cost of living, such as a large increase in rent
  • The parent paying support experiences a substantial change in work-related or education-related child care expenses
  • Your child becomes an emancipated minor

If any of these things have happened to your family, the child support order you had in place may no longer be fair. In order to modify it, you need to give the court evidence on which it can base a decision that your change of circumstances is a substantial one. Generally, that means showing one of the following:

  • Custody of the child has changed
  • Under the changed circumstances, applying the Minnesota child support guidelines would yield a child support amount that would change by at least 20% and $75. If child support under the existing order is less than $75, the application of the guideline calculation must change the existing amount of support by at least 20%.
  • One parent’s gross income, through no fault of their own, decreased by at least 20%.
  • The current child support order is for a percentage of income rather than a fixed dollar amount
  • Health care coverage ordered to be provided for the child is no longer available
  • The medical support provisions of the existing order are not enforceable
  • The parent receiving child support (obligee) has experienced a substantial increase or decrease in those childcare expenses
  • The existing support order deviates from the guideline amount because the child lived in a foreign country at the time the order was entered, but the child no longer lives abroad

In addition to basic child support, child support in Minnesota also includes child care support and medical support. Accordingly, if there is a significant change in those expenses, a modification of child support might be appropriate.

Because child support deals with hard numbers, it may be easier to show a “substantial change in circumstances” for child support calculations than for a change in child custody. Even so, it is still helpful to work with an experienced family law attorney who can put the right evidence in front of the court and persuade the judge to modify the order.

Remember that child support obligations don’t just change because your situation has! If you are ordered to pay $1,200 per month in child support and you lose your job, you are still obligated to make those payments until the court orders otherwise. A court may be able to modify your child support obligation retroactive to the date of your motion, but not to a date prior to that. You must act promptly to avoid having a back child support obligation that you cannot afford to pay.

You should also be aware that just because you ask for a modification of your child support doesn’t mean that you will get one. Or, you might get a modification, but there’s no guarantee that the support amount will change in the way you were hoping. Plenty of people have asked the court to reduce their child support obligation or raise the amount of the payments they receive, only to have the court decide that the facts favored the other parent. You should discuss all of the relevant financial circumstances with your child support attorney before filing a petition to modify child support. Otherwise, you could find yourself wishing that you had left well enough alone.

Life changes, especially when you have kids. To get legal help responding to those changes, contact Mundahl Law at 763-575-7930 to schedule a consultation.

Categories: Child Support