Appeal from District Court, St. Louis County, Hon. John T. Oswald, Judge.
Forsberg, Presiding Judge, Crippen, Judge, and Kalitowski, Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Crippen
The non-custodial parent's high income does not mandate an upward deviation from child support guidelines, where evidence and trial court findings show the child's needs will be adequately met by the guidelines amount.
Appellant Andrea Zabloski and public authorities commenced this parentage action against respondent Daryl Hall in April 1984. Prior to trial, Hall acknowledged paternity. The only remaining issues involved setting the amount of child support and awarding attorney fees to Zabloski and the child's appointed guardian ad litem. This appeal is from the judgment and subsequent post-trial order denying new trial motions of Zabloski and the guardian.
Zabloski and Hall have never been married to each other, nor have they ever resided together. Their relationship consisted of a single sexual encounter early in 1983. Their son was born on January 8, 1984.
Zabloski is currently 24 years old and lives in Duluth. She also has a minor daughter who was born in June 1985. She and her two children live in a small one-bedroom apartment.
Zabloski was on public assistance from October 1983 until October 1986, when she began receiving temporary child support from Hall. Her monthly income during that time consisted of approximately $437 in A.F.D.C. benefits and an average of $120 in food stamps. Since the birth of her daughter, she has also received $95 per month in child support, an amount which she expects will soon increase to $250 per month.
At trial, Zabloski presented evidence of the needs of her household. She submitted a proposed monthly budget of $3143, based on the purchase of an $80,000 three-bedroom home, a new car, monthly food expenditures of $400, and monthly spending of $800 for her son (including $175 for clothing, $200 for toys/books, $125 for school needs, $53 for musical training/supplies, and $300 monthly toward the purchase of a $9000 piano).
Experts retained by both parties testified that the amount of money a parent spends on a child is largely a matter of personal choice. Zabloski's expert testified that on a net monthly income of $43,000, approximately 13 percent or $465 per month would be spent on a 3-year-old child, with an increase to 25 percent at age 6. An economist testifying on Hall's behalf concluded that at an annual income of $29,338, approximately 25 percent or $611 per month would be needed to support one child in a family of three or four. Utilizing other statistics, that amount decreased to $427 per month.
Hall is 40 years old and resides in Millbrook, New York in a three-bedroom home located on 160 acres of land. He is unmarried and has no other children. He is an entertainer who has achieved commercial success, and his current net income approximates $1.4 million per year, or $116,000 per month. He testified by deposition that most of his personal monthly expenses of $8250 are for travel and business related needs. Hall further described his personal lifestyle as "frugal" and "simple." He indicated that he would want his son Darren to live in a similar manner and to grow up as he did, without expensive music lessons or tutoring.
The trial court granted custody of the child to his mother. Hall was ordered to pay child support of $1000 per month, to provide health and dental coverage for Darren, and to pay for any uninsured medical or dental expenses. Absent an upward deviation, no higher award is provided under statutory child support guidelines. Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5(a) (1986). Hall was also directed to reimburse St. Louis County $20,763.93 for A.F.D.C. payments and medical expenditures. The court awarded Zabloski and the guardian all attorney fees and costs incurred through the time of trial, an amount totaling $62,241.63. Post trial, $11,563 in back support was awarded directly to Zabloski and additional attorney fees of $500 were awarded to both Zabloski and the guardian. On appeal, Zabloski and the guardian contend the ongoing child support award is unsatisfactory.
Did the trial court abuse its discretion in declining to deviate from the child support guidelines?
Trial courts are accorded broad discretion in setting child support, and an appellate court will find an abuse of that discretion only where it finds a "clearly erroneous conclusion that is against logic and the facts on the record." Moylan v. Moylan, 384 N.W.2d 859, 864 (Minn. 1986) (quoting Rutten v. Rutten, 347 N.W.2d 47, 50 (Minn. 1984)).
The statutory child support guidelines are a starting point for the determination of a support award. Moylan, 384 N.W.2d at 863. Where an obligor's net monthly income is $4000 or above, the guidelines set child support for one child at $1000. Minn. ...