Washington County District Court File No. F48951069
Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and
1. When calculating support for a subsequent child under the statutory guidelines, the court should deduct support that the obligor is paying pursuant to court order for older children and consider the needs of all the obligor's children.
2. Consideration of an obligee's motion for a modification of child support should take into account the needs of subsequent children.
3. For purposes of Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5f (2002) subsequent children means younger children.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Minge, Judge
Reversed and remanded; motion to strike denied and motion for fees denied.
Appellant, a child support obligor, appeals child support modification determinations from two different counties. The mother of Swenson's two oldest children initiated a proceeding in Washington County to increase support for those children. Swenson initiated a proceeding in Ramsey County to reduce support for his youngest child. This court consolidated the appeals. We reverse and remand the consolidated cases to Washington County.
Appellant James Swenson is the father of four children. The oldest are the two Valento children, born in 1988 and 1989. Their mother is respondent, Cindy Valento. Although she is a party, Valento does not make an appearance in this appeal. The next child was born in 1991; his mother, Jeanne Pierce, is not a party to this proceeding. The youngest child was born in 2000. Her mother is respondent Lori Christensen.
In 1989 and 1990, as a part of paternity determinations, the Washington County district court ordered Swenson to pay child support for the Valento children. Initially child support for the oldest Valento child was set at $300 per month. In 1990, Swenson was ordered to pay $360 per month, and in 1997, support was raised to $381 per month.
On September 28, 2001, a Ramsey County child support magistrate set the child support for the Christensen child at $762.50 per month on the basis of the statutory guidelines. In this and the other proceedings in 2001 and 2002, the parties agreed Swenson was self-employed and had a net monthly income of $3,050. In addition, Swenson was ordered to pay $247.80 per month for childcare expenses and $50 per month for health care, making Swenson's total obligation for the Christensen child $1,060.30 per month. The order acknowledged that Swenson was the father of the Valento children and that he claimed to be the father of the Pierce child, but stated that Swenson did not provide verification of paternity of the Pierce child or of existing support obligations for any of his children. The child support magistrate refused to deduct any child support obligations or payments for the Valento or Pierce children from Swenson's net income.
On December 21, 2001, a stipulated paternity and child support hearing was held in Washington County for the Pierce child. On that date, the Washington County District Court determined that Swenson was the father of the Pierce child and ordered him to pay $533.75 per month child support for that child. This amount was based on the statutory guidelines after deducting the anticipated Valento support from his income. The Pierce order is not before this court on appeal.
On December 27, 2001, the Washington County District Court, acting on a motion of respondent Cindy Valento, and with the apparent concurrence of Swenson, ordered Swenson to increase his support payments to $915 per month for both Valento children. Support was calculated from the statutory child support guidelines.
Swenson initiated a Ramsey County proceeding to reduce the support obligation for the Christensen child. A hearing was held on January 11, 2002; on February 20, 2002, the child support magistrate entered its final order. The magistrate now recognized Swenson was the father of both the two Valento children and the Pierce child and acknowledged the existence of the Washington County child support orders of $915 for the Valento children and $533.75 for the Pierce child. The magistrate also found that (a) support for the Pierce child was $24.75 over the statutory guideline; (b) the Pierce obligation was not subject to automatic withholding; (c) there was no verification that Swenson was actually making the ordered payments for the Valento and Pierce children; (d) Swenson had engineered those orders so as to decrease his available income and obligation for the Christensen child; (e) to the extent Swenson was not actually paying support for the prior children, the December 2001 child support orders from Washington County were of no consequence to the Ramsey County determination; and (f) in calculating his available net income Swenson should only receive recognition for the $360 per month Valento payment ordered in 1990. The magistrate then reduced the child support for the Christensen child to $672.50 per month, reduced the childcare payment to $174.58 per month, and did not include the health care payment. A modified order was filed on May 8, 2002 that did not change support but required Swenson to pay Lori Christensen and Ramsey County for certain expenses not involved in this appeal.
Swenson appeals the May 8, 2002 Ramsey County order on the grounds that the child support magistrate did not recognize the then effective child support orders from Washington County District Court for the Valento children and the Pierce child and that the child support magistrate did not correctly compute his day-care obligation. Swenson also appeals the Washington County child support order for the two Valento children. In both appeals, Swenson requests determination of priority of his obligations and recalculations of the amounts based on the priority determinations.
Lori Christensen claims the Valento and Pierce child support orders entered after the initial order for support of the Christensen child are not entitled to full recognition in the Christensen proceeding and argues that the December 2001 Valento and Pierce orders were collusive attempts to reduce Swenson's income.
Ramsey County Attorney's Office participated in the appeal as statutory counsel for child support in the Christensen proceeding. The county attorney objects to the order of the Ramsey County child support magistrate on the grounds that the record does not support the determination that Swenson was not paying $915 per month support for the Valento children, that ignoring prior orders for older children encourages the entry of ...