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O'Donnell v. O'Donnell

April 27, 2004

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF: PATRICK M. O'DONNELL, PETITIONER, RESPONDENT,
v.
MARY LOU Z. O'DONNELL, CO-PETITIONER, APPELLANT.



Wright County District Court File No. F0-02-1401

Considered and decided by Shumaker , Presiding Judge; Kalitowski , Judge; and Minge , Judge.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. Payment of college tuition for an emancipated child is not an increased living expense for a child support obligee that justifies an increase in support payments by the obligor.

2. Mortgage expenses incurred to finance a property settlement obligation in a marriage dissolution are not increased living expenses for a child support obligee that justify an increase in support payments by the obligor.

3. When parties stipulate to court-ordered child support, foreseeable child-related expenses do not constitute a change of circumstances that justifies a modification of child support five months later.

4. Absent a substantial change in circumstances, child support established pursuant to a stipulated judgment and supported by statutorily required findings is fair and reasonable, even if it represents a downward deviation from the statutory child support guidelines.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Minge, Judge

Reversed

OPINION

Appellant, support obligor, challenges the district court's modification order increasing child support. Appellant claims that the parties had stipulated to child support that the original district court approved, that college tuition payments for an emancipated child and mortgage payments incurred to finance a property division are not recognizable expenses in setting child support levels, and that the other claimed changes in circumstance were foreseeable. Because we determine the district court erred in increasing child support, we reverse.

FACTS

Appellant Mary Lou Z. O'Donnell and respondent Patrick M. O'Donnell dissolved their 20-year marriage in May 2002. Appellant is a ministry support coordinator, respondent an attorney. The parties entered into a marital termination agreement whereby respondent father was granted sole physical custody of the couple's two minor children. The parties waived their rights to maintenance and stipulated to a downward deviation from the child support guidelines. The child support guidelines would have required appellant mother to pay $546.60 a month, but pursuant to the agreement, she was ordered to pay respondent $250 per month for 30 months, and thereafter $350 per month.

Five months after entry of the stipulated judgment, respondent filed a motion seeking an increase in child support. Respondent claimed that his overall expenses had increased due to, in part, his undertaking to pay college expenses for the parties' emancipated daughter, an increase in his mortgage payment due to the property settlement, a purchase of a new vehicle, which he claimed was necessary to transport the children, an increase in the cost of health insurance, and an increase in the children's school activity fees. Respondent argued that because appellant was now living with another individual with whom appellant shares expenses, appellant's expenses had decreased. But appellant claimed that she had purchased a home and made other financial commitments such that her expenses still exceeded her income.

Following a December 2002 hearing, the district court granted respondent's motion and ordered an increase in appellant's child support payments from $250 to $546.60 per month. Appellant now appeals the district ...


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