Anoka County District Court File Nos. F1-03-09028 & IV-D 001426722003.
Considered and decided by Hudson , Presiding Judge, Kalitowski , Judge, and Klaphake , Judge.
1. In a proceeding brought under Minn. Stat. § 256.87 (2002), where the obligor parent claims an inability to pay and submits evidence to support that claim, the fact finder must consider that parent's resources and expenses, and cannot merely order child support at the guideline amount.
2. Issues involving a parent's duty to support a child under Minn. Stat. § 256.87 (2002) are separate from issues involving a parent's ability to pay; where the evidence raises legitimate issues regarding the parent's duty to support a child beyond the age of 19, the parent must be given an opportunity to challenge that duty.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Klaphake, Judge
Pro se appellant Fatuma Roba challenges a decision by a child support magistrate (CSM) ordering her to pay ongoing child support of $359.97 per month and to reimburse respondent Anoka County $4,550 for public assistance expended from October 1, 2002, to October 31, 2003. Appellant argues that her income is very low and that she cannot afford to pay the child support ordered by the CSM because her income barely meets her necessary monthly expenses. Because appellant submitted evidence to support her claim of inability to pay and because the CSM failed to make any findings on that issue, we reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Appellant, a single mother, came to the United States several years ago with four of her children. She speaks Oromo, an Ethiopian dialect, and required an interpreter at the hearing before the CSM. Appellant received public assistance from August 2001 through September 2002. She currently works 37.5 hours per week as a dishwasher and earns $9.00 per hour.
Two of her children, who were 17 and 18 at the time the county initiated this action, live with her 28-year-old son, Jemal Hassan, who is designated as their relative caretaker. Hassan receives public assistance for the two children in the form of a cash grant and Medical Assistance. For the month of July 2003, Hassan received a cash grant of $437; from August 2001 through July 2003, he received a total of $10,973 in cash assistance.
In September 2003, the county initiated this reimbursement action against appellant under Minn. Stat. § 256.87 (2002), to establish ongoing child support and order reimbursement for past public assistance payments. The county submitted a supporting affidavit prepared by a Child Support Officer (CSO). The CSO stated that the father is not involved in this action and that the children live with Hassan, who has physical custody with the consent of one of the parents. The CSO further stated that she "verified... that [the older of the two children] is in 10th grade and is expected to graduate in 06/2006." The CSO indicated that the county would waive reimbursement for the period from August 2001 through September 2002, when appellant was receiving public assistance herself.
The matter was referred to a CSM. Appellant appeared pro se at the November 2003 hearing; Hassan and the children were not present. According to the minutes of the hearing, appellant claimed that she cannot afford to pay the amount of child support requested. She submitted an exhibit in which she set out her monthly expenses at $1,025, an amount that does not include $50 per month that she is still paying for the airfare necessary to bring the family to the United States from Nairobi. The county submitted an updated child support worksheet that calculated appellant's net monthly income at $1,199 and her child support obligation at $359.97.
Based on the evidence submitted and the testimony presented at the hearing, the CSM found that appellant's net monthly income is $1,199 and her monthly living expenses are $1,025. The CSM calculated appellant's child support obligation under the guidelines at $359.97, and concluded that she had the ability to reimburse the county $4,550, for the 13-month period from November 2002 through October 2003. The CSM ordered appellant to pay ongoing ...