Ramsey County District Court File No. F8-96-693.
Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge; Klaphake, Judge; and Shumaker, Judge.
If there has been an affirmative setting of a child-support obligation, including an affirmative determination that a support obligation will be zero, any subsequent change of that obligation is a modification. If, however, there has been a reservation of child support, a later setting of child support is an initial setting, unless there are unusual circumstances.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gordon W. Shumaker, Judge
Appellant-father challenges the district court's order denying his motion for the establishment of respondent-mother's child-support obligation. Appellant claims that the district court erred by requiring a substantial change in circumstances under the modification standard, rather than treating appellant's request as an initial establishment of child support. We reverse and remand.
Appellant Ben Bowman and respondent Fiona Eustathiades were married in July 1991. In July 1998, the district court dissolved the parties' marriage, awarded the parties joint legal custody of their three minor children, and awarded respondent sole physical custody. By amended judgment and decree in February 1999, the district court awarded respondent sole legal custody of the children. On July 1, 2002, the district court entered an order, based upon a stipulation by the parties, in which it awarded the parties temporary joint legal custody of the children, awarded appellant temporary sole physical custody, and stated that "the issue of temporary child support shall be reserved." On September 2, 2003, the district court entered an order, based upon another stipulation by the parties, in which it stated:
1. Except as specifically modified hereinafter, all terms and conditions of this court's order filed July 1, 2002 remain in full force and effect.
2. Paragraph 1 of the July 1, 2002 order is hereby amended to read as follows:
1. The parties shall have joint legal custody of the minor children and the father shall have sole physical custody of the children.
After appellant applied for child-support enforcement services, appellant and Ramsey County filed motions for the establishment of respondent's child-support obligation. Respondent, however, filed a motion requesting a determination that no award of child support may be made absent a substantial change in circumstances. Following a hearing on the issue of child support, the district court stated:
Absent unusual circumstances, a reservation of child support creates a situation in which a subsequent child support motion is to be treated as a de novo setting or an establishment of child support, not a modification. But as the Minnesota Court of Appeals pointed out in McNattin [v. McNattin, 450 N.W.2d 169 (Minn. App. 1990)], where the reservation of child support is an integral part of the ...