Martin County District Court File No. F5-02-50092.
1. Where parties stipulate to joint physical custody and to a support arrangement under which neither party pays child support to the other party but the support order lacks the findings required by Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5(i) (2004) to deviate from the guideline calculation of child support, the support arrangement is deemed an application of the Hortis/Valento formula, and not a reservation of support.
2. Res judicata has limited application to family law matters and, to the extent two motions to modify child support involve different aspects of child support, res judicata does not preclude litigation of the second motion.
3. To facilitate future motions to modify child support, district courts addressing child support, even if doing so by adopting a stipulation of the parties, should make findings of fact addressing the parties' existing circumstances.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dietzen, Judge
Considered and decided by Dietzen, Presiding Judge; Shumaker, Judge; and Huspeni, Judge.*fn1
The district court denied appellant Pamela Maschoff's motion to modify a child support order, ruling that the relevant issues had been previously litigated. Because the record does not show that the relevant issues had been previously litigated, and the district court was not precluded from considering appellant's motion, we reverse and remand.
In September 1991, appellant had a son. An April 2002 order adjudicated respondent Thad Leiding the father of the child, but reserved questions relating to child support. Later, the parties agreed to share legal and physical custody of the child, to divide the child's expenses equally, and to establish a parenting schedule. In May 2002, a child support magistrate (CSM) entered an order adopting the parties' stipulation. The order stated that "[t]he parties have agreed that based on the relatively even income of the parents, and the relatively equal parenting access, neither party shall pay child support to the other. Each parent shall be responsible for fifty percent of education and child care expenses." But the CSM's order did not identify whether the shared custody arrangement agreed to by the parties created sole or joint physical custody.
In November 2003, appellant, acting pro se, moved to modify the child support order, requesting that respondent pay child support and that the court modify the provisions relating to medical and child-care support. Appellant argued there had been a substantial change of circumstances that necessitated a modification because respondent was not paying his share of the child's expenses. A hearing on appellant's motion occurred on November 25, at which the CSM concluded that the crux of appellant's motion was to enforce respondent's existing child support obligation. Respondent then moved to have appellant held in contempt for interfering with his access to the child. A hearing on respondent's motion was set for March 1, 2004.
By order filed January 20, 2004, the CSM denied appellant's motion to modify the child support order, stating that there had been no substantial change of circumstances. The order did not specifically address enforcement of respondent's obligations to pay for medical and child-care support. In a January 26, 2004 stipulation, the parties agreed that "each party has expended an equivalent amount for the care and support of their child up to and including November 25, 2003[,]" and that to equalize their expense payments for the period between November 25, 2003 and December 31, 2003, respondent would pay appellant $72.08. The stipulation also referred to the custody arrangement as "joint legal and joint physical custody," and stated that starting January 1, 2004, the parties would provide each other with receipts and a list of all child-related expenses so that they could compare and equalize their respective expenses on a quarterly basis. The CSM incorporated the January 26 stipulation into a February 2004 order.
In April 2004, appellant filed a motion responding to respondent's motion to hold her in contempt and moved the district court to modify custody and require respondent to pay guideline child support to appellant. In a July 2004 order, the district court denied respondent's motion to hold appellant in contempt. The district court ruled that appellant failed to make a prima facie showing that the existing custody arrangement endangered the child and, without an evidentiary hearing, denied appellant's motion to modify custody. Regarding appellant's motion to modify child support, the July 2004 order observed that in January 2004, the CSM had found no substantial change in circumstances, and in the February 2004 order, the parties had stipulated that they had incurred an equal amount of child-related expenses. Therefore, the district court concluded that the issue of modifying child support ...