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In re County of Goodhue, ex rel. Turna

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

July 8, 2013

In re the Matter of: County of Goodhue, ex rel, Tarlochan Singh Turna, petitioners, Respondents,
v.
Amberjeet Kaur Gill a/k/a Amberjeet Kaur Gill-Sabharwal, Appellant.

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

Goodhue County District Court File No. 25-FA-12-1065

David J. Grove, Assistant Goodhue County Attorney, Red Wing, Minnesota; and Timothy K. Dillon, Dillon Law Office, Cannon Falls, Minnesota (for respondents)

Amberjeet K. Gill, Stockton, California (pro se appellant)

Considered and decided by Ross, Presiding Judge; Bjorkman, Judge; and Kirk, Judge.

ROSS, Judge

Mother Amberjeet Gill appeals from the district court's judgment awarding father Tarlochan Turna monthly child-support payments, contending that the district court lacked jurisdiction to modify an unregistered North Dakota child-support order, that the district court abused its discretion by basing its finding of her income on her reported expenses and by ordering her to pay retroactive child support, and that the district court clearly erred by finding that she is in arrears on her child-support payments. Because the district court established a child-support obligation rather than modifying one, and because it had statutory authority to award retroactive child support, we reject the jurisdictional challenge and affirm in part. But because the district court used an impermissible method for determining Gill's income and because Gill could not be in arrears on a child-support obligation the moment it was established, we reverse in part and remand.

FACTS

Tarlochan Turna and Amberjeet Gill divorced in North Dakota in 2004. The North Dakota dissolution judgment awarded Gill physical custody of their sole child, A.T., and it also ordered Turna to pay Gill child support as long as A.T. resided with Gill. Turna took de facto physical custody of A.T. in May 2008, and a California court awarded him sole physical custody in 2010. The California order did not mention child support, but it transferred jurisdiction over custody matters to Minnesota.

In August 2012, a Minnesota child-support magistrate conducted a hearing on Goodhue County's motion to establish a child-support obligation for Gill. The magistrate proceeded using the Expedited Child Support Process because A.T. received nonpublic-assistance child-support services under title IV-D of the Social Security Act. At the hearing, the county reported that Turna had provided income documentation but that Gill had not. It said that she had reported monthly expenses of $3, 127. Gill testified that she could not provide any income information because she had no income; her only funding source was student loans. Her financial affidavit claimed that she had zero income. She appended a social security statement from 2009 showing no income from 2000 to 2007, and a student-loan award letter indicating that she had been found eligible for financial aid based on a "student contribution" amount of $0. She asserted that she could not provide checking-account information because she was only an authorized user of a checking account but did not actually own it. Gill did not submit any tax returns or recent social security statements.

Turna submitted a report from a private investigator asserting that Gill had admitted that she was working as a property-rental agent and that she owned several properties in California. Gill denied owning any property, stating that her parents owned the property and that she pretended to be a rental agent while her parents were ill only to answer calls and say that no rental properties were available. The private investigators searched internet resources but found no links between Gill and the rental properties.

Turna highlighted an email from Gill, asserting that she had admitted owning an eight-bedroom house. But the email stated only, "I live in a new big 8 bedroom house, " and Gill testified that it referred to her parents' home, not one that she owned.

The magistrate granted the county's motion to order Gill to pay child support. The magistrate's order found that "[Gill's] claim that she did not have any income was not credible, " and it stated that "[Gill] did not cooperate in providing discovery information, including bank accounts." It found that her "testimony at the time of the hearing was inconsistent with regard to her involvement with her parents' rental property, " and it speculated that "[Gill] may have an interest, or earn employment income in managing some or all of these rental properties." It also found that "[i]t is reasonable to base [Gill's] gross monthly income []on her scheduled monthly expenses." On this assumption and Turna's stated income, the magistrate ordered Gill to pay child support and medical support. The order also requires Gill to pay two years of back child support and medical support, specifying that Gill must make additional payments of 20% of her monthly child-support payments to cover her "arrearages." The order further found that "[Gill's] failure to comply with . . . discovery requests unreasonably contributed to the expense of this proceeding" and ordered Gill to pay $1, 000 in attorney fees.

Gill moved the district court to modify the magistrate's findings. The district court denied her motion except that it struck the magistrate's award of attorney fees. It ruled that Gill "is under a legal obligation to provide her income information" and that her failure to provide it necessitated the magistrate's imputation of her income based on her expenses. The district court specifically declined to "alter or amend the stayed judgments for past due and unpaid child-support arrears, " ...


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