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In re Hansen

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

February 13, 2017

In re the Matter of: Birch Benjamin Hansen, petitioner, Appellant,
v.
Suzanne Christine Todnem, Respondent.

         Ramsey County District Court File No. 62-FA-14-371

         Affirmed

          Thomas B. James, Law Office of Thomas B. James, Cokato, Minnesota (for appellant)

          Suzanne Christine Todnem, St. Paul, Minnesota (pro se respondent)

          Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge; Hooten, Judge; and Smith, John, Judge. [*]

         SYLLABUS

         I. When parents have a monthly combined parental income for child support (PICS) over $15, 000, Minnesota Statutes section 518A.35, subdivision 1(e) (2016), does not require that the combined PICS be capped at $15, 000 in order to calculate the presumed basic child support obligation.

         II. While a district court may modify a parenting time arrangement if the modification is in the best interests of the child, the district court need not make explicit findings on all the best interests factors listed in Minnesota Statutes section 518.17, subdivision 1(a) (2016), if the proposed modification is insubstantial or a mere clarification.

         III. For purposes of calculating a parent's medical support obligation, the district court does not abuse its discretion by evaluating a medical insurance policy's deductibles and co-payments, in addition to monthly premium costs, when considering the policy's affordability.

         IV. The federal tax code does not prohibit the district court from allocating the federal dependency exemption to an unmarried parent who is not able to claim head of household status that taxable year.

          OPINION

          HOOTEN, Judge

         In this dispute regarding child support, child care, and child-related tax benefits, appellant father argues that the district court (1) erred by failing to apply a $15, 000 statutory cap to the parents' monthly combined PICS; (2) abused its discretion by denying appellant's request to provide in-home, before and after school child care; (3) erroneously determined that the child would be covered under respondent mother's medical insurance policy; and (4) exceeded its authority in allocating the federal dependency exemption to the parent who is not entitled to claim head of household status. We affirm.

         FACTS

         Appellant Birch Benjamin Hansen and respondent Suzanne Christine Todnem are the parents of K.T. (the child), born in 2010. The parents, who never married, separated when the child was less than two months old, resulting in Todnem becoming the child's primary caretaker. Initially, Hansen voluntarily paid Todnem $1, 000 per month in basic child support, two-thirds of the child care costs, and $99.91 per month for the child's medical insurance coverage. In January 2014, Hansen petitioned for a determination of custody, parenting time, and child support. The district court issued an order awarding Todnem temporary sole legal and temporary sole physical custody and directing Hansen to continue paying the same child support obligations that he previously volunteered.

         In March 2015, a custody evaluation report recommended that the district court award the parties joint legal and joint physical custody along with equal parenting time, and that the district court appoint a parenting consultant. Approximately four months later, the parties finalized a comprehensive parenting plan that mirrored the custody evaluator's recommendations and met the elements outlined in Minn. Stat. § 518.1705, subd. 2(a) (2016). The district court adopted the parenting plan, which also allowed for a parenting consultant to determine the child's elementary school for the 2015 academic year. The parenting consultant chose a school located less than one-half mile from Hansen's residence.

         Within weeks of the district court's adoption of the parenting plan, disputes arose between the parties regarding child support, child care, and child-related tax benefits. The district court issued an order in October 2015, determining that the parties' combined PICS was $16, 868[1] and concluding that there was no statutory cap for the PICS. Based on these determinations, the district court required Hansen to pay $424 per month in basic child support. The district court also denied Hansen's before and after school daycare request, finding that his request was not in the child's best interests. The district court found that although Hansen's monthly medical insurance costs were less than Todnem's monthly costs, Todnem's policy was preferable because her deductible was $150 while his deductible was $3, 000.[2] The district court therefore ordered Hansen to pay $83 per month for medical support.

         The district court initially allocated to each parent the right to claim all child-related tax exemptions, credits, and deductions in alternating years. But, because both parties moved to amend the district court's order, the district court amended its order to reverse the issue for resolution at an evidentiary hearing. At the hearing, Hansen claimed that he was entitled to claim the child exclusively for all tax-related benefits (dependency exemption, head of household status, child tax credit, and child and dependent care credit) because the child spends an equal amount of time with both parents and Hansen has a higher adjusted gross income than Todnem. The district court disagreed with Hansen and decided that the tax benefits should be allocated between Hansen and Todnem each year. In an effort to ensure that both parents would receive some tax benefit each year, the district court ordered that the parent who did not qualify for the head of household status for a given year be entitled to claim the dependency exemption. Hansen appeals.

         ISSUES

         I. Did the district court err by failing to apply a $15, 000 statutory cap to the parties' combined PICS in its child support calculation?

         II. Did the district court abuse its discretion by denying Hansen's request to provide in-home child care during before and after school hours?

         III. Did the district court err in determining that Todnem, rather than Hansen, maintain the child under her medical insurance policy?

         IV. Did the district court err in allocating the dependency exemption to the parent who was not entitled to claim head of household status for that particular year?

         ANALYSIS

         I.

         Hansen argues that the district court miscalculated his basic child support obligation by failing to limit the parents' combined PICS to $15, 000. Generally, the district court has broad discretion in determining a parent's child support obligation. Rutten v. Rutten, 347 N.W.2d 47, 50 (Minn. 1984). But, the district court abuses its discretion if the ...


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