On October 18, 2021, the Minnesota Court of Appeals issued a precedential opinion regarding child support. Under Minn. Stat. § 518A.39, child support and spousal maintenance may be modified based on a showing that a substantial change in circumstances left the obligation “unreasonable and unfair.” When a child support order covers multiple children it is common for a parent to seek modification of the order when one child reached adulthood.
In Grogg v. Rech, father moved to modify his child support obligation after the parties’ oldest child turned 18. Father argued that emancipation of the child alone was enough to support the modification. The district court denied the motion, finding that while the child’s emancipation constituted a substantial change in circumstances, father did now show that the existing support obligation was unreasonable and unfair as a result. The Court of Appeals agreed with the district court. In rejecting father’s argument, the Court of Appeals held that under the clear language of Minn. Stat. § 518A.39, a modification based on a child’s emancipation requires a specific determination that the emancipation makes the support obligation unreasonable and unfair. If this determination is made, a court may grant a modification and calculate a new obligation amount. A child emancipating does not automatically make a child support obligation unreasonable and unfair under the statute.
The Court additionally addressed the child support statute’s provision on “Automatic Termination of Support,” even though the parties did not reference it in their arguments. The Court held that the statute requires a child support obligation to be stated in a specific monetary amount per child for the subdivision on “Automatic Termination” to apply upon a child’s emancipation. Father’s child support was not set at a specific amount per child in the judgment ending the parties’ marriage, so there was no automatic termination of support when the oldest child turned 18.
In this case, the Court of Appeals held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to modify the support order. Based on the record, changes to the support obligation would have come mostly from the legislature having amended the statute on calculating child support after the parties’ divorce, rather than changes resulting from the child turning 18. Additionally, father’s support obligation was only a fraction of his gross income, and no evidence indicated that the child turning 18 resulted in a decrease in mother’s expenses.
What does this mean for you? There is no presumption that emancipation of a child will result in modification of a child support order for multiple children, unless the provisions of the “Automatic Termination of Support” statute are strictly adhered to. The statute governing modification of child support requires that a party requesting modification meet a two-part test before a recalculation of support will be ordered. In this case, the child turning 18 did not automatically meet the two-factor test. This decision demonstrates the issues that arise when parties ignore the language of a statute in pursuit of their desired outcome. Working with experienced attorneys who understand the complexities of the legal system allows you to protect your interests and the interests of your family, whichever side of a modification motion you may be on. Contact Messick Law PLLC to discuss how we can help regarding a modification of your child support order or set up your anticipated child support order to make future modification easier.
Contact Messick Law PLLC today to discuss how we can help you.