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Clearing Up Questions About Child Support

A Minnesota family law attorney weighs in on common misconceptions

When it comes to child support, men are required to pay it more often than women, right? Not so, says family law attorney Jenna Eisenmenger of Heimerl & Lammers in Minnetonka.

Another common misconception is that once a child turns 18, support automatically ends. However, Minnesota law stipulates that if a child graduates from high school after turning 18, support typically is owed until then.

“So, for example, if a child turns 18 in January but they're not graduating until June, child support would go until June,” Eisenmenger says. “There are obviously exceptions to every rule where child support may change, but that is the most common situation in which child support would terminate.”

She offers another example: “If there are multiple children that the child support obligation includes, and one child turns 18 or graduates from high school and is no longer eligible for child support, it doesn't automatically terminate. It's not a child-by-child calculation, so they don't figure out, ‘OK, each child is receiving $300 a month in child support.’”

Eisenmenger says some parents incorrectly assume that child support payments will automatically change as soon as there’s a change in circumstance—such as when a child becomes an adult, or when there’s a change in one of the parents’ incomes. “Child support doesn't automatically change. They would have to actually file a motion to request a modification,” she says. “I can't stress this enough. Filing a motion any time child support needs to be modified is so important, because a judge typically only has the ability to modify child support back to the date in which a motion is filed.”

She adds: “I feel so bad for clients when there's been this change in circumstance for months or even years, and they never went in and filed that motion to modify child support. Now they’re saying, ‘I don't understand. I'm still paying the same amount, but my oldest kid graduated from high school two years ago.’ And I have to tell them, ‘Unfortunately, we can't go back and modify it back to the date of the change in circumstances. We can only modify it back to the date in which you file a motion.’”

What counts as a change in circumstance? “Any time there's been a substantial change that renders the current child support obligation unreasonable and unfair,” she explains. “Obviously, the term ‘substantial’ is very vague, and so the rule of thumb with that is that when the court recalculates child support and compares it to the calculations in the last child support order, there has to be at least a $75 and 20% change between those two calculations in order for the court to deem it as a basis to modify.

“There are always exceptions,” Eisenmenger adds, “but that is the most common scenario.”

One factor that’s not considered when making calculations is if a parent gets a new spouse, significant other or roommate. “I've had clients who are irate because their ex-spouse is now married to somebody who is very well-off,” says Eisenmenger. “But their income isn't going to be factored in.”

An experienced Minnesota family law attorney can help you navigate the child support process, including situations where it might make sense to arrive at a child support amount that’s outside the guidelines. “Most attorneys say there’s always wiggle room. But it's very difficult to argue that,” Eisenmenger says, “and courts have to have very detailed findings as to why they should deviate from those guidelines. That’s where an attorney could really help a parent—ensuring that they are getting the best outcome possible to set them up for success in the future, not only for their own personal finances, but also for the support of their children.”

For more information about this area of law, see our overviews of family law and custody.

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