The Basics on Child Support in Minnesota
A look at how it’s calculated and the categories of support
on July 26, 2021
Updated on February 17, 2022
Minnesota has four different categories of child support.
First is basic support. This has to do with the fundamental needs of the child: things like food, clothing, diapers or formula, or school supplies for older kids. Basic child support is also the only one of the four categories of child support that is affected by a parenting time schedule. “The courts recognize that the more parenting time a parent has, the more basic expenses they're incurring for the children,” says family law attorney Jenna Eisenmenger of Heimerl & Lammers in Minnetonka.
The second category of child support is childcare support, which centers on childcare expenses incurred by a parent while that parent is attending work or school. “But they're not going to count if you hire a babysitter so you can go out on a date night,” adds Eisenmenger.
The third category is medical support. “That has to do with the monthly premium cost for medical and dental insurance for the children only,” she says. “If you have a family plan, they're not going to take that whole cost for the family plan. Instead, they'll figure out what the breakdown is for just covering the children.”
The fourth and final category covers any out-of-pocket medical expenses and dental expenses not covered by insurance. “This is the only one of the categories that doesn't have a set dollar amount each month,” Eisenmenger says, “since obviously the out-of-pocket medical and dental expenses vary month to month.”
Child Support Calculator
There are plenty of variables that factor into how the amount of child support is calculated in Minnesota, but here’s where it starts: with each parent’s gross income—meaning before taxes and deductions are applied. Percentages called Parental Income for Determining Child Support—or PICS percentages—are applied to each of the four categories of support.
Eisenmenger offers an example of how PICS percentages would be applied to the fourth category: “If one parent makes $2,500 a month and the other parent makes $5,000 a month, the first parent would have 33% of the combined monthly income, and thus pay 33% of those out-of-pocket medical and dental expenses. The other would pay 66%.”
Other factors include “the number of joint and non-joint children the parents have; whether or not they're receiving any sort of public assistance, or social security benefits, or veteran benefits on behalf of the child; whether or not they're paying or receiving any sort of spousal maintenance; and the amount of parenting time that they have, which is usually calculated based upon the number of overnights a parent has.”
Even if a parent isn’t currently working, the court may still consider whether he or she has the ability to work, and may “impute potential income” to a parent if it’s determined that the parent is able to do so. The most common situations in which a count may find that a parent doesn’t have the ability to work are if they are mentally or physically disabled, if they're incarcerated, or if they're on cash assistance, says Eisenmenger.
The amount can be calculated by mutual agreement of the two parties, or it can be a decision made by a judge or child support magistrate. If it’s the latter, there are two different court systems in which a child support proceeding may be held. The first is district court, in which it would be heard by a judge or a referee. “The court typically will calculate child support using the Minnesota Child Support Guideline Calculator,” Eisenmenger says. “It's available right on the Minnesota Department of Human Services website, and that’s the same calculator that courts use.”
That said, the math can allow for some wiggle room. “The laws in Minnesota are designed to really look at everything as a whole rather than just a straight percentage,” says Eisenmenger. “And I've found that that is a lot more helpful for families, because it is designed not only to ensure that there's prompt and prudent payments of child support, but also to ensure that nobody is living in poverty.”
The second court system that can handle a child support proceeding is the expedited child support process, in which would be heard by a child support magistrate. However, Eisenmenger says, “the only time that a child support proceeding would be held in the expedited child support process would be when the county is involved. And even then, the only issues that can be addressed are child support issues and adjudication of parentage. So you can't address custody issues or other parenting issues if in the expedited process. If parents have multiple issues that they need to address, not just child support, they'll address it instead in district court because then a district court judge or referee has the ability to address all of those issues at once.”
The different types of proceedings in which child support would be addressed include divorce or custody and paternity actions.
For parents seeking to come to a mutual agreement on child support, a lawyer isn’t mandatory, but one can definitely help. “The expedited child support process is set up for parents to represent themselves if they want to,” Eisenmenger says. “But we do see more commonly, when parents are able to come to an agreement, that they do have attorneys who can draft up that agreement for them. A lot of times, when parents are not represented by an attorney, they may not realize the implications of the agreement and the exact language that needs to be included in an agreement to submit to the court.”
If you have questions about child support, an experienced Minnesota family law attorney can help.