Child Support in Minnesota

Many factors—such as parents’ income and parenting time—are considered when calculating child support in Minnesota.

By , Attorney · UC Berkeley School of Law
Considering Divorce? We've helped 85 clients find attorneys today.
First Name is required
First Name is required

Minnesota, like all other states, has guidelines for calculating how much parents must pay in child support when they aren't living together. Parents are free to negotiate and agree on a child support amount, but any agreement will still need to meet the minimum standards under Minnesota law. That's because the right to receive support belongs to the child—not the parents.

Who Pays Child Support in Minnesota?

All parents have a legal duty to support their children. When parents don't live together— whether they're separated, divorced, or never married—a judge may order one of them to pay child support.

Typically, the parent who doesn't have the child most of the time will pay child support to the other parent. But that doesn't mean the other parent is off the hook for the legal support obligation. Minnesota law presumes that parents are paying directly for the costs of raising children (including food, clothing and household expenses) when they're exercising their parenting time under the child custody orders. The child support calculation takes that into account.

The only time divorced parents can avoid paying child support is when both parents have equal parenting time and equal incomes (as income is counted in the child support calculations, discussed below). Even then, the judge may order one of them to pay child support if they aren't equally sharing the child's expenses.

(Minn. Stat. § 518A.36 (2024).)

How Do You Apply for Child Support?

If you're filing for divorce or legal separation and have minor children with your spouse, child support will be addressed as part of that proceeding. If you aren't married to (and don't live with) your child's other parent, you may apply for services with your local child support office to get help establishing a support order.

How Child Support Is Calculated in Minnesota

Minnesota's child support guidelines use what's known as the "income shares" model. This model considers:

  • both parents' incomes
  • how much time each parent spends with the child
  • the child's needs, and
  • each parent's responsibility for supporting children from other relationships.

All Minnesota child support awards consist of three parts: basic support, medical support (for health insurance and medical expenses), and child care support. The three types of support are added together to calculate the total support obligation.

You can use the Minnesota Child Support Guidelines Calculator to estimate the amount of support that would apply in your case. But the estimate won't necessarily be what a judge would order in your case. So it helps to understand what goes into the calculations and when judges may depart from the guidelines.

Calculating Basic Support

Basic support covers a child's housing, food, clothing, transportation, education costs, and any other expenses relating to the child's care. (Minn. Stat. § 518A.26 (subd. 4) (2024).)

Minnesota's guidelines use the following steps to calculate the amount of basic child support:

  • Step 1: Calculate each parent's parental income for determining child support (PICS). To arrive at PICS, start with gross income and then deduct any amount the parent pays to support children from other relationships. Gross income includes:
    • wages (although there are specific rules on whether overtime is included) and commissions
    • self-employment income
    • workers' compensation, unemployment benefits, and disability payments
    • annuity and pension payments
    • military retirement payments
    • Social Security or veterans benefits paid for the parents' child based on one parent's eligibility (with the benefits counted as that parent's income)
    • spousal maintenance (alimony), whether it's being received from a previous spouse or will be received under the current divorce, and
    • "potential income" for some unemployed or underemployed parents (as explained below).
  • Step 2: Determine each parent's share of the total PICS. Combine the parents' individual PICS to arrive at the total PICS. Then, to determine each parent's share of that amount, divide the individual PICS by the total PICS. For example, if Parent A's PICS is $50,000 and Parent B's PICS is $100,000, the total PICS is $150,000. Parent A's percentage share of the total PICS is 33%, or $50,000 divided by $150,000.
  • Step 3: Figure out the parents' combined basic support obligation. Minnesota law includes a table with the parents' total child support obligation, based on their combined monthly PICS and the number of children to be supported. In the example above, the parents' combined monthly PICS is $12,500. Under the current schedule (as of 2024), their combined monthly basic support obligation for one child would be $1,385.
  • Step 4: Calculate each parent's share of the combined basic support obligation. To calculate each parent's responsibility for the combined basic support obligation, multiply the combined monthly basic support obligation by each parent's percentage share of the total PICS. For Parent A in our example, it would be 33% x $1,385, or $457.05.
  • Step 5: Adjust the amount to account for parenting time. To account for the costs of caring for a child during parenting time, the guidelines include a mathematical formula based on the number of overnights the child will spend with each parent. The result of this formula will determine which parent will pay child support (called the "obligor" in the guidelines) to the other parent, as well as the basic support obligation.

(Minn. Stat. §§ 518A.29, 518A.36 (2024).)

When a Custodial Parent's Basic Child Support Obligation is Zero

Under Minnesota law, judges will presume in most cases that a parent who has more than 55% of parenting time (usually called the custodial parent) won't have to pay child support (this is called a "zero dollar basic support obligation"). However, the other parent may overcome this presumption by showing all of the following:

  • a significant disparity between the parents' incomes
  • each parent's ability to meet the child's needs
  • the benefits and detriments to the child of the presumption, and
  • whether the results of applying the presumption would be unjust or inappropriate.

(Minn. Stat. § 518A.26 (subd. 14) (2024).)

Adding Child Care and Medical Support

The support obligation for each parent will be the total of the basic obligation plus the medical support and child care obligations.

The medical support obligation includes the cost of health care coverage for the child, as well as the child's unreimbursed medical expenses. The child care obligation includes the cost of care related to a parent's work or education, adjusted by the amount of any federal and state child care credits.

Unless the parents agree otherwise, the total cost for child care, health care coverage, and other medical expenses will be divided between the parents based on their proportionate share of the combined monthly PICS.

(Minn. Stat. §§ 518A.40, 518A.41 (2024).)

When a Parent's Potential Income Is Counted in the Child Support Guidelines

Under Minnesota's guidelines, the child support calculation will based on a parent's potential (or "imputed") income when that parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, or when there's no direct evidence of how much the parent is actually earning. The law presumes that parents are able to work full time, unless they can prove otherwise. But judges won't impute income when:

  • the current working situation is temporary or is part of a genuine career change that will eventually be beneficial
  • the parent is physically or mentally incapacitated or incarcerated, or
  • the parent is receiving temporary assistance to a needy family (TANF).

When potential income applies, the judge will use one of the following methods to determine how much it will be:

  • estimate probable earnings, based on factors such as recent work history, qualifications, job opportunities, and prevailing wages in the area
  • use actual unemployment compensation or workers' compensation benefits that the parent is receiving, or
  • calculate how much the parent could earn working 30 hours a week at the current minimum wage (either federal or state, whichever is higher).

(Minn. Stat. § 518A.32 (2024).)

When Child Support May Be Different Than the Guideline Amount

Minnesota judges may order an amount of child support that differs from the state guidelines if it's in the child's best interests. When a parent requests a deviation from the guidelines, the judge must consider the following factors:

  • each parent's earnings and resources, including real and personal property, as well as their debts
  • any extraordinary needs that the child has (including financial, physical, emotional, and educational needs)
  • the standard of living the child would have if both parents were living together
  • which parent receives the income tax dependency exemption
  • whether the child lives for more than a year in a foreign country with a substantially higher or lower cost of living
  • whether the obligor's total court-ordered child support is higher than Minnesota's legal limits on wage garnishment for unpaid child support (which starts at 50% of disposable income).

Also, the law allows deviations when a parent with 10-45% of parenting time earns so much less than the custodial parent that requiring the noncustodial parent to pay the guideline amount of support would be detrimental to the child. In general, the goal is to make sure that the child support order doesn't force either parent or the child into poverty. (Minn. Stat. §§ 518A.37, 518A.43, 571.922 (2024).)

Paying and Collecting Child Support

Child support orders in Minnesota must usually include an income withholding order. That way, the obligor's employer will deduct the support amount from the obligor's paycheck and send it to the Child Support Payment Center, which will then forward the money to the other parent. If income withholding wouldn't work (for instance, because the obligor is self-employed), the order must require the obligor to have a bank account for depositing the payments. (Minn. Stat. § 518A.53 (2024).)

How Does Minnesota Enforce Child Support?

Although income withholding helps avoid delinquency in many cases, it's not foolproof. If you aren't getting child support that you're supposed to receive, you can ask the local child support office to help enforce the order.

If you're the one who's having trouble paying child support, it's best to contact the same county office as soon as possible to discuss your options. Often, the support workers can set up a payment plan, help seek a change in the order (if there's a valid reason for that, as discussed below), or offer you other options. Otherwise, you could find yourself on the other end of enforcement actions.

Minnesota's child support offices can use any of a number of methods to enforce child support, including:

  • reporting the delinquency to credit bureaus
  • seizing bank accounts or other financial assets
  • intercepting tax returns
  • suspending licenses, including driver's and occupational licenses
  • placing holds on student grants or passports
  • starting contempt proceedings (more on that below), and
  • if all other methods have failed, referring an obligor for criminal prosecution under federal law

Contempt of Court for Not Paying Child Support

When a parent owes at least three months' worth of child support and isn't following a court-approved payment plan, the child support office may ask a judge to find that obligor in contempt of court. Or the office may first ask the judge to order an unemployed obligor to look for a job.

As a general rule, judges won't find obligors in contempt unless their failure to pay child support is willful. If an obligor hasn't obeyed an order to seek employment, that will be evidence that the nonpayment is willful.

Parents who are found in contempt of court may face fines and even jail time. In some cases, however, judges may order obligors to perform community service instead.

(Minn. Stat. §§ 518A.64, 518A.72, 588.10 (2024).)

When Does Child Support End in Minnesota?

Generally, the obligation to pay child support in Minnesota ends when the child turns 18 or graduates from high school (whichever comes later). However, the support obligation also stops for kids who haven't graduated from high school by the time they turn 20. Despite these age limitations, a judge may order parents to pay support for an adult child who isn't able to be self-supporting because of a physical or mental condition. (Minn. Stat. § 518A.26 (subd. 5) (2024).)

Also, you and your co-parent always have the option of agreeing to pay child support past the legal age limits. For example, some parents agree to continue paying support until their child has graduated from college.

Changing the Amount of Child Support in Minnesota

There are two different ways that child support orders may change in Minnesota: through an automatic cost-of-living adjustment or when a judge orders a modification.

Cost-of-Living Adjustment for Child Support

Every two years, the Child Support Division of Minnesota's Department of Human Services increases the amount of child support to account for inflation. This is called a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). Check the disclosure attached to your child support order for more information. You should also receive a notification about the increase in the year that an adjustment is due.

Requesting a Child Support Modification

To request a change in your child support order other than a COLA adjustment, you may file a motion to modify child support in court. Depending on the services you're receiving from your county child support office, that agency might handle the motion for you. In that case, the process will be free, but it might take longer to get a court hearing. If you file your own motion, you'll likely have to pay court costs and fees along with attorneys' fees (if you've hired a lawyer to represent you in the legal process).

Either way, a judge may order a modification if the current order is unreasonable and unfair because of a substantial change in circumstances, including:

  • a significant change in either parent's income
  • a substantial change the child's or a parent's needs
  • extraordinary medical expenses for the child that aren't covered under the existing medical support order
  • a change in the availability of health care coverage, or a substantial change in the cost of that coverage
  • a change in the need for or cost of child care
  • a change in either parent's cost of living
  • the fact that a parent is now receiving public assistance, or
  • the child's emancipation.

The judge will presume that substantially changed circumstances have made the existing order unfair and unreasonable in some situations, such as when:

  • either parent's gross income has decreased by at least 20%, through no fault or choice on that parent's part, or
  • calculating child support based on the parents' current circumstances would result in an amount of guideline support that's different than the current order by at least 20% and $75 a month.

As a general rule, either parent's remarriage won't, by itself, warrant a change in child support.

Child support modification orders aren't retroactive: If the judge grants your modification request, the new support order will go back to the date that you served the other parent with the motion.

(Minn. Stat. § 518A.39 (2024).)

Getting Help With Child Support

In addition to the resources mentioned above, you can find more information, court forms, and other resources on the Minnesota Department of Human Services child support site.

If you're struggling to reach a child support agreement with your co-parent, mediation may help you resolve your differences. Otherwise, it may be time to speak with a family lawyer if either you or the other parent is seeking a deviation from Minnesota's child support guidelines or a modification of your existing order.

Considering Divorce?
Talk to a Divorce attorney.
We've helped 85 clients find attorneys today.
There was a problem with the submission. Please refresh the page and try again
Full Name is required
Email is required
Please enter a valid Email
Phone Number is required
Please enter a valid Phone Number
Zip Code is required
Please add a valid Zip Code
Please enter a valid Case Description
Description is required

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you