Child support is a monthly payment a parent makes to help cover the costs of raising a child. Both parents, however, remain financially responsible for the child. The parent with primary physical custody, who cares for a child most of the time, tends to receive the child support payments. This is because the law assumes that this parent already spends money directly on the child. The parent with less parenting time usually makes the payments.
Typically, parents must pay child support until the child is 18, but there are some exceptions. Payments are cut short when a child becomes emancipated, which can happen when the child marries with parental consent, joins the military, or goes through the formal court proceeding to become emancipated (the child requests that a court sever financial and custodial rights and responsibilities between the parent and child).
On the other hand, a court could order parents to support a disabled child for a longer time. Also, child support payments could continue until a child reaches 20 if the child is still attending high school.
The amount of child support ordered by a judge will depend largely upon the Minnesota child support guidelines. Minnesota’s guidelines are based on the parents’ incomes and the number of children who need support. Within those parameters, however, there is some flexibility to account for the child’s reasonable needs, the paying parent’s ability to provide support, particular custody arrangements, and the child’s best interests.
The guidelines are simply a fee schedule of basic child support obligations. Although the state presumes that the number given by the guidelines is the appropriate amount of child support, a judge could deviate from the guidelines – in other words, increase or decrease the amount of support – upon finding that it is in the child’s best interest to do so and after considering the following factors:
Additionally, parents may be entitled to adjustments to the amount of support based on parenting time and childcare payments. Likewise, coverage for other expenses—for childcare or private school, for example—may be added to the support obligation. The child’s health insurance is another expense that one or both parents must pay.
Even with these extra deductions and costs, you can still estimate your fair share of support. To help you, the Minnesota Department of Human Services provides a child support calculator, a child support guidelines worksheet, and instructions for computing child support. See Minn. Stat. § 518A-34 (2020).
Additionally, parents may be entitled to adjustments to the amount of support based on parenting time and childcare payments.
Minnesota’s child support calculator can give parents a good idea of their expected support amount. It is not a guaranteed payment, however, and does not include deviations from the guidelines. Before getting started, you will need to find out the following information:
For child support purposes, gross income generally includes:
Even without employment, chances are a parent still has income in the form of social security benefits or unemployment compensation. Among other things, income may also include annuities, veterans’ benefits, and spousal maintenance received.
Also, a deadbeat parent can’t avoid paying child support by refusing to work or working and earning less. Where a parent is willfully unemployed or underemployed, a court can impute potential income, meaning, come up with an amount that this parent should be making based on several factors, such as employment history, job skills, qualifications, and child care responsibilities. When a judge imputes income to a parent, it typically increases that parent’s child support obligation.
An order for child support is not necessarily set in stone. You can ask a judge to modify (change) a child support order if there has been a substantial change in circumstances since the last order, such as an increase or decrease in either parent’s gross income, needs, or of the child’s needs.
Other justifications for a modification include where one of the parents or the child receives public assistance, where there is a change in the cost of living, or if there are extraordinary medical expenses, work-related costs, or education-related childcare costs.
You can also request a modification when the cost or availability of health care changes or if the child is emancipated. You can read more about changing child support orders on Minnesota’s Department of Human Services website.
Your child support order may specify how child support payments should be made. They are often made through a wage garnishment order, meaning the paying parent's employer will withhold the amount of child support from the paying parent's paycheck and forward it to the court or directly to the other parent. However, if your order is not specific, support payments can be made via cash, bank transfer, check, direct deposit, or through payment apps such as Zelle or Venmo.
Obtaining a child support order is only half the battle. If your child’s other parent is a deadbeat, meaning has stopped or refuses to pay court-ordered support, the difficult part will be collecting payments from your ex.
If you’re a parent struggling to collect your child’s support, visit Minnesota’s Child Support Online webpage for help.
For information on issues related to child support visit our section Minnesota Divorce and Family Law.