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. On the other hand, a court could order parents to support a disabled child for a longer time. Also, payments could continue until the child reaches 20 if this child is still attending high school.
The payment amount depends on Minnesota child support guidelines. The guidelines are based primarily on the number of children who need support and the income of both parents. Within those parameters, however, there is some flexibility to account for the child’s reasonable needs, the paying parent’s ability to provide support, and for particular custody arrangements.
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 of the 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.
Minnesota’s child support calculator can give a good idea of the amount of support for most parents. 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 salaries, wages, and commissions, but also pensions and retirement plans. 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 even working 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, among other things.
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 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. Also, you can request a modification when the cost or availability of health care changes or if the child is emancipated. You can read more under Changing an order, on the state’s human services website.
For information on applying for, paying, and enforcement of child support see Minnesota’s Department of Human Services website. Also there is a worksheet to adjust for parenting expenses when parents share joint custody and a worksheet for childcare costs, regardless of the custodial arrangement. You can also read the law on child support in Chapter 518A of the Minnesota Statutes.