This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
BeLinda K. Countryman,
Filed May 2, 2000
Susan Dickel Minsberg, 225 Commerce at the Crossings, 250 Second Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55401-2161 (for appellant)
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Respondent Harland J. Countryman (father) brought a motion seeking increased child support. In an amended order, the referee recommended granting the motion; the district court approved the recommendation. Appellant BeLinda K. Countryman (mother) sought de novo review in the district court, which affirmed the amended order. We affirm.
The parties' marriage was dissolved in December 1994. The parties shared joint legal custody of their minor child, with primary physical custody awarded to the father. The parties stipulated that mother would pay father $100 per month in child support. The child support guidelines amount would have been $450, but the court found that "[h]usband can currently meet the child's needs with the lower support." Another stipulated provision of the dissolution decree provided that any "necessary" expenses exceeding $250 would be shared "equally between the parties upon mutual agreement."
In November 1997, mother moved to California. In the affidavit supporting his September 1998 petition for modification of child support, father alleged that because he now had the child all the time, his costs had increased. He also alleged that his parental costs had increased as the child grew older and that the need to be at home to supervise the child impeded his ability to work extra hours and earn extra income. Father also complained that mother was not paying half of major expenses as contemplated by the parties' stipulation.
Mother alleged that the downward deviation from the child support guidelines was only part of the overall "give and take" represented by the parties' dissolution decree. She contended that the provision that expenses exceeding $250 were to be shared was "agreed to in consideration of the downward deviation in child support." Mother argued that father's monthly income had risen appreciably since the dissolution and that he was therefore still able to meet the child's needs without an increase in support.
The referee observed that although the parties had stipulated that they would share expenses exceeding $250 equally, "[t]his provision is virtually meaningless because of the mother's absolute right to decline contribution." The referee found that the provision "ha[d] not worked as anticipated on the large expenses." The referee further found that mother had admitted that her net monthly income had increased at least 20% since the dissolution decree. Without additional evidence from either mother or father, therefore, the referee assumed that mother's net monthly income was $2,160. The child support recommended by the guidelines on that net income is $540. Finding that a deviation from the guidelines was "no longer justified," the referee granted father's motion and increased mother's child support to $540 per month.
Further, the referee agreed that father had a monthly surplus of $475, but found that because the child should benefit from both parents' increased incomes, the surplus was not grounds for denying the motion to increase child support. In an amended order, the referee left intact the decision to increase mother's child support to the guidelines amount of $540 per month, but vacated the dissolution decree clause concerning sharing large expenses. (In an apparent oversight, the referee left in the amended decree a paragraph that said that she would not disturb the provision in the absence of evidence and motions.) Mother asked the district court to review de novo the referee's amended order, and the district court affirmed it.
We will not reverse a district court’s decision modifying child support absent an abuse of discretion. Kuronen v. Kuronen, 499 N.W.2d 51, 53 (Minn. App. 1993), review denied (Minn. June 22, 1993). We will find an abuse of discretion only if the district court's decision violates both logic and the facts on the record. Id.
Child support may be modified if the moving party shows a substantial change in circumstances that renders the existing support award unreasonable and unfair. Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(a) (1998). If the application of the child support guidelines in section 518.551, subdivision 5, to the current circumstances of the parties results in a support obligation that is at least 20% and at least $50 per month higher or lower than the current support order, the district court presumes that a substantial change in circumstances has occurred and rebuttably presumes that the current support order is unreasonable and unfair. Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(b)(1) (1998). The guidelines "are a rebuttable presumption and shall be used in all cases when establishing or modifying child support." Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5(i) (1998). Because the presumption is to follow the guidelines if support is to be modified, the burden of proof is on the party requesting departure. Buntje v. Buntje, 511 N.W.2d 479, 481 (Minn. App. 1994).
Mother argues that father must show that there has been a substantial change in circumstances rendering the original support award unreasonable and unfair. But because the previous award was $100 per month, and a guidelines award based on mother's current income would be $540, which is more than 20% and $50 higher, the statutory presumption applies.
Mother argues that the original decree was based on the parties' stipulation and urges this court to give that stipulation effect. This court rejected a similar argument in Compart v. Compart, 417 N.W.2d 658 (Minn. App. 1988), when it said that
the acceptance of a stipulation which set child support at less than one-half the amount called for in the guidelines was of questionable consistency with the court's obligation to protect the interests of the minor children.
Id. at 662. Stipulations concerning child support are entitled to less weight than other stipulations and cannot take precedence over the child's best interests. Moylan v. Moylan, 384 N.W.2d 859, 865 (Minn. 1986). Furthermore, the referee found that the parties' stipulation was based in large part on the clause requiring large expenses to be shared, which did not work as the parties intended. As a result, the referee did not err by implicitly concluding that the substantial change in circumstances in this case rendered the original award unreasonable and unfair.
Mother further argues that because father can still meet the child's needs and have a monthly surplus of $475, any change in circumstances does not render the original award unreasonable and unfair. But the referee concluded that the child should benefit from both parents' increased standard of living, and the guidelines statute confirms that this is an appropriate consideration. Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5(c)(3) (1998) (directing court to consider "standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage not been dissolved"). On this record, the district court did not err by ruling that it would be unreasonable and unfair for the mother to continue paying child support at an amount far below the guidelines recommendation when her income had increased substantially.
Once father successfully invoked the statutory presumption of substantially changed circumstances and showed that the original support order was unreasonable and unfair, the burden shifted to mother to demonstrate why the downward deviation from the guidelines support award should continue. Buntje, 511 N.W.2d at 481. The referee found that such a deviation from the guidelines was no longer justified, and nothing appears in the record that would support the conclusion that the referee clearly erred in this regard. Kuronen, 499 N.W.2d at 53. The district court did not abuse its discretion by affirming the referee's decision.