This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).






In re:  Sharon Kay Warfield,

a/k/a Sharon Kay Banks, petitioner,





Joe Larry Warfield,



Filed March 19, 2002


Harten, Judge


Hennepin County District Court

File No. 184331


Craig A. Goudy, Charles A. Cox, III, Cox, Goudy, McNulty & Wallace, P.L.L.P., 676A Butler Square, 100 North Sixth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55403 (for appellant)


Amy Klobuchar, Hennepin County Attorney, Calvin Giles, Assistant County Attorney, C-2000 Government Center, 300 South Sixth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55487; and


Sharon K. Banks, 6061-169th Lane Northwest, Ramsey, MN 55303 (respondent pro se)


            Considered and decided by Anderson, Presiding Judge, Harten, Judge, and Stoneburner, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N




            Appellant-father alleges that his child-support obligation was erroneously based on his gross income rather than his net income.  Because we agree that this was an error of law, we reverse.


            The parties, appellant Joe Warfield and respondent Sharon Banks, adopted two children, K.W., now 16, and J.W., now 13.  When the parties’ marriage was dissolved, the district court issued a judgment based on their Amended Marital Termination Agreement.  A finding of fact provided that child support payments would “increase to 30% of [appellant’s] gross income effective April 1, 1995,” but a conclusion of law stated that child support payments would “increase to 30% of [appellant’s] income effective April 1, 1995.”  In early 1995, the parties met and stipulated to monthly child support payments of $490, the guideline amount based on appellant’s net income.  This stipulation was never filed with the district court. 

In March 2001, Hennepin County support and collections department sent appellant a Notice of Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) indicating that appellant’s obligation would increase to $803 in May 2001.  The increase was based on a monthly obligation of $675.56, an amount equal to 30% of appellant’s gross income.  Appellant moved to stay the COLA.

Following a hearing, the child support magistrate (CSM) found that:

            [Appellant’s] gross annual income from his 1994 W-2 was $27,022.  The County then set his 1995 support at $675 a month, based upon his then gross monthly income of $2,252.  Child support is, unless otherwise noted, based upon net monthly income.  At the current charging rate, [appellant] may be paying more than guidelines, although [respondent’s] income is much greater than his, thereby reducing his expenses. 


Appellant then moved to have child support based on his net monthly income rather than his gross monthly income.  Neither respondent nor Hennepin County opposed his motion.  The CSM denied the motion, however, because

[a]lthough it is generally true that child support is based upon net monthly income, and not gross monthly income, in this particular case, it is clear from the parties’ Marital Termination Agreement, and Judgment and Decree, that [appellant’s] child support is to be based upon his gross monthly income.


            Appellant now challenges the CSM’s determination.[1]


            The CSM based the use of gross rather than net income on a single word in the parties’ stipulated judgment.  The interpretation of a stipulated judgment presents a question of law.  Jensen v. Jensen, 440 N.W.2d 152, 154 (Minn. App. 1989).  

Only a finding of fact provides that appellant’s child support obligation will be 30% of his gross income.  The corresponding conclusion of law provides that it will be 30% of his income.  The use of gross income is directly contrary to Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5(b) (2000), providing that “the obligor’s net income” is the basis for calculating guideline child support.  It is the conclusion of law, not the finding of fact, that is binding.  See Judgment and Decree:  “[T]he foregoing Conclusions of Law constitute the Judgment and Decree of this Court.”  Accordingly, the binding portion of the stipulated judgment, which is in accord with the statute, is dispositive.

Appellant contends that the parties agreed to guideline child support in the amount of $490, or 30% of appellant’s net income, but that they never filed their stipulation with the court.  In the interests of efficiency and economy, we urge the parties to file the stipulation with the district court. 

We reverse the CSM’s decision that appellant’s child support should be based on his gross income.


[1] Neither respondent nor Hennepin County opposes this appeal.