This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In re the Marriage of:
Kathleen Ann Keding Lemtouni n/k/a/
Kathleen Ann Keding, petitioner,
Tarik Keding Lemtouni,
Ramsey County District Court
File No. FX-94-2411
Joel B. Wilson, Niemi, Barr & Jerabek, P.A., 510 Marquette Avenue, Suite 200, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent)
Cynthia J. Miller, Walling & Berg, P.A., 121 South Eighth Street, Suite 1100, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Kalitowski, Presiding Judge, Schumacher, Judge, and Huspeni, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant challenges the district court’s denial of his motion for a new hearing and his request to submit additional evidence. Appellant also contends the child support magistrate (a) failed to recognize that the evidence in the record did not support the decision to modify support; (b) abused its discretion by increasing his support obligation without considering the parties’ stipulation; and (c) failed to make adequate findings to support its modification of support. Because we find no abuse of discretion, we affirm.
The marriage of appellant Tarik Lemtouni and respondent Kathleen Keding was dissolved on May 6, 1996. The parties have one minor child, E.Y.L., who is now 11 years old. Pursuant to the dissolution decree, the parties were granted joint legal custody with respondent having primary physical custody, subject to liberal visitation with appellant, including parenting time every other weekend, every Monday night, and an additional Tuesday night for nine weeks during the summers.
At the time of the dissolution, appellant was employed as a junior high school math teacher earning approximately $31,000 per year, and respondent was employed as a nurse at HealthPartners earning approximately $38,000 per year. In the decree, the parties stipulated to child support of $200 per month, an amount substantially below the child support guidelines. Subsequent cost-of-living adjustments have raised appellant’s child support obligation to $240 per month.
On May 6, 2002, respondent brought a motion to modify child support, asserting that an increase was appropriate because appellant’s income had risen substantially, respondent was finding it impossible to meet her budget, and because an increased support award might allow her to reduce her exhausting workload and provide better care for the parties’ son. Although the hearing was held before a child support magistrate on August 22, 2002, the magistrate agreed to leave the record open for an additional week to allow the parties time to submit supplemental affidavits.
On September 11, 2002, the magistrate issued an order finding that appellant’s gross annual income had risen to $56,726.88, with an average net monthly income of $2,862.45, and that respondent’s average net monthly income was $2,612.71, but her average expenses were $3,297.38. In applying Minn. Stat. § 518.64 (2002), the magistrate concluded that there had been a substantial change in circumstances rendering the prior child support order unreasonable and unfair because an application of the child support guidelines resulted in a calculated order at least 20% and at least $50 per month higher than the current support amount. Based on her findings of fact, the magistrate ordered that appellant’s child support obligation be increased to the guidelines amount of $715.61 per month; this represented nearly a 200% increase over appellant’s prior obligation.
Appellant sought review in the district court, requesting (1) that a district court judge review the magistrate’s order; (2) that a hearing be conducted; and (3) that he be allowed to submit additional evidence. The district court reviewed the order and denied appellant’s motions, and affirmed the magistrate’s order. This appeal followed.
Appellant argues the district court abused its discretion by not allowing him to submit additional evidence and by denying his motion for an evidentiary hearing. This court will reverse a district court’s order regarding the modification of child support “only if we are convinced that the court abused its broad discretion” by reaching a “clearly erroneous conclusion that is against the logic and facts on [the] record.” Gully v. Gully, 599 N.W.2d 814, 820 (Minn. 1999) (alteration in original) (quotation omitted). A court is not required to hold an evidentiary hearing on a motion for modification of support. Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(f) (2002). The new child support procedural rules state:
A hearing shall not be held unless ordered by the child support magistrate or district court judge. The child support magistrate or district court judge may order a hearing upon motion of a party or on the court’s own initiative. A party’s motion shall be granted only upon a showing of good cause.
Minn. R. Gen. Pract. 377.09, subd. 5. Regarding the submission of additional evidence, the rule for motions to review an order of the child support magistrate provides:
When bringing or responding to a motion to correct clerical mistakes, a motion for review, or a combined motion, the parties shall not submit any new evidence unless the child support magistrate or district court judge, upon written or oral notice to all parties, requests additional information.
Minn. R. Gen. Pract. 377.09, subd. 4.
Here, the district court concluded that appellant “failed to demonstrate and a review of all the files, records and proceedings in this matter, does not show good cause requiring a hearing.” The court concluded that the magistrate considered the parties’ child support stipulation, but that the magistrate is not bound by agreements of the parties with respect to child support issues. The court further noted that appellant was able to submit whatever evidence he deemed relevant and appropriate during and after the August 22, 2002 hearing, and that he took advantage of that opportunity. The court emphasized that submission of additional evidence at the review stage of the proceeding was unwarranted and contrary to Minn. R. Gen. Pract. 377.09, subd. 4. We see no abuse of discretion in the district court’s denial of appellant’s motion to submit additional evidence, nor in its denial of appellant’s motion for an evidentiary hearing.
Appellant contends that respondent failed to meet her required burden of proving a substantial change in circumstances. We disagree. Under Minnesota law, a district court can modify a child support obligation when the party seeking the modification establishes that a substantial change in circumstances has occurred that renders the existing support obligation unreasonable and unfair. Gorz v. Gorz, 552 N.W.2d 566, 569 (Minn. App. 1996). A substantial change in circumstances is presumed, and the existing order is rebuttably presumed to be unreasonable and unfair, when the moving party establishes that
the application of the child support guidelines in section 518.551, subdivision 5, to the current circumstances of the parties results in a calculated court order that is at least 20 percent and at least $50 per month higher or lower than the current support order.
Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(b)(1) (2002).
The district court found appellant’s net monthly income to be $2,862.45, and according to the guidelines, his child support obligation would be $715.61. An application of the child support guidelines in Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5 (2002), to the current circumstances of the parties results in a calculated order that is at least 20 percent and at least $50 per month higher than the current support order. The evidence supports the court’s finding that respondent met her burden by showing a substantial change in circumstances justifying the increase in appellant’s child support obligation.
Appellant also contends that the district court abused its discretion by failing to give the 1996 child support stipulation proper deference. It is well settled, however, that a party’s previous child-support stipulation is not binding on the court. Tammen v. Tammen, 289 Minn. 28, 30, 182 N.W.2d 840, 842 (1970). The court has discretion to modify stipulated child support orders to meet the child’s best interests. Swanson v. Swanson, 372 N.W.2d 420, 423 (Minn. App. 1985).
The district court stated that appellant failed to offer any evidence that the magistrate failed to consider the original stipulation. The court concluded, instead, that the magistrate was well aware of the basis for the parties’ 1996 child support order. We agree. The magistrate’s findings of fact include a provision recognizing that at the pretrial conference, preceding the marriage dissolution, the “parties’ agreement was read into the record.” Thus, proper recognition was given to the parties’ child support stipulation.
Finally, appellant argues that despite his increased income, the district court’s decision to modify his child support obligation is without sufficient findings of fact because the parties’ stipulated child support agreement is not addressed in the findings. We see no insufficiency. Courts need only make findings on the obligor’s income and other factors “affecting” the support determination. Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5(i); Rouland v. Thorson, 542 N.W.2d 681, 684 (Minn. App. 1996). Findings required under the statute were made here. When it follows the child support guidelines, a trial court need not make written findings explaining its refusal to deviate. State ex rel. Rimolde v. Tinker, 601 N.W.2d 468, 471 (Minn. App. 1999) (citing Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5(i)).
Here, the court did not deviate from the child support guidelines when issuing its decision. Therefore, under Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 5(i), more extensive findings than those made are not required. Appellant failed to offer any evidence in support of his claim for a downward deviation in child support. In seeking a downward deviation, appellant appears to argue that because the parties stipulated in 1996 to support that was substantially below the guidelines, it is somehow unjust to increase support at present to the guidelines level. Appellant seems to be arguing that a stipulation that support will be in an amount below the guidelines requires that subsequent modifications be set below the guidelines also. This argument is meritless. While it is appropriate to consider the fact of a prior stipulation when modifying support, it would be clearly unreasonable to defer to that stipulation to the extent appellant appears to urge. The district court that approved the parties’ stipulated child support was, arguably, acting within its discretion in doing so. It could have, however, rejected that stipulation as not being in the best interest of the minor child. Setting aside the question of the propriety of the original support amount, and recognizing that appellant has no doubt been generous to the minor child in addition to payment of some $200 per month support, he has nonetheless benefited financially for several years by paying child support substantially below the level set by the guidelines. Scant credible argument can be raised that continued deference to the stipulated “below guidelines” support is required at present.
The decision of the magistrate to increase appellant’s child support obligation to the guidelines level, as affirmed by the district court, is supported by the evidence and contains sufficient findings of fact.
Respondent has moved to strike portions of appellant’s brief and appendix on the ground that they pertain to documents outside the record on appeal. She has also moved for an award of attorney fees on appeal. We deny both motions.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.